It’s the combination of factors including soil, climate, and sunlight that gives wine grapes their distinctive character.

I grabbed a notebook and pen and headed down the patio steps right into a row of vines. Ten steps in and we were transported from the territory of the main house to the world of winemaking. As if on cue, Jack started the lesson.

“The terroir snobs would have you believe that California soil is subpar to the hillsides of Bordeaux,” he got straight to the point. “Dirt is dirt. That’s not what we tell our consumers, but an expert vintner knows how to grow wine. The macro climate in this region is very similar to southern France. The difference is the soil.”

“So, the terroir is the soil?” I inquired.

“The soil and the climate, but also the topography and surrounding plants,” he explained. “The soil is affected by the climate and the surrounding vegetation. For instance, this section is close to the household garden, where we grow peppers and household herbs. The soil transfers those flavors to the grapevine as subtle nuances in flavor. The more rain you have, the greater the chance of transference. It’s the combination of factors including soil, climate, and sunlight that gives wine grapes their distinctive character.”

I looked down and noticed my muck boots are already caked in mud. Jack noted my observation and dove in. “The moisture that came in with this morning’s fog could be a concern if it happened every day, but really most days are dry here,” he noted.

“What would the concern be? I would think moisture is good for the vines,” I asked.

“Grapes grown in wet climates show inadequate sugar levels,” Jack corrected. Yes, the vines need moisture. That’s why we grow in a dry climate, so we can regulate that. The sugar level of a grape is the difference between wine and vinegar.”

“I don’t think about sugar as a factor in a dry premium wine,” my statement was more of a question. He noted my quizzical expression.

“The sugar/acidity ratio is important…you need a good amount of sugar without losing the necessary acidity,” Jack explained. “We are constantly testing the sugar levels.”

“…with a refractometer, right?” I was so proud of my preparation.

“Good student. Yes, we use a fract but we can also sense the rise and deficiency in the look of the grape.”

For some reason the word deficiency struck a chord in my core. I thought of the incident with Bryson and the deficiency of character and it made me wonder what kind of environment our company had created to allow that to exist. His inadequate sugar levels and startling low levels of emotional intelligence would get most leaders fired. How could he still be in the lead, over so many qualified, ethical executives, and get away with this behavior? This made me curious. “What are the factors that tell you the grapes are ready for harvest?” I asked.

“As the grapes matures, three factors undergo rapid transition – sugar, acidity and flavor. They all work together to create the balance that makes the grape mature.”

I started to see a parallel, like a law of the universe old as time unfold right before me. “So, when those three factors change in composition it’s a signal the grape is ripe, ready to be harvested,” another statement more than a question.

Jack squinted because he knew I was going somewhere with this. “That’s right. When they’re picked to early, the grapes lack the distinctive character required for a fine wine. I have a hunch you’re asking about something other than grapes.” This man has a spooky ability to read my mind; that should have signaled me to shift, but I took it as a sign of safety instead.

I launched in to unload what my brain was trying to process, “The whole concept of deficiency and maturity bears a coincidental similarity with terms we use in our staff development, especially in understanding when a leader is ripe for picking…or promotion. The sugar, acidity and flavor are like the balance between being good with people and getting the job done. It’s all about how you combine those factors that create the flavor of your leadership. That’s what I look for in promoting someone.”

“You’re on an interesting track,” Jack replied thoughtfully. “Here’s another interesting fact for you. The sugar in the grape drops drastically if the vine is not strong enough to support it. Reminds me of a job I had where the organization sucked the life out of me because the leadership was not mature enough to, well, to grow healthy grapes!”

Delighted he was joining me in this metaphor, my curiosity was picking up speed. “What contributes to healthy grapes?” It was a leading question.

Jack was on to me. “Well, the soil for starters. Like I said before about the terroir, the soil contributes to the flavor of the grape. If I’m following your metaphor, the soil would be the back story of each individual, what they bring to the job from personal life.”

“Right,” I volleyed. “And the environment is like the organizational culture, which is a combination of leadership vision and the soil that each person contributes. Really, the vine could be anything. It could be the company but it could also be your family or your faith.”

Jack stopped and looked at me. “This is an interesting train of thought. I’m not sure how it’s going to sell wine….”

I snapped out of my reverie. “I get a bit carried away. The company just sent me away to this intensive leadership development course. You have to admit that it’s an interesting parallel.”

“Indeed,” he returned. “I’m not surprised they’ve invested in your growth. Let’s see what you come up with in the barrel room. You’re here right in the middle of the crush.”

 

DISCUSS

This chapter talks about the transference of characteristics or flavors in the soil. What is the combination of factors in your workplace right now that influence your success? What about if you add the influence of factors in your whole life?

Assuming you have worked with someone with a deficiency of character like Bryson, how do you moderate your behavior around them? Have you ever had a boss with inadequate sugar levels? You know, lacking in kindness or empathy?

This chapter has an important statement about balance: “As the grapes matures, three factors undergo rapid transition – sugar, acidity and flavor. They all work together to create the balance that makes the grape mature.” How do these factors translate into leadership ability?