In an article for Entrepreneur magazine, Reid Hoffman, co-founder of LinkedIn, shared this insight on success: "It's getting out and getting in the market and learning and moving, [which are] much more important than the ego satisfaction of 'Oh, I want to do it completely behind a cloak and then [remove] the cloak and everyone knows how wonderful and what a genius I am cause they think the product is so wonderful.'"
If I may paraphrase, success is not bursting onto the scene with a perfectly polished final product that everyone instantly loves, praises, and tweets about. Success is the result of getting your feet wet, your hands dirty, and maybe being embarrassed along the way. Sure, Hoffman was speaking to app creators and others from the techie start-up crowd, but the insight can be applied universally. It can certainly be applied to wine -- wine-drinking, winemaking, wine exploration, wine-understanding, and oh, Lord... most certainly wine writing.
This view of success is illustrated in a most idyllic way by wine. Is a winemaker's success defined by a perfect release? Or by the years of trial and error, sweat and tears? Is success more personal and found in the joy of the daily work of applying oneself to a true passion? I'm not noble enough to say it's entirely the first, but I'm wise enough to say it's definitely a little of all of the above. Let's examine this view as it relates to a wine drinker. Is a curious novice sampling budget wines, and enjoying them, less successful than a pedigreed connoisseur with a cellar full of heirloom bottles?
In the 2008 movie Bottle Shock, an account of the 1976 blind Paris tasting, dubbed the "Judgment of Paris", is told in part through the story of Napa's Chateau Montelena and its owners and employees. It was a little known estate in Calistoga -- as most in California were at the time -- until British wine expert, Steve Spurrier, organized a blind tasting to include American wines. Spurrier traveled to Napa to handpick participants. Spoiler Alert: Chateau Montelena is wildly victorious in the end, but only after much disappointment, delusion, and the throwing of some punches, all under a cloud of certain defeat and humiliation. Today the winning white wine, Montelena's 1973 Chardonnay, is still heralded. Would the success be as sweet if getting there hadn't been so difficult and heart-wrenching? Can we have success without struggle?
I recently wrote about nero d'avola. It is quickly joining the ranks of wines once unknown or even scoffed at that are now household names gracing wine lists everywhere. Think malbec, syrah, pinot noir, viognier, and merlot (twice!). There are some saying nero is the next malbec, which would sort of secure its place as a standalone varietal -- nice digs for a grape that has historically been a blending grape, playing second fiddle to merlot and cabernet. Is this prediction enough to say it is successful? Or, does it in fact have to overtake malbec by some measurable means to be successful? Is it already successful because it is beloved by Sicilians? Should we measure success on a more granular level and look at independent producers of nero d'avola instead of the varietal as a whole?
There are myriad lenses to view success through, especially the success of wine. Perhaps it really lies in the eye of beholder. If success is the attainment of a goal, then we have to know what the original goal was, don't we? However, to qualify success in general terms, we can find a red thread or some common ground. You no doubt possess your own conclusion to this matter, but I'll share mine, this being my blog and all, and a wine blog at that, so... I love to ponder dry-farming. It seems to flow contrary to everything I know about successfully growing and harvesting, which admittedly, isn't much. In my experience, a plant starved for water results in its death. But in the case of dry-farming, scarcity of water yields a stronger, heartier grape. The vines have to fight a little, or a lot, and in the end the vines are stronger, the grapes are succulent and concentrated, and the wine is superior. Thus, my final opinion on the matter is: success in general doesn't exist without struggle, without embarrassment, without rough drafts, without rejection. Success as it pertains to wine isn't about instantaneous expertise, or a perfect, award-winning, universally esteemed first vintage. How boring that would be. Success is about the journey -- about starting the journey. Success is learning, exploring, selecting, opening, pouring, spilling, sipping (and maybe spitting), and struggling. And, if it's too sweet, too dry, simply bitter, or just not what you expected, congratulations, you've succeeded. Success is starting at all, not finishing well.