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Corporate meetings in wine country

Updated on March 9, 2013

Companies should not overlook Wine Country for private meetings--of all kinds!

Wine Country is alive, vibrant, fresh, wholesome and waiting to show your small luxury corporate meeting a productive environment. Wine Country is about being in Napa AND Sonoma. This is where the heart of the 1976 Paris Tasting, that shocked the world, started. California Wine Country was #1 for the first time. Now let us help you enjoy the experience of having a meeting in Wine Country.


Master Sommeliers As Speakers At Your Next Meeting In Wine Country

Understanding what a Master Sommelier can do.

It is always challenging to keep team building exercises or the off-site planning meeting, interesting and participants involved. There is a solution, in and around Wine country are approximately 31 (as of January 2013) highly trained and competent experts on the subject of all things wine. These experts are easily recognized by the MS title after their names. They have been awarded the title-Master Sommelier-by The Court of Master Sommeliers, otherwise known as The Court. Very few of these titled men and women are in the World today. They are trained in all elements of wine, from the many wine regions in the World, viticulture, compounds in wine, wine aromas and taste, winemaking, etc.

Any of these individuals can add a lot of fun and interest to a group meeting while in Wine Country.

Let me start by telling you the impact a true wine professional can have on most anybody entertaining in business. Although my example is not in a business setting, it easily could have been.

Recently, I was at a restaurant with my wife for dinner. We ordered a glass of wine while we talked and decided on the food we wanted for dinner. A sommelier never came to our table to talk about a wine for our meal. Frankly, I had some questions concerning a French wine I had heard about. Anyway, the wine our server recommended was fine and we forgot about the sommelier discussion. After a fun and enjoyable dinner, as we were departing, I stopped and ask a member of the staff if the restaurant had a MS (Master Sommelier). I quickly realized the professional wine staff was likely performed by someone who had taken a few courses in wine appreciation.

The thought occurred to me; I wonder how many of us really understand just how unique or rare a person may be in the restaurant industry with a MS after their name? I have spent a lot of time with a Master Sommelier in Las Vegas, Kevin Vogt-MS. From him I acquired some knowledge of the absolute rigors encountered to have the title-Master Sommelier. By the way, a person will probably dedicate six years in the quest to become a Master Sommelier with the last two years being mostly full time, and God forbid you have to take the Level 4 exam multiple times. (Even the Vice Chairman of the Court of Master Sommeliers for the Americas, Laura DePasquale, sat for her Master Sommelier designation four times.)

To get some background facts about Master Sommelier's I contacted Ms. Laura DePasquale who is the Vice President/General Manager with the firm, Stacole Fine Wines in Florida. Ms. DePasquale tells me there are slightly over 200 individuals in the World with the MS title. The vast majority of these are members of The Court of Master Sommeliers Americas. As the Vice Chairman of The Court of Master Sommeliers Americas Laura would know; she has been a Master Sommelier for 10 years.

What is The Court of Master Sommeliers and is the World a better place with Master Sommeliers? According to Laura, "The Court was founded to provide highly trained and respected professionals, with a deep understand of wine, for the restaurant industry. The focus is on all aspects of wine services. The examining process to be awarded the MS title was and is designed to focus on wine history, viticulture, and winemaking, tasting profiles relative to regions and varietals and wine pairings with food. All of this learning is to prepare the MS to interface professionally with restaurant customers." It is even more impressive when one realizes that a Master Sommelier must plan, purchase and manage a restaurant's wine department.

There are two highly respected organizations that award titles based upon very high standards of wine knowledge; Master of Wine and Master Sommelier. It is the Master Sommelier that focuses on wine service and the delicate relationship a restaurant has with its food and wine loving customers. "If you do not like working with people and counseling them on wine and wine pairings then the Master Sommelier Level 4 program is going to be a very tough course," says Laura. "The final exam is about responding to inordinate stresses heaped on the candidate relative to wine knowledge, taste profiles and ultimately responding to customer induced stresses." For example, how would you respond to a verbal argument while trying to do a wine service and defuse a difficult situation that impacts the whole restaurant?

There are two chapters within The Court: Court of Master Sommelier Americas and Court of Master Sommelier European Union. Each chapter of the Court works in conjunction and cooperation on overall exam standards at every level of the examination process (all 4 levels). Together they ensure the high standards for awarding the title of MS. And the task of ensuring their very high standards are in the hands of a volunteer Board of Directors; members of each chapter votes for the officers within their chapter. For example, in North America, the 129 Masters each vote for the Board of Directors for the Court of Master Sommeliers, Americas.

After talking to Ms. Laura DePasquale, it is apparent these are very serious people who are determined to maintain the prestige and the standards of the MS credential. "We want to maintain the standard so that wine lovers around the world know the true value of the experiences in receiving the MS title," said Laura. "I want MS to stand for something that is above even exceptional." The second part of the original question: ---why does the world need Master Sommeliers? Laura explains it this way, "There is a segment within the category of wine lovers that go beyond being a wine aficionado/oenophile, and these are people described as--über. These people love wine at a level that exceeds the most strident lover of wines. They demand detail about a wine, the varietal, region of origin and even historic vintage facts." Herein lays the real value of a Master Sommelier.

A MS has credentials and tested knowledge of all things wine. So, what would a MS tell a restaurant guest to do when interfacing with a MS? For that answer we turn to Laura.

First, explain to the MS wines you do like. If you have a favorite label or vintage be sure to mention such. Then be prepared to explain in everyday language what you like about your favorite wines. A MS will never intimidate you or converse with you at a level above or below your knowledge of wine. The way you talk to him/her will set the stage for a great flow of information.

Second, even ask for assistance with a meal selection. Explain what your expectations are in the meal?

Third, establish if you plan a casual glass of wine before the meal and a more suitable type wine with the meal.

Fourth, never shy away from talking about the price you want to pay for the wine. Price may also be driven by the occasion. Explain if the meal is a special event. Also, talk about preferences for alcohol levels, acid and tannin profiles you prefer. For example, Old World wines tend to be less alcohol.

Fifth, engage the MS in a discussion on all matters of wine. This is a great opportunity to add to your knowledge of wine. The point is that a MS is there to make the meal a complete experience, so take advantage of the expertise before you.

What discussions that impact change has been taking place in the wine industry over the past few years? One that is always in the conversations is weather and the impact weather has on grapes. Other topics are expansion of land planted in vines, debate of screw caps versus cork, and aeration devices. As an aside, it was only 10 years ago when part of the training for the MS involved knowing a great deal about cigars. Now that training is no more.

