That’s What I Like

Posted by Richard Moran.

After all these years in wine country I was finally invited to a blind wine tasting.

It was a simple exercise, I was in a group and five different glasses of pinot noir were put in front of us. We had to determine where each glass was from, not whether or not we liked the wine. That’s when the fun began because none of us liked any of the wine. In fact, it was awful. All of us were spitting like crazy and all of us admitted we were not spitters.

As the wine expert and group leader tried to facilitate the discussion he asked what special flavors and senses we tasted. One of my colleagues said he detected a hint of a burnt buttered popcorn jelly belly. There was a murmur of agreement because we all know how that one jelly belly can ruin the entire batch that’s popped in the mouth. Another of the tasting group thought he felt the gestalt of World War II in one of the wines. The sentiment was not based on strolling through the French countryside.

We weren’t quite done. Another taster talked about those big bins of just picked grapes that we see spilled on the side of the road this time of year as catching the romance of one of the wines. Yet another said the wine conjured up images of making out in front of the Chi Omega house in the front seat of a Camaro. We weren’t sure if that was good or bad.

When the results were given, none of us guessed correctly on the source of the pinot, not even the right continent. Turns out, the wine we tasted was reasonably expensive and well known but the price and brand had no bearing on whether or not we liked it better.

It didn’t take long to find some wine that we did like and that’s when the questions and discussion really started. The big questions were related: Are we such a bunch of goofs that we can’t tell a cabernet from a Chevrolet? And, related to that, are there really people who can identify the square mile in France that a wine comes from without so much as a hint? We agreed the answer was probably that everyone’s palate knows what it likes and that some have a palate that is beyond belief. With resolve, we promised to bridge the gap and reconvene sometime later when our palates grew larger.

Like most of us, I stand in awe when someone can identify graphite, wet stone or white truffle in a glass of wine. Then there is forest floor, quince, hawthorn and cigar box that others can find. That can’t be a big number of people who can taste all of those nuances. I think my palate stopped developing just a little beyond, “tastes good to me.”

Someone recently asked me, “How does one start to build a proper wine cellar?” My response was, collect what you like and learn from others. The “others” are those that really can taste white fleshy peach as well as those who know what they like and what they don’t.

Living in wine country is the perfect Petri dish for tasting and going to a blind tasting might be the ultimate litmus test of what one likes. A blind tasting is a test unencumbered by the price or the label which is still, I think, the criteria on which most people buy wine. My favorite local events are ones where real wine guys bring bottles along with no label, or at best, a yellow sticky on the side and a date scribbled on the cork. Wine making is truly an art. Wine tasting is a way to exercise your palate and your imagination. It’s good to be around artists and imaginative people.

Rich Moran owns a winery and writes for wine country newspapers.

Success at Holiday Parties

Posted by Richard Moran.

A Primer

At the last really huge corporate Holiday Party I attended, a young woman who reported to me jumped up on stage just as the beginning drum beats to the classic “Love Shack” were filling the hall. The crowd went wild that someone would be so brave. I leaned over to my wife and mentioned with apprehension, “I hope this doesn’t go on her permanent record, or mine”. This was not the party at Fox TV or Vanity Fair or some hip record label. It was the big consulting firm Accenture, not known for its singers.

Although a little tipsy, turns out that girl could sing and dance and sing and dance she did. She knew all the words to “Love Shack” even down to that phrase yelled in the middle that many the drunken undergraduate has tried to figure out. I think it is “Tin Roof, Busted!” but I could be wrong on that. It was the highlight of the night at the party and turns out it did end up on her permanent record. She was no longer an anonymous analyst. Now everyone knew her name and she was sought for projects. The thinking might have been, anyone with that much moxie should be able to sell something.

See, Holiday Parties are not always the career killers they are reputed to be. There can be an upside, however rare. Since that Love Shack incident, my own parties have grown dull. Holiday parties are not as wild as they used to be but they are still fraught with stress about whether or not to go, with whom and what to wear, among other critical decisions. Given the time of year and given the fact that most of us do go to that party with optimism, here are some pointers to get the most out of that party.

Go. Yes, always go. Come, on. You have to go. Your co-workers want to see who you are dating or married to and what you think “festive holiday attire” is.

