Malolactic fermentation is a second fermentation to soften the wine and reduce acidity. It produces by products that may or may not be desirable.

When I headed back to the barn I found Don and Jack in a heated debate over malolactic fermentation. They debated whether the wine might soften on its own or whether they needed to impose a process to reduce acidity.

Bryson Keller is about to receive a process to reduce acidity as I stand in this barn, I thought to myself, proud that I finally brought our human resources staff into the full story. They chastised me for waiting and I argued that my primary responsibility was to the client commitment I had in Napa, but I knew the real answer. I was afraid to take a stand.

“Nora, you came just in time,” Jack smiled. “If you had a good employee, but they were a bit hard around the edges, would you let them mature over time or put them through an intensive leadership development program to soften their character.”

“We are talking about wine, here, right?” I smirked.

Don piped in, “There’s nothing to talk about. I’ve sent 90% of my wines through MF. This is a non-issue.

Jack stepped closer to his father. “We intentionally crafted this vintage to stand on its own, Dad. You know it was our plan to not send this batch through MF.”

“And you can make that decision when it’s your decision to make. This is my last chance, Jack, and I’m going to call this how I see it. I’ll see you both inside.” Don turned and walked briskly into the barn.

Jack turned to me with his eyes closed in a frustrated sigh. “Welcome to the underbelly of a family business. I’m sorry you had to hear that.”

I couldn’t help but probe. “Jack, why did he say this is his last chance?”

Jack turned and put his hands on the fence. “You will need to know this eventually.” He took a deep breath. “Dad has pancreatic cancer.”

“Oh, Jack.” I breathed. What do I say? This is not the time to inform him that this changes everything about our campaign. We need Jack to lead the media interviews. Don moves to the background. But is he ready to step back? That’s when I realized rules of engagement require symmetry. They live in balance.

“It’s his last hurrah.” Jack shrugged. “After this year, I can pretty much do what I want, but I need to offer him the integrity of making this call.” He rested his head on his forearm.

“But,” I interjected, “this could be your best year yet.”

“It all hinges on that fact, Nora.” Jack stood up straight, letting his hands fall by his side, and he turned and walked inside the barn.

I walked up to Don, who was fixated on the iPad. “Explain to me how you know that a batch needs a second fermentation when you know the byproducts can damage the batch.”

He was focused on the numbers he was reading and he pointed to one line that was basically Greek to me, but I looked anyway. “We’re testing the must to see how the yeast reacts with the sugar. The strains of yeast react at different temperatures. We’re watching for the bacterial response here.”

It was clear by my expression I wasn’t sure how to respond. “You see, the yeast turns the bacteria into user-friendly microbes. Bacteria adds complexity to the wine. You think bacteria is a bad thing but it’s a necessary thing.”

“And certain bacteria cause the wine to go through a second fermentation,” Jack cut in.

Bacteria is a necessary thing. It’s freaky how this relates to the process I’m going through with Bryson. He’s like bacteria that’s infecting the whole batch of employees. It seems like he could be ruining the company, driving people away, but really he’s providing malolactic fermentation on the whole company. His infectious behavior is cleansing our culture. Reminds me of other leaders in recent history whose infectious bad behavior actually served to unite opposing factions in new ways, especially in women’s leadership.

It also reminds me that my response to the bacteria in our culture reflects the symmetry in my inner life. When I take care of myself, I respond to others with grace. When I neglect myself, I become the bacteria. Keeping symmetry in life is not just to keep the doctor off my back. It’s fundamental.

“What if the batch is not sweet enough. Is it lost?” I earnestly wanted to know. I’m curious how much you can lose and still save the culture.

“Chaptalization.” Don barked.

I looked at Jack, standing like a moping child in the corner by the door.

“Adds commercially produced sugar to achieve the desired alcohol level.” Jack deadpanned. “The more you mess with the product, the greater the chance of screwing it up.”

Without even turning, Don had the last word. “Or creating something immeasurably better than you’ve ever made before.”



How do you see the situation with Bryson performing malolactic fermentation on the company?

How does this liken other leaders in recent history whose infectious bad behavior actually served to unite opposing factions in new ways, especially in women’s leadership?

Chaptalization adds commercially produced sugar to achieve the desired alcohol level in a wine. What outside influence in your business will help you achieve the desired harmony and symmetry?

How have you modified your approach to account for exceptional circumstances, like when a team member has terminal cancer?