So, for 6 years of work and concentration and tasting a lot of wines and being able to pick out a 1980 Boudreaux versus a 1982, you may become a MS and be one of 200 in the whole world.

Choosing is a science-

Is your team building involved in this science?

My dughter-in-law is an executive with an investment consulting company. She brought this science (Choosing) to my attention and I found it to be profound and extremely current in todays business environment.

"Team Building Is About Learning to Work Together to Make Better Choices".

Webster's defines "choosing" as: "To select after consideration", and "to take an alternative". Is your team training strategy developing the skills necessary to take advantage of the science of "choosing" and coalescing the team, i.e., growing together?

The output from Team Building meetings often has the component of "choosing"; getting members to buy into a choice that has already been made; gathering information as a precursor to choosing, or arriving at a consensus of a decision/choice having been made. Bottom line, business is always about choosing and taking action. Making the right decision/choice is what defines the caliber of executive and even team members.

"Choosing" after all is a science. It can be learned, but there are a lot of factors that are indicators as to how well a person is equipped to make decisions. Business gives us a lot of examples to look at relative to outstanding decision makers; Mr. A. G. Lafley, a former CEO of P&G, is my go-to example of someone who treats choosing as a science in business. As far as researchers on the subject are concerned I have a lot of respect for Ms. Sheena Iyengar who studies the science of choosing in business.

In choosing there are alternatives and decisions. Alternatives are considered the art and choosing from a list of alternatives is the science. So, are you using the function of "choosing" in constructing your team: The right people required for developing strategies and choices? The concept does apply.

How often have you heard executives in business say, "just give me the bottom line"? Well, they are basically asking for the alternatives first. Then the executive may use: intuition, experience profiles, education, feelings, internal political factors, etc, to choose a decision option. Remember, making a decision is timing sensitive-the quality of a decision diminishes with any delay in reaching the decision. Teams must understand the science of "choosing" so they can stay relevant in the process. Egos are a terrible thing in choosing, they negatively impact the need for timely decisions.

I submit that today's teams are more interested in getting along and contributing collectively than using the science of choosing to move the organization forward profitably and/or most efficiently.

So You Are Thinking of A Team Building Effort In Wine Country?

Great place for sure...but is your team building plan up to date?

If you keep doing the same thing over and over and expect different results, you probably need to reevaluate what you are doing or at least don't expect anything new. Well, this takes us to the discussion of team building. If you are responsible for improving your team's performance, and team building is in your plans, will you be utilizing the most current techniques? We know most aspects of organizational dynamics change, so is your approach to team building utilizing the latest and greatest approaches to improving team dynamics?

It wasn't that long ago when team building comprised outdoor activities such as climbing ropes or falling backwards, into the arms of your colleagues? Those were exercises to instill trust and confidence in your team. Today, those exercises seem to be pretty elementary. But those techniques don't work today because employees change. These changes are brought on due to evolving technology, education, demographics and more sophisticated lifestyles.

Whether it is a team building exercise for new employees, experienced employees or executive level managers; team building must be based on current information concerning socio-economic issues and utilizing current trends in interpersonal skills training within teams. Further, the whole event does not need to be a marathon meeting in an attempt to cram as much learning as possible into a short period of time. More and become less when it comes to trying to change relationships.

Think back just 15 years and ask yourself: Has anything changed in the way team building exercises are conducted, planned or structured? If you come out of the tech industry, most likely the economic downturn has been going on for 10 years. Remember when the dot com bubble burst? Then came a general economic downturn. We are all started trying to do more with less. That was facilitated to some extent because of: better employee/management skills, improved training, more education of the workforce, technologies, focus on what's important versus some process that was not adding a significant improvement, or we just accept downsized expectations.

I submit, smaller team building groups, unique exercises, and a better understanding of the needs/motivations of employee participants can make a difference. The experiences of high unemployment, layoff's of fellow workers/friends/family, corporate restructuring, and salary reductions add a new dynamic to team building. New approaches to team building techniques need to be explored; they must be current and relevant. People need to be given tools to help them work together better. More importantly they need to see and experience how to utilize the new techniques until they are comfortable using them as part of their daily routine.

A constant in business and team building is-change.

Ram's Gate Winery-Sonoma, CA
Ram's Gate Winery-Sonoma, CA

Ram's Gate Winery...A great place for a break during a Corporate Meeting in Sonoma

New winery that is very upscale-Ram's Gate Winery

We promote Wine Country as a destination experience for luxury orient small corporate meetings. Obviously, part of meetings is often the team building experience and being in an environment that lends itself to confidentiality. For this reason, and others, a meeting in Wine Country is about out-of-the-ordinary experiences that enhance the purpose of corporate meetings. Winery visits can be ordinary, so a lot of effort is spent matching luxury small business meeting groups with appropriate wineries that bespeak a sense of tasteful service and attention to detail.

Sonoma County has approximately 250 wineries (of course definition of what constitutes a winery is subject to change). These wineries run the gambit from premium wines to mass market wines produced for negociant's.

The newest premium winery in Sonoma is Ram's Gate Winery in Sonoma, CA and across the street from the Sonoma Infineon Raceway. It opened in September 2011 on what was the Roche Winery property, but it is precisely there that any relationship with its prior history ends. Rams Gate Winery is not a renamed winery or even a rebranded winery; it is all new. It is best described today as a new destination experiential winery. The destination exemplifies and showcases the elegance of its wine.

This is not a winery wherein people will be arriving in 40 passenger buses and proceed to occupy staff at the tasting bar. You see, the wine's presentation at Ram's Gate is focused on personal rapport with their guests. This is a winery destination for people arriving with the full expectation of premium wines, highly experienced staff, facilities that enhance the wine experience and a place to experience what real food pairings are all about. You see, they have a world class chef on staff whose sole task to showcase the Ram's Gate Winery collection of wines.

The Ram's Gate destination experience is all about: premium wines, foods, and understanding and building a lasting relationship with their visitors.

For small luxury corporate groups visiting Ram's Gate, after or between meetings, can experience a Wine Country compound created for a luxury Wine Country meeting. The architect for this indoor/outdoor facility was Howard Bachen and the interior designer was Orlando Diaz-Azcuy. Robb Report rated him the best in class. The public area of the winery has beamed ceiling soaring 32 feet above the saloon tasting area. Multiple fireplaces make for a property for year accommodations for team building and relationships.