Don’t get drunk at the company holiday party. Repeat, don’t get drunk.*
*No matter how many times I have presented this advice, it is universally ignored. So I suggest adhering to the following advice assuming you will end up in that mind altered state…

Always have someone with you who will remember what you said at the Holiday Party so that you can make appropriate apologies when necessary.
Under all circumstances, when tipsy, stay away from your bosses spouse. You don’t want said spouse to ask later, “Who was that totally smashed person who said you were the besht bosh he ever had?”
Take a taxi home. Embarrassing yourself can be forgiven, being reckless cannot.

If you are the boss, give your toast and speech of thanks early. Before the audience or you have had too much to drink.
Stay away from any one with a video camera. You may think you are a good dancer but you might show up on YouTube next to the classic of Elaine from Seinfeld dancing at that party.
For that same YouTube reason, don’t wear any fancy clothes that can fall off and reveal something that might show up on an ex-boyfriend/ex-girlfriend web site.
Never sit with the company lawyers. They are never any fun at these events since they are focused on the liabilities of everything that is happening around them.
If the company is coming to the end of a really bad year, cut the management some slack for goldfish and beer instead of steak and wine. At least they are trying.
Do not sneak out into the hall to check your blackberry or PDA. Leave all blackberries and any thing that seems like work at home.
Remember that there will be no secrets. Anything that happens at the holiday party, does not stay at the holiday party. Whether it involves sex, drugs, facebook pages, rock and roll, annual reviews, wearing lampshades or obese dates; it will be on the web and message boards and other places on Monday.
Lastly, have fun. It is a time to get to know your co-workers in ways never imagined in cube land. It is a time for your date to see who you have praised or complained about all year. It is a time to relax and say, “I made it here for another year.” Congratulations.

The 2007 at Work Holiday Gift Guide

Posted by Richard Moran.

10 Simple Rules
It’s time for that annual set of nagging questions about holiday gifts at work…

If I give my boss a gift, will he or she think I am brown-nosing? How much should I spend? Should I leave the gift on the chair at night or ask the boss out for a holiday drink? Will my co-workers give a gift to me? What if they give me deodorant or foot powder? Should I wait to give any gifts until I am sure I am getting some gifts? Are the people who work for me expecting a gift more than a performance review? What is The Company policy on gifts? Should I ignore it? What if I give a gift to my boss but no gift comes from that direction? The list could go on and on.

Gift-giving during the holidays is hard enough when it is just for the family. When co-workers are added to the list it only adds to the complexity. I know some teenage boys who break up with their girlfriends every year in early December just to avoid the panic of having to buy a Christmas gift. Don’t quit your job just to avoid holiday giving at work.

In the spirit of taking some stress out of the holidays, the following ten simple bullets are sent your way.

· Companies will rarely execute a lay-off during the holidays. If you think your job will be eliminated in January, make it easy and don’t bother with gifts. The gift exception could be the consultant who is doing the plan on who stays and who goes.

· A lot of people today work in a virtual environment which means they don’t know or see co-workers or the boss. Virtual friends should be sent a virtual gift.

· Sending an email or text message doesn’t count as a gift.

· Be generous in giving. If your boss cut you breaks during the year or your team worked their butts off, get them something that reflects your appreciation. Take the risk and let people know you appreciated something. It matters.

· The list of acceptable gifts is short. The list includes books, candy, wine (usually), restaurant gift certificates and tasteful office items like expensive pens or notebooks.

· The list of unacceptable items is long. Don’t give shoes, jewelry or tire chains. Any gift with Victoria Secret in the name is probably not good. Anything personal is not good unless your spouse works with you.

· Among subordinates, include everyone and give everyone the same gift, even that guy in the next cube who talks to his mother all day while clipping his finger nails.

· Follow the company policy on gift giving. No exceptions.

· Never pass along a gift that someone else gave to you. The recipient always knows. It’s like reading a newspaper someone else already read. The exception is fruit cakes, which are like chain letters.

· If there are year-end Christmas cash bonuses expected, there are no substitutes in the form of gifts. A check is always better than a frozen turkey. If there is no check, no need to bother with the turkey.

Of course, there are variations on all of these themes. For example, if you are a hedge fund manager about to make twenty million at the end of the year even though the fund lost money, buy a Lamborghini for your right-out-of-school analyst. Most importantly, use the potential for holiday gift giving to develop friends and improve your relationships at work. It makes work more fun and maybe you’ll even get a raise out of it.