Thursday, July 14, 2011
A Business Trip to Paso Robles
My tenure as a representative for McClean Vineyards has to this point been relatively brief, but filled with massive amounts of enjoyment. Our office is small, in personnel and physical location, but houses creativity, goodwill, and camaraderie like I could never have imagined in May when I received my Master’s degree from Cal State Fullerton. All I knew going into the month of June was that I wanted to work with wine… somehow.
Considering that the role of our office is to sell and market the winery’s 2005 Syrah, it seemed to be beneficial for our young staff to embark on a trip to Paso Robles in order to better understand the land (terroir, if you will) and the people that have a hand in the winemaking process. This process is a long and detailed one, ranging from arduous undertakings in the vineyard to vinification, and finally to bottling and selling. As individuals assigned the task of getting the finished product into the hands of consumers, we were delighted when we learned of the opportunity to travel North to gain a better understanding of precisely what we are selling. So, at 6 A.M. this past Monday morning, a few folks from our staff met at our Newport office to hit the road to Paso.
Our first stop in Paso Robles (after a commute that was made bearable by scenic routes and caffeine) was a facility known as Paso Robles Wine Services. This remarkable venue plays host to the vinifying ventures of many small, family-owned wineries in the Paso region. A room of gargantuan stainless steel fermentation tanks gives way to the barrel room, where many vintages of wine are aging toward a states appropriate for bottling, where they will continue to age until they are poured into the glass of an appreciative consumer. Led through PRWS by Michael McClean, our vineyard’s owner, we navigated the many rows of barrels until we reached the small batch of his Syrah nestled into a small space of the room (relative to the absurd quantities of barrels owned by some). To my joyous dismay, we were given the opportunity to taste barrel samples of the ’06, ’07, ’08, and ’10 Syrah (the ’09 vintage was lost as a result of weather conditions). Tasting these barrel samples was one of the better practical educational experiences I’ve had in my short time in the wine trade. Comparatively tasting wines in this fashion is stellar when attempting to track how a wine’s qualities change with time in barrel. Additionally, it offers a valuable lesson in drinkability by giving tasters the opportunity to pinpoint wines in the series that are ready to drink now, and which ones will still benefit from treatment in an oak barrel (should the winemaker decide to treat the wine with oak). The ’06 and ’07 vintages were the highlights of the tasting experience for me. The ’06 very closely resembled the ’05 (which we are currently selling) in its soft tannin structure and balance of dark fruit and a beautiful old-world style “earthiness.” And still, while the ’06 proved to be perfectly ready to drink, the ’07 showed even more magnificently with a stagger-inducing complexity of flavors and brilliant weight on the palate. A short business meeting followed the barrel tastings just before our team ventured out to explore more of the area.
After having lunch and a drink at an Irish pub in Downtown Paso Robles (a cuisine equally hedonistic, but a perfect contrast to that of wine and wine-appropriate h’orderves), we checked into our hotel and took off for another business/ “looking for insight” meeting with a Bill Grant, co-owner of 4 Vines Winery. The rather steep dirt road that leads to Bill’s home is surrounded by grape vines. This humble path is ironically appropriate given the beauty of Bill’s home and surrounding estate. Much to our delight, we were greeted by Bill and Janell Dusi (of Dusi Wines) carrying wine glasses and a gigantic plate of appetizers. The giddiness on the faces of the McClean team was a sight, to say the least. The meeting that ensued was a valuable learning experience for a number of reasons. As prime participants in the Paso Robles wine scene, Bill and Janell had an extraordinary wealth of information to share with us regarding wine business in general, as well as insights that were provided regarding our specific plans for our own business. Much more than what was offered in the form of specific business insights, the meeting we had was great for witnessing what real business is… or maybe what it should be. In The Thank You Economy, Gary Vaynerchuk remarks that real business doesn’t take place at a conference table, but occurs over a plate of hot wings and a beer. Although a slight variation on that scenario, our meeting with Bill and Janell was a fantastic integration of friendly conversation and topical business speak. While no formal business was conducted during the ninety-ish minutes we spent laughing, drinking, and eating overlooking grape vines, it was the perfect start to what will hopefully be a long-term friendship relationship... with hopefully more “business” meetings to come in the future. Monday evening concluded with dinner at the McClean’s home in Templeton and “sightseeing” in Downtown Paso (assigned the moniker “DTP” by the end of the night). Our less-than-motivated return trip to Orange County was filled with laughter and stories regarding the events of the night prior.
Although I had been wine tasting in prominent wine regions before this excursion to Paso Robles, it was this trip that solidified my interest in working in the wine trade for the immediate future. Even though many of my whimsical notions were sobered with the reality that wine is, first and foremost, a business, I have never been more assured of what I want to do with my days than I am at this moment. While it turns out that a day in the wine “biz” doesn’t revolve exclusively around drinking and eating, it has proven (thus far) to include working with fun, intelligent, and motivated people. But, just to be on the safe side, I’ll say a prayer for my liver.