So, if you are planning a luxury corporate meeting in Sonoma, we recommend a visit to Ram's Gate Winery to get a feel for the respectful courtesy of the staff, unique elegance of the property and the features of the facility that will enhance any off-site meeting.

- Team building can be enhanced with a team culinary exercise managed by their staff chef.

- Elegant picnic's that set a new standard even when compared to traditional fine dining.

- A winemaker presentation to better understand premium wines.

- Meeting facilities that inspire you management team, vendors, guests and FOB (Friends Of the Boss) and a welcome aboard meeting for the new Board of Director member.

- It's all about the experience in the end.

Note: As always, the author has never been offered or solicited anything free from Ram's Gate Winery. These comments are offered to assist in exploring luxury corporate events in Sonoma Wine Country.

These stains run deep in wine country
These stains run deep in wine country

Small Meeting Resorts In Sonoma

Sonoma...a different feel but packs a lot of punch for the money.

Wine Country to me has always been defined as Napa and Sonoma Counties. People in the wine business and the hospitality business are always quick to point out there is no competitive rancor between the two markets. In a nutshell I would say that Napa (being about half the size of Sonoma) is more commercialized, more compact, filled with more upscale restaurants and hotels and offers more wineries. Napa also enjoys a vibrant reputation for some very high-end wines. And lest we forget Napa wineries were the winners of the 1976 Paris Judging.

Having said all of this, let me point out that Sonoma as I tell people, are salt-of-the-Earth people who are humble, engaging, and basically have the traits of ag people. What you see is what you get, basically. My son and daughter-in-law graduated from Sonoma State so that is a disclaimer. It just seems more spread out and traffic is not so oppressive.

Sonoma is made up of 13 AVA's versus 16 AVA's in Napa, yet Sonoma has 60,000 acres planted in vineyards, versus approximately 45,000 in Napa. Sonoma has 260 wineries compared to 525 in Napa. This sets the stage to understand that Sonoma is big in land and vineyards and smaller in wineries and commercial activities like restaurants and shopping.

If a small corporate offsite was being planned and the group wanted privacy, personal time and a hands-on feel then Sonoma is a great place. There are some great attributes to Sonoma to consider. For example: great wineries to visit and most of them do not require advanced appointments, a convenient airport to handle corporate jets, the first Biodynamic® winery and vineyard, good mix of various caliber hotels, world class restaurants and down-time activities equal to those in Napa (balloon rides, golf, winery visits, convenient to San Francisco).

Here are my picks for small luxury corporate meetings of fewer than 25 persons-C Level meetings. As usual they are in no particular ranking.

MacArthur Place

Sonoma, CA (In city location)

64 very well appointed rooms and suites in the historic garden estate setting. The spa and restaurant is top notch.

Ambience: Modern/Contemporary. All suites and rooms have original art.


7 acre estate on the Sonoma town square, the largest town square in any California community

45 minutes to San Francisco and 15 minutes to Napa. By helicopter, San Francisco is about 20 minutes away

Winery convenient

Hotel Healdsburg

Healdsburg, CA (In city location on the plaza)

55 very nice rooms (suites)

Ambience: Modern elegance for C Level clients


24 hour room service

10 minutes from Santa Rosa Airport Executive Terminal

A Charlie Palmer Restaurant

25 minutes to Napa

Kenwood Inn

Kenwood, CA-Valley of the Moon

29 rooms

If you want to touch, see and smell wine country this is the place. It is very small but the size works well for a company with enough lead time to get the required rooms.

This is absolutely a place that is exquisite.

Ambience: Villa/California Period.


Restaurant and wine bar with Michelin Star Chef

24 hour room service

Designed for small corporate groups-can handle 30-40 attendees

Casual environment

Need to mention equally nice properties but are not on my main list because they are larger and do not offer 24 hour room service and location:

Sonoma Mission Inn

Sonoma CA (a Fairmont Hotel property)

226 rooms

Known for their fantastic spa and naturally heat mineral water pools.

Ambience: Early California


18 hole golf course is near by

2 restaurants (Santé' is fine dining-business casual attire)

Do not have 24 hour room service.

Truly a nice hotel for larger groups where size is not a consideration.

Napa Valley gateway to luxury meetings
Napa Valley gateway to luxury meetings

Unadulterated Luxury For The Very Discriminating

Luxury meetings in Wine Country are real.

In Napa County I think there are a handful of exclusive and luxury properties that are point-on for small corporate groups (25 and fewer participants that are "C" Level executive caliber). However, there are probably 12 that are considered 4 and 5 star properties, some of which easily handle events of 500 attendees. I would not consider facilities that accept pets, romantic getaways or family festivities to be appropriate for executive/corporate events.

Enough of the qualifiers, here is my short list of properties for small luxury "C" Level meetings in Napa Valley. Service levels and attention to detail delivered in a manner of "subdued anticipation"; something should be done and it was, that is 5 star service that works with the ambience of the property. (No particular ranking.) These are well suited for high-end meetings for 25 or fewer attendees.

Calistoga Ranch, Calistoga, CA

Ambience: Natural Luxury in country setting. Large property.

48 large square footage suites, 24 hour room service/concierge, restaurant (gentlemen coat required), and Spa. Provides 24 hour room service.

Extremely private with remarkable degree of security and confidentiality. Six year old.

Auberge du Soleil, Rutherford, CA

Ambience: natural contemporary/Formal French

50 rooms in a cottage format that is in a natural country setting.

Coat required at restaurants.

Complimentary bar in room, 2 restaurants and on-site spa, fitness room and 24 hour room service.

North Block Hotel, Yountville, CA

Ambience: Modern. contemporary boutique-In-town setting. Positioned as 'familiar laid-back'.

20 rooms- approximately 400-500 sq. ft. Hotel is 3 years old.

Award winning restaurant, in-house spa, 24 hour fitness room, and 24 hour room service.

Others that are also highly rated but are large properties and provide a more universal approach to guest services:

Meritage Resort-400 plus rooms. Well suited for large meetings and conventions. Napa, CA

Meadowood Resort-Great resort with a heavy concentration on sports activities. They have a 9 hole golf course on property. Not private. St. Helena, CA

Bardessono Hotel-Modern with a commitment to sustainability. In-town property. Yountville, CA

62 rooms and accept pets.

