Wine and The Absent Heart

Wine and The Absent Heart.jpg

I met a great guy called Tom in the St. Helena Roastery, in Napa Valley. The coffee-shop feels like a library in the late afternoon with laptops clicking and the occasional quiet conversation. He’s a youth advocate, I work in the wine business. It was surprising that we met on so much common ground. The youths he works with know when you are just talking; instructing, but not really giving. He drew two circles that were distinct, two that touched and two that overlapped. He explained that most communication takes place between us from two separate circles. We wait for our turn to say what we want to get in, prompted by what the other person has said. Sometimes if we work at it, our circles touch and resonate. But as Tom has experienced, nothing will progress or change till the kids know the circles are overlapping. He said that comes from speaking from the heart, not from the head.

In the wine business this means giving something of yourself, being open and vulnerable, pausing, listening, and being interested. Not just diving right in with your patter and using the information to feed your own fire.

After my coffee I went on to visit a newly renovated tasting room on Highway 29. It’s owned by a larger organization. From a storyteller’s perspective I was curious because the brand name seemed awkward to interpret. They had tricked it out well and it’s quite a transformation.  Having said that, it was hard to point to the décor and see how it reflected the brand, but someone had a vision. Perhaps I was the wrong demographic and blind to the obvious. Upon arrival the young lady hostess asked me, “What first name and last name would work for you?” I was tempted to say “Engelbert Humperdinck would work for me” but I knew that’s not what she meant, so I gave her my real name. Then she told me who my host would be and his name. It was a nice touch. When he arrived he did not use my name, so that small and easy opportunity for the circles to connect was lost. He was a very nice young chap and you could sense he was a decent person. The “40% new oak” and “10 % Syrah” and “GSM” trade terminologies were trotted out with no determination of who I was, whether I knew something, or whether I knew nothing. None of the wines seemed to have any declared reason to exist. At either end of the knowledge spectrum, the tasting was failing. The circles were far apart.

It’s not his fault. We encourage the “us and them” relationship because that’s easier to monitor and implement. Checks off all the boxes when the mystery shopper comes around. I left with no sense of why I should care about these wines, or the brand. No heart.

Nicholas, at a deserted winery in Sonoma, was in a similar vein of presentation when I asked him why he was there. He was confused at first so I rephrased it, “Why are you doing this work?” He explained how he had been a pastor of a small Evangelical flock. He talked about his life change and his uncertainty about where it might all lead. Vulnerable and very interesting. I asked him if wine mattered to him and he lit up. He animatedly described how wine could bring people together and generate a sense of community. Suddenly the tasting was meaningful. When a former pastor talks about wine engagement with his heart, you are going to give his words some weight. I walked out with wine I hadn’t intended to buy.

Each of us who works in the wine industry has a duty to make our interactions fresh and worthwhile. Those of us who guide others must trust and help our hosts to build heart and meaning into what they do. Give them a bigger “Why?” If we are successful, we’ll find those circles with the customer overlapping. The irony is that it will also make our teams happier, sell more, and feel more fulfilled. It’s harder work and requires intention, but we pursue it because more “experiences” is not more engagement.  Experiences can be very empty calories. If that young man on Highway 29 could find a way to tell his personal story and the brand story with heart, then you’d see a transformation in his engagement and sales. Some people confuse this grounded sense of the work/personal mission with ‘Sales Training.’ Sales training is like giving someone a drink of water in the middle of the desert. It might feel good, but without heart, you’re still lost, and you are going to be thirsty again very soon.


VINFABULA – “Improve your performance with a story audit of your business from a fresh perspective. Then profit from selecting, aligning, and telling the right stories, powerfully.