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TM: For me, a lot of it is being involved in expressing a place. What I do, since I consult for a lot of different producers, is to help people realize a dream that they've had. One of my clients actually burst into tears the first time we opened a bottle of his wine, six months after harvest, on tasting the fruition of years of getting to that point. It's experiences like that which are so amazing. Wine is one of those magical things that's remarkably humanizing. If we sit down together and have soda pop, it would be a very different experience than sitting down and having lunch with a bottle of wine. Wine brings people together. So there's that part, the communication aspect, those humanizing experiences, plus the reflection of time and place. In that bottle is the quintessence of a vineyard, a vintage, and the people who put it there, each one. And next year, it'll be different. And I only remember this stuff when I tell other people because the act of doing it so often can be a drudge, or at least appear to be — until I remember what other people's lives are like, and then I stop and say, "I'm whining about this pleasure?!"
Reflections on the Lessons Learned from Winemaking
NM: What have you learned in your work as a winemaker that you've been able to apply to your own life and which perhaps has made you a better human being because of it?
SJ: The human connections I've made have been so enriching for my career. Fifty percent of my day is spent communicating with people about something that they really love and have sought out. Many have gone on vacation to come to where I work and talk to me about what I do, to talk about what they love and hear about what I love so much about wine. I think it's great the way wine brings people together. And that's something most people probably don't get out of a traditional career, that sense of relating to people and forming connections and friendships over something that we do as a job.
"Viticulture is so metaphorical for everything you can possibly imagine."
EV: I think managing a crew during harvest has taught me to be a better person. It's pretty hard work learning how to motivate people and getting them to really want to make the best product that they can for the same reasons that you do. And it's also being aware of all the different things that actually go into making wine. There are a lot of safety issues and other things that are really important for you to think about in the interest of all these human beings who are working for you towards a common goal.
MR: If there's anything to the old cliche, 'In Vino Veritas,' then this career has certainly made me a much more truthful person. Working more and more closely with the growers that I deal with, I've learned more than I ever thought I would about what goes on in the vineyards, and how it affects the vines and the people who are involved. It's all made me a lot more sensitive to the impact that we all have on the environment, and by extension, each other. I haven't given up my car just yet, but my work has made me more conscious of environmental issues — things like the change in climate, which we're all abetting, and things that impact all of our livelihoods as well as the livelihood of our children and their children. It's made me think about it a lot more; being tied-in agriculturally has made me a lot more conscious of what impact we have on the world.
TM: It's hard to pick out a single thing. In all the things we do, we gain different skills — things like managing people and understanding the needs of others. The easy answer for me would be the public speaking skills I've learned, which have helped with general self-confidence. But I think that more than anything else, working in this valley, is my increasing awareness of the social structure, the difference between the landed aristocracy and the peasant class — which we very much have in Napa. There are well-paid, but still modest-wage, workers at the bottom end, and then there are people who have untold millions at the upper end. I've become very aware of and sensitive to that difference, as well as the reality that we rely so heavily on people who are making under $15 an hour.
RM: Viticulture is so metaphorical for everything you can possibly imagine. Everything we do on the daily basis is a metaphor for something in life, in general. Just as you develop and train a vineyard, you raise your own children. Just as the finest fruit comes from vines that are stressed, you reap rewards from living your own life with challenges. I think all of us, whether we're in grape-growing or not, are biologists at heart, realists at heart, existentialists at heart. And we see that with such realism on a day-to-day basis in the vineyard, in the winery, and in the business life as well.