Silverado Resort-geared for families, conventions, with a casual atmosphere. Reminds me of The Del Coronado in San Diego.

450 rooms, restaurant, spa, stellar golf experiences, nice service in a stately atmosphere. Napa, CA

Honorable mention is The Poetry Inn.-Napa, CA

With only 5 rooms they are not ideal for meetings, but only for that reason, they not the best in Napa Valley. This is a property that has a Villa atmosphere with rooms of 1,400 sq. ft. Meeting room accommodates only 8. They also have pool and spa rooms. They also have a luxury estate home on the property with 3 bedrooms and come with a personal chef. Be prepared for a 3 night minimum stay if you want this elegance.

Two Types of Meetings-Corporate Sponsored and Paid For--Your on Your Own

The Tax Man Cometh

Attending meetings in Wine Country (or anywhere) always has tax implications. Tax implications means the IRS is involved. IRS involvement means headaches. Therefore, to prevent headaches always get tax advice from professionals. There are exceptions to every rule so it pays to be sure.

There are two categories that have tax implications: is a potential participant attending an event as an individual representing himself/herself or is a participant attending as part of a corporate sponsored event and all expenses are paid by the inviter (sponsor). However, if a participant is paying certain fees and expenses relating to attendance then the individual tax deduction may be subject to restrictions. For example, if a participant is charged for meals then those meals can only be deducted at 50%. Should a meeting be part of a vacation or a spouse is involved then other deduction rules apply. Nothing is easy.

If a company wants to come to Wine Country for say: a board of directors meeting, or off-site planning meeting, new product release, a small incentive function, team building exercise or vendor appreciation conference; these functions are tax deductible to the corporation and generally do not impact participants.

However, under certain circumstances a W-2 or 1099 would be issued. For example, when an employee is invited to attend a meeting, seminar, recognition (not his/her own obviously) or conference and the employee brings a spouse, the sponsor may be obliged to present an employee with a W-2 for the spouse's cost component.

We mostly deal directly with very small corporate meetings in suggesting and providing services per customer orders (only in Wine Country); commensurate with the event, therefore we do not provide tax advice.

As a sponsoring company of a meeting we suggest the following to minimize tax concerns:

1. Well defined goals for a meeting/event.

2. A well thought out and documented itinerary.

3. An itemized budget for each component and activity of the event/meeting. For example, meals, hotel, activities, transportation, and speakers.

If you are planning on attending a meeting at your own expense (not as an employee), realize you need to keep good records of your expense. Generally, all expenses are 100% deductible except meals and those are at the 50% of actual.

Note: Always check with a tax professional for deductible expenses relative to any business meetings. Of course if it is totally paid by the company or organization then you may have less concern.

Respected versus Liked In Selecting Team Leaders

Go for respected when choosing team leaders

When choosing team leaders, should candidates be chosen based upon whether they are "respected", or if they are "liked"? But, how do you determine if they are respected, liked or both? Is there a plan in place in choosing new team building leaders? If there is no plan then how serious is your team building efforts? Rodney Dangerfield used to joke that he never got any respect: in business that is not a good joke. But, for a moment think about people you respect and others that you like, are they the same people? Chances are you will realize that you can like someone and not respect them. Both "respect" and "like" can also be transitory; both can change with time, circumstances, job functions and corporate policies.

Maybe it is also important to analyze what the difference is between "respect" and "like". Respect is often defined as-being worthy of high regard and regard that is not ordinary. Liked is defined as-suitable or agreeable and attracted toward someone. There are people I respect very much but would not want to socialize with on a non-business basis and vice versa. We all know people we like to be around but also admit that we would not want to work for them.

In the military it is often said: rank commands respect but an individual (at any rank) must earn respect. I suppose in business we can say the same thing, recognizing the military is not a democracy. My time in the military showed me, on many occasions, that leaders excelled when they were respected and were underachievers when they were simply liked. Remember, to be respected and/or liked requires vigilance by a team leader. Therefore, if a leader wants to be liked it requires a different approach to a team than taking the path to being respected.

In business there is always going to be individuals who do not "like" a specific person; that is a given. However, those feelings will probably not interfere with job effectiveness. Those dislikes can most likely be attributed to personality conflicts of personal traits that are disagreeable to some. But the characteristics of respected individuals are more universal.

In team building, look for potential leaders that are "respected" at their current level. The personal actions that contribute to an individual's "respect" quotient may also be found in characteristics of being "liked". Here are some of the interpersonal skills to help build "respect" as a leader:

- Comments that are beyond experience levels or otherwise gratuitous should be avoided.

- Listen closely to the tone, timbre and the direction of a discussion before entering the discussion. Remember what Mark Twain said: "It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt."

- Show appreciation in private. When someone has paid you a compliment or shown respect to you in some way, respond in private; a handwritten note is always impactful.

- When around other people never display emotions or add verbal comment that impugns another person's reputation or image.

- Be honest with people regarding opinions and intentions.

- Avoid signs of arrogance. When trying to gain respect and be an effective leader-be humble in manner and speech.

- Being humble is the pathway to empathy toward others. Avoid public adulation from others. If it is done in front of others it can breed animosity.

- Self-confidence is a critical so be controlled/measured in accepting criticism.

- Lastly, always do unto others as you hope they will do to you…expecting that some will not.

Leadership traits to use in meetings (ideas to help maintain the image of a team leader):

- Stay in control of your verbal and body language cue's when every inclination is to panic.

- Display authority by being prepared for all contingencies in a meeting.

- Never be condescending or argumentative toward other's comments in a group.

- Say what you mean and mean what you say.

- Attributes of leadership always are evolving; they improve with maturity and experience. Therefore, take every advantage to learn by reading, attending seminars, and understand the psychology of leadership by learning from people you respect as effective leaders. For example, Jack Welch, Jr. is a respected leader; I don't like him but I sure respect him.

Now, once you are a leader of a team walk the talk:

- Be firm in stating positions and direction.

- Be fair in considering other views; no favoritism.

- Be measured in all responses whether in private or public.

- Compliment others in public, assuming the compliment is not gratuitous.

- Never tolerate obvious disrespect as a leader or to others on the team.

- Do not seek the approval of others on the team-you are the leader and not striving to be a friend.

- Always stay within you scope of authority.

- Once respect is lost it is almost impossible to regain if you are a leader.

- After becoming a team leader you can never again be one of the boy's/girl's. Yes, being a leader can be fulfilling but it is also lonely.

Do you build, motivate and maintain a quality team with members and a leader that is based upon respect or being liked? Making the discussion even more personal: Would you rather be "respected" or "liked" in your personal life and in your business life? Or, can you separate them in different environments?

What makes a person respected and what makes a person business

Forget about is it better to be respected or liked as a great leader.

We have talked a lot about building effective individuals teams participants, building effective teams as a whole, and maintaining team performance after the euphoria of the team building experience might pass.

All of this is a very complex set of circumstances. Charisma, environment, corporate persona, the people on the team; all add to effective leadership.

Having spent 40 years in airline, travel and technology businesses in leadership positions, I would say I am most interested in being respected as a leader; being liked is too fickle of a leadership attribute that takes to much effort to maintain, i have found. Yes, they (respect and liked) are different. Therefore, think about what the team is going to respond to, in a leader, that will bring about respect. In business respect drives results.

This is probably the hardest concept most team leaders must learn and accept and implement in order for them to be successful.

I just like the look of a cork
I just like the look of a cork

A Roundabout Way To Consider Other Aspects of Team Building in Wine Country

Always a different approach to consider.

Ten years ago I was interviewing for a Vice President position of a large public company. One of the requirements was to go through a battery of psychological tests and interviews. The reason being, as they told me, was to get a feel for the fit as a senior management on that team member. Before I started the process I remembered, I had a professor who always told his students in the Business School to never get involved in psychological testing for a job. But I felt this would be fun, a learning experience and even a way for me to experiment with the concept. The experiment was for me to test the application of psychological testing relative to team building; more on that later.

After 6 hours of tests and 2 interviews I was truly drained and frankly on the verge of chalking up the whole experience as being a vast waste of time. On the morning of the second day I was told the test results and the conclusion of the psychologist. Basically, she said: "you can no doubt do the job and you are no doubt qualified, however, I do not think this company is a good fit for you due to your style of management. Nonetheless, she continued, I am recommending you because you can contribute to overall goals of the company-change the culture."

The 'fun' I received from the exercise was in playing a cat and mouse game with the psychologist and seeing if I could manipulate her as much as she was trying to manipulate me. Every discussion she would instigate, before I answered, I would analyze the comment or question to understand what I thought she was trying to ascertain. This exercise is what has lead me to believe most people in a team building exercise can feel like a manager or facilitator is trying to outsmart them or manipulate them. This subliminal thought process therefore is one of the causes of people feeling like animals being herded.

Now, more to the point: How many times have you heard any of these expressions: You are hard-wired with a certain personality; or, everybody is different in the way they process and act on information; another one is; you are who you are and not everyone is going to like or respond positively to you and your ideas? There are many other clichés in addition to these, but you get the point. Every situation, environment, or relationship in the work place is going to change and that change can sometimes cause changes in a team. Change is manageable given time and experiences.

Reflecting on the inputs I received from the psychological testing, I really did not learn anything new about myself. What I did learn is that personality traits are equally important to experiences and creativity in team leadership. In the case of my new employer, the company wanted someone with my idiosyncrasies to help change culture. That approach simply does not work well unless a lot of factors are in place-that is call a long shot. I am impatient, demanding, and not laid-back. Simply put, a 'go along and get along' is not a great environment for someone like me. You may think you are leading a charge for change but if no one is following and no other leaders is with you it will not work.

All companies have a personality or culture and from time-to-time that culture will need to change. There are several things that can precipitate the need for change in corporate culture. Here are a few (a very few): demographics, economic environment, new products and markets, legacy product lifecycle, change in ownership and competition changes (geographical, new entrants, even currencies). Sometimes changes can be gradual and some are more immediate. It is fun if the changes in culture compliment a manager's core experiences and personality traits/strengths/style/charisma. Further, leadership skills that build a team are not always transferrable. Remember the issues surrounding formerly successful leaders such as: John Sculley-Apple, Robert Nardelli-Home Depot, and Leo Apotheker-HP. All great managers that could not singlehandedly affect corporate change and team building their way into a new corporate culture.

In difficult economic times, any category of change is inevitable but hard to initiate. People's options are limited and therefore they do not want to support and buy-into change if it means they will be out of work for a long period of time. Maybe they will go so far as to aid in the early failure of a change program. If you are a leader/manager responsible for cultural change in a company, yes, it is about you. Lee Iacocca is a guy who changed corporate culture at Chrysler but he couldn't change it at Ford; lucky for Chrysler. A leaders 'hard-wiring' cannot be changed by experiences. Experiences can shape traits but not change them. Mr. Ford blamed problems between him and Mr. Iacocca on "personal chemistry". So, this does illustrate cultural change is possible if a lot of personality traits come into play with a very receptive team? Think for a moment about the image of Mr. Iacocca; manufactured or hard-wired people could define the man.

Here are my rules for team building in an environment of significant changes and directions of corporate culture.

Team building is probably the best approach in implementing cultural change of any sort. Today's management and team members (at all levels) are smart, educated, exposed to a lot of information and internet/social media give people a sophistication that is hard to compete with without a team concept.

If corporate culture change is required, team building can help mitigate lack of experience in instituting change. Obviously, team building is building on cultural, job, and educational experiences; kind-of-a-the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

Buy-in is not over-rated. If you buy into the above premise then the importance of an employee buy-in is a given. If not then second place better be very good.

Know your personality and realize you are NOT going to change those traits. Assess the team you inherit and be realistic about the possibility you have in changing the team in any way. Reorganizing is generally detrimental throughout an organization no matter how justifiable.

Not everyone is going to like you. A positive attitude will get you started but it will not sustain or influence morale for very long. Stay with your strengths; trying to improve you negatives only divides you attention.

People do not respond with the same intensity relative to culture change and team building. If for example, you own a small private company, you already know who is committed to change and for a number of reasons not everyone is equipped to respond with equal intensity. In essence, you are not the only one hard-wired to respond in a certain way.

Wisely pick your battles and avenues you take to implement change; some avenues are one-way. Start with the easiest changes first and do not paint a vision of where you want to end up to early in the process. A vision may be attainable but not everyone can see that far ahead at first.

99% of people will tell you what they think you want to hear. Some leaders are hard-wired to be self-assured and they do not want any 'sanity checks'. But, by asking for opinions it is simply another avenue to get your message out about change.

Results do matter, but the results need to be greater than the temporary destruction of bruised egos. Keep in mind the 'risk/reward' scenario.

Do your research and know your facts before you try to change culture. Remember the old saying-Fire, aim, and load? Good analysis makes for great mental pictures. Just remember the Mark Twain adage about numbers and lies.

Develop a kind of cult/charisma personality. People love to be proud of their leaders. They like to, in a good naturedly way, make fun of their management. Herb Kelleher, one of the founders of Southwest Airlines, comes to mind as a guy people admired and said "I know Herb". Cult personalities are not like that of a rock star or Hollywood types; it can be a subtle thing like Steve Jobs who wore jeans or a person who takes on a competitor and wins.

You need to earn, deserve, and be vigilant about the importance of 'respect'. Respect is important so get it and keep it.

We are now at the end. In summary, a leader is hard-wired with certain traits that are not changeable or reprogrammable, so know them and work with them. Not everyone is going to like you, but they better respect you and respect is something you can control. Use any tool you can find to define your personality; the strengths and weaknesses. Weakness traits are not bad if you know them.

If you are a team builder by training or personality, yes there is an "I" in team building.

Two Wine Stains
Two Wine Stains

Interesting things about Wine Country

Great place whether you like wine or no.

Spa's, great restaurants, winemaking, team building activities, wine caves, etc.

But, do you want Sonoma or Napa?

Wine Country Defined-Some Thoughts & Facts

Wine Country Defined

In 1968 I made my first excursion to Napa, CA and witnessed the fervor about the new winery called Mondavi. I was instantly hooked on Wine Country as a destination. Subsequently, working in the travel industry, I have brought many travel industry groups and companies to Napa to experience the culture and trappings of Wine Country. In the late 90's, I started spending more in-depth time in Sonoma County where my son and future daughter-in-law attended Sonoma State University. Point being, I have somewhat of a feel for both counties; and yes they are distinctly different. So, let me present my take on Wine Country. Both counties offer hospitality and a different feel, but both are genuinely real.

Over the years, people not familiar with Northern California's Wine Country always ask, "What's the difference between Napa and Sonoma Counties for my meeting?" I wrestle with this question on a daily basis in counseling clients. Because Symtrek Partners is focused on high-end experiential corporate 'happenings/events', the best location for a business meeting or board meeting or any off-site meeting is really dependent on the purpose or objectives of the event. To that end, Symtrek Partners spends most of its time collecting critical data from the client, analyzing their needs then making recommendations for meeting site and activities.

Napa County's success is a result of a perfect storm: a convergence of a super sized ego(s), marketing genius, success in Paris, big name players (private and corporate) and a very defined geographic region. If any one of these elements had been lost in the 70's and 80's, Napa would probably have less of a cachet today. On the other hand, Sonoma County was the first wine region in California. It is 3 times larger than Napa County, enjoys a 55 mile picturesque coast line and is dominated by established lineages of family owned vineyards and wineries. But each, with their differences offer a great place to experience...a great board meeting, a great team building exercise, a great incentive program -- as we say, "A pinnacle experience".

Napa of today was born of a well executed marketing strategy to make Napa an icon of culture, wealth, corporate presence, and food, while being wine centric. It was/is "the place to see and be seen". Like Sonoma, Napa has a great infrastructure that caters to corporate and leisure events; it's just much more concentrated. Some say Napa's success is due to the prophesying of one man: Robert Mondavi. On the other hand, Sonoma is about generations of families who work the land and produce the broadest range of varietal grapes and wines without much fanfare, but with equal sophistication. Because Sonoma is so large, compared to Napa, it has many significant appellations that are disparate and do not coalesce into a single defined area like Napa. With approximately the same number of luxury hotel and estate properties and activities their diversity is spread out over a larger area that includes Redwoods, the ocean and interior valleys. Sonoma and Napa are also defined by their commitment to nature. (More on this in a moment.)

Both counties have their equal share of high-end self contained 'destination resort' properties (inclusive of hotel, spa, fine dining and golf amenities-all on-site). Napa and Sonoma are equally populated with prestigious exclusive hotels and restaurants/chefs. Finally, activities are plentiful to support great corporate meetings. For example, winey visits, hot air ballooning, golf, green winery/vineyard tours, etc. Going one step further, great options exist for small corporate meetings using exclusive private estates with all the amenities such as a private chef.

Food is still a major attraction and reason for a Wine Country meeting. To start with, I mention the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone in Napa and Ramekins in Sonoma. The Culinary Institute of America is all about training professional chefs and Ramekin's is dedicated to a cooking school experience for people interested in cooking as an avocation. Both are great facilities for team building exercises. If there are requirements for a private/personal chef; Napa and Sonoma are rich in well known chefs. Of course, The French Laundry is the only Michelin 3 Star restaurant in Wine Country; well worth the experience. Together, in the 2007 Michelin Guide, Napa and Sonoma had a total of 10 restaurants rated 1, 2 and 3 Star (4 in Sonoma and 6 in Napa). Interestingly, approximately 35% of all Bay Area and Wine Country Michelin rated restaurants are in Wine Country. Not bad for farming communities!

If you are involved in a company that supports the "green, sustainable, organic and/or Biodynamic's®" movement, coming to Wine Country will be your Nirvana. There are 13 wineries in Napa certificated by Napa County Environmental Management as "Green". The Federal government has certified 150 Napa and Sonoma vineyards as "Organic". A lesser known certification that has been around since 1928 in Europe is a little more esoteric; "Biodynamic® Certification" is a method of grape production that goes well beyond organic into the realm of eco-system management. I am aware of 8 vineyards that are certified as "Biodynamic®" vineyards. The first such vineyard to be Biodynamic® in the U.S. was Benziger Family Winery in Sonoma County. If you want to experience a Green winery, Organic winery/vineyard or Biodynamic® certified grapes, Wine Country is holy ground. Of course, hundreds of wineries are certified by the State of California as "Sustainable".

Finally, remember I said there was a connection with Napa's success and Paris? The year 1976 is the year to remember for Napa and Wine Country. Well, this was the year that California wines broke the proverbial viticulture glass ceiling in Paris. At that French competition, Napa's Chateau Montelena Winery's 1973 Chardonnay (made from Sonoma County grapes) was judged the finest white wine by French judges. Chateau Montelena was competing against 4 French wines and 6 American white wines. At that same tasting, Napa's Stag's Leap Wine Cellars' Cabernet Souvenian also took the top prize. This seminal tasting event was recreated at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History in 1996 to mark the 20th anniversary of the event. At that time, bottles of the first-place wines--the 1973 Stag's Leap Wine Cellars' Cabernet Sauvignon, and the 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay--were accepted into the Museum's collections.

If a wine country visit fits your corporate needs, both Napa and Sonoma Counties have great airports/FBO's that cater to corporate jet clients. Both airports offer corporate turbine helicopter charter services for quick transportation to Carmel, San Francisco and Monterrey.

Still want to know more? Pick-up one of the following books for an interesting read.

Napa-by Mr. James Conoway (Available in paperback)

The House of Mondavi-by Ms. Julia Flynn Siler

(Available in paperback)

The Wine Bible-by Ms. Karen MacNeil

(Available in paperback)

A Tale of Two Valleys-by Alan Deutschman

Cork comes from an Oak tree bark-a certain species-and there are about 5 grades of wine cork - Peter Weber promotes Cork in Wine Country

Who thinks about the mystery of corks? Portugal is the source of great corks.

Every time I start one of these human interest stories about what goes on, out of the public eye in the Wine Country, I get absolutely intrigued by the commitment of the people. I contacted a cork trade group called Cork Quality Council in Sonoma to explore if there was anything interesting about corks for the next “People” story. Peter Weber answered the phone and 35 minutes later my head was spinning with all the facts about corks. It almost seemed like a discussion about open heart surgery was elementary compared to the genealogy of cork. Here is a guy who has been in the wine industry for 30 years; loves the business and especially corks.

I do not think my interest in cork is an aberration; just not frequently reflected upon. As an aside, to illustrate a point, a few years ago I ask a golf pro to speak at a sales meeting—told him to speak on anything about golf. For one hour he was riveting. His subject was, “The lowly 5 iron”. Corks are the equivalent of the 5 iron.

Natural cork has been associated with the storage of valuable foods and beverages for thousands of years. Ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans referenced cork as a preferred material for stoppers used with wine and olive oil. So, corks are here to stay.

Let’s get some myths out of the way. First, squeezing a cork after removing it from the bottle generally doesn’t tell you much about the wine. Secondly, smelling a cork after you pull it will not tell you much either (more on this later). Thirdly, if a bottle leaks the cork is bad. Probably not true, most likely it could be the actual bottle is not according to original specifications. Best bet--taste and smell the wine; now you know everything.

While we are on issues of bottles, Peter says there are technical requirements for filling bottles, such as temperature and volume.

“The Cork Quality Council has standards for the inspection and handling of cork that our members must adhere to. For example, cork dimensions, moisture in the cork, and the incidence of off aromas are all monitored. Cork lots that test below standards are removed from distribution in our markets,” says Peter.

But now to the cork itself:

Though the Cork Oak can flourish in many climates, the conditions that favor commercial use lie in a fairly narrow swath that cuts through Western Europe and Northern Africa along the Mediterranean coast. Most cork used in the US comes from Portugal. These cork trees are never destroyed during the cork harvesting which happens every 9 years. These trees can and do live at least 200 years. Obviously, cork is a sustainable product.

It seems every year there is renewed discussion about aroma/smell problems caused by TCA (I call it tainted cork). That is why there are strict cleanliness standards in handling all cork. TCA doesn’t cause any illness but to real aficionado’s they claim to be able to smell TCA contamination.

“This is not a simple process to get the right cork for the right bottle. There are approximately 13 steps to get to the end result that starts with the bark plank.” And, like most things, there are varying grades of natural cork. That is why wineries can find corks that cost $0.25 all the way up to $1.00. Peter, the consummate salesman for the cork Council tells me natural cork helps wine age. He says, “It softens the tannins, helps bouquet, and adds to complexity.”

Last question to Peter is about cork versus screw cap versus synthetic. This is not a good way to end a discussion with a guy who has lived in Wine Country for 30 years, is a purist and generally has a low threshold for things that pain his spirit. But, he humored me. Bottom line, plastic does not hold up as well to age as natural cork, but it is cheaper…a lot cheaper. Screw caps are also less expensive and have been around for a long time, but, lack the romance of a fine quality cork to just plain look at and admire.

Maybe more than you wanted to about TCA:

In 1999 the California based Cork Quality Council initiated research into how to measure TCA in corks and how to estimate how the TCA would affect bottled wine. Because TCA is one of the most potent substance that can be smelled – the average trained person can detect as little as 6 parts per trillion – most scientific methods could not easily quantify its presence. Typical sensory analysis basically determined that TCA was either ”present” or “not present”.

Using sophisticated gas chromatography methods, researchers were able to detect TCA to the level of 1 part per trillion. This allowed cork companies to evaluate corks in a much more useful way. Of corks that were considered “clean” – cork companies could now see which had TCA at levels just below sensory detection and which were actually free of TCA.

The California methods have since been adopted by cork companies and manufacturers all over the world. The Cork Quality Council has seen reductions in the incidence of TCA by over 85% since it initiated its QC program in 2001. Many wine experts now estimate that the incidence of cork taint is now at 1% or less. Some have concluded that cork taint is no longer a major problem for the industry.

AVA's of Napa County CA.

15 AVA in Napa

Importance or Significance of Appellations and AVA’s

Maybe I am making a mountain out of the proverbial mole hill with this AVA chatter. But AVA's add just another dimension to the mystic of wine. This AVA business is not an exercise to be undertaking lightly. Calistoga AVA, as designated on December 3rd, 2009, took more than 6 years to get awarded and it involved the sciences of: mapping, soil chemistry, geology, weather and environmental sciences. The submission for such a designation must meet 3 basic test to start with--recognized are by the populace, significantly definable soil conditions, and climatic features that are recognizable. The judges of the submitted information for AVA designation is the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau in Washington, DC.

For wine lovers and people simply interested in the art of wine making and the history of it in California, it is the soil and the weather conditions that make great grapes for great wines...OK the winemakers too.

After a lot of digging and talking to the TTB, I found out there are 15 AVA's in the Napa Valley Appellation (let's simply agree to call it Napa County) and 13 AVA's in the Sonoma County Appellation (semantics are at play here). In other words, the overall appellation in Napa is "Napa Valley" and in Sonoma it is "Sonoma County".

I am told and thus convinced, that a guy like James Laube can distinguish the AVA a wine comes from. Remember, 85% of the grapes used in a wine and labeled as being from a specific AVA must come from that AVA. In fact, a lot of collectors search for wines from a specific AVA region.

Like Bordeaux, CA Wine Country AVA's are important distinctions to wine quality, branding and marketing around the world.

The last Napa AVA designation was in 2010 and that was the Calistoga AVA; designated by the TTB.

Wine Cellar
Wine Cellar

Facts about Wine Country

Maybe visit a Winery on you next meeting in Wine Country

There are many sources of information on what it takes to get that precious grape nectar from the field/vineyard into the glass. The numbers vary greatly based upon a number of factors such as varietals, terroir, weather and demands from winemakers to the vineyard manager.

So here goes: (Source is Got Tannins)

400 vines per acre-Some vineyards are planted at 1,000 vines per acre.

4-5 tons yield per acre-This is really dependent on varietals and soil conditions and weather during the peak growing season.

160 gallons per ton

60 cases per ton

75 poundsof grapes per vine

25 bottles per vine

240 cases per acre

1 grape cluster equals 1 glass of wine

24 cases per barrel

288 bottles of wine per barrel

416 cases per 1,000 gallons

10,000 different grape varietals worldwide

American White Oak barrel (new) costs about $465 each.

Cost of a vine with a specific clone specification (let’s say a cabernet) is about $4.00 per vine.

A ton of a high demand varietal can be $4,000 per ton.

Now you probably know more than you wanted to know.

Jack Ryno of Winery Transitions
Jack Ryno of Winery Transitions

A constant question from people attending a meeting in Wine Country...

what would it cost to start a winery?

What makes meetings in Wine Country so much fun and interesting is that it provokes wonderment.

After a meeting is finished for the day we can visit highly successful wineries and meet the owners-former US Ambassador, movie mogul, famous authors.

Quote: "Who never drinks wine is a lamb, who drinks properly, is a lion, who drinks too much is a pig." - inscription on an ancient Roman winery

I started my career in the travel business at Trans World Airlines selling incentive programs and corporate meetings. Along the way, I ventured into TWA's leisure/tour business, leading me to my first trip to Wine Country. I came to Wine Country in 1969 to set up a TWA tour program. I was instantly enamored with the sights, sounds and culture of California's Wine Country. I just dreamed someday I would own a winery.

Winery ownership will probably never happen for me, but part of the fun is talking about the dream. That led to an introduction to Mr. Jack Ryno, owner of Winery Transitions in Sonoma County. Jack makes a living consulting with people who want to get into the winemaking business and helping winery owners improve their businesses. I met with Jack Ryno because once and for all I wanted a reality check about what it is like for "Joe New Guy" to come face-to-face with today's issues of starting a winery.

"I started as a restaurant sommelier and after graduating from the University of Washington with a B.S. in Microbiology, I completed graduate courses in winemaking at Fresno State University. Later I earned an MBA from Sonoma State University but the real learning started when I began working in the winery and vineyards," said Jack. "Early on as a winemaker for example, I learned there are a couple of wrong ways to make wine but no one right way. During my thirty years in the wine industry I have led winemaking, vineyard, operations, marketing, and sales teams," said Jack. "A lack of understanding in any one area can lead to ruin".

"Whether it is selling wine or tee shirts, ultimately it come down to developing a business model that allows the owner to produce and market a wine that people will buy at a profit," said Jack. I tell investors that based on their business model, there are five potential outcomes: they can lose a lot of money, lose a little money, break even, make a little money, or make a lot of money.

It is critical to have a model that is suited for today's marketplace. I start with the end in mind and work backwards. The last thing I would recommend to a winery investor is buy a piece of land, develop a vineyard, build a winery, and make the wine. I've seen too many people start that way only to be into the project five or six years, having spent millions of dollars and without any revenue to show for it. I recommend starting by asking where and how they intend to sell their wine.

SP-So, how do we sell the wine we produce?

JR-This is, perhaps, the most important decision a winery owner has to make. Do you have contacts in wine distribution? If you have no contacts, or salespeople with these contacts, you're in for the biggest challenge of your career. Here's the issue: distributors want big producers who have great marketing (and budgets) behind their brand. If you are a small producer - less than 250,000 cases annually - you'll be fighting for distributor "share of mind". At this level you've got to be realistic in how you can compete with the likes of Kendall-Jackson, Beringer or Mondavi let alone the liquor giant brands like Absolut, Jose Cuervo or Jack Daniels.

For small or new wineries, I recommend they build their business based on a model to sell directly to the consumer through their tasting room, wine clubs, email and telemarketing. The name of this game is niche marketing, and the most critical success factor is the location of the tasting room. Location is king.

SP-OK, assume we have a meeting and I want you to tell me what I should be looking at to determine my sanity in wanting to get into the wine business.

JR-First off, you need to tell me your motivation in building a winery. Is it as a business, , do you want to build a winery and eventually sell, or is it a life style decision? Let's assume you are talking about building a winery with enough land to plant some grapevines.

SP-How much land do you think we need?

JR-Now wait a minute. How much capital do you have, because you will probably need about $16 million to acquire the land in Sonoma, build your tasting room with a modest winery, develop a few acres of vineyard, and enough cash to build inventory and provide the working capital required to get through the start-up years.

There are lots of choices to make. For example, you can maximize your vineyards if you decide to utilize barrel caves and hire a contractor like Don Magorian to help. The long-term costs associated with caves are lower than above ground buildings, but they are slightly more expensive to build.

Locating the right site for the winery is where I'd start. You need a tasting room location with highway frontage on a major wine route. In Napa or Sonoma and there are only 4 stretches of highway that can generate the 70,000 visitors you need each year.

SP-But I'm a little nervous. Don't we need to have wine to sell?

JR-Yes, of course. But there are a few things to consider first. Many people are surprised by the winery permitting process. The Federal government will investigate your personal history and source of funds, the state will do the same and confirm any other business dealings making sure there are no "tied house" relationships for example. Tired house relates to ownership or control of wine wholesalers, retailers or restaurants - none of which are permitted. Local laws vary tremendously. For example, new wineries in Napa can only open their tasting rooms "by appointment". You can't be open to the public and taste you wine with anyone who happens to drive by.

I'd never recommend waiting until my vineyards were producing and my winery was built to start making wine. There are many companies that now specialize in providing custom winemaking services. I recommend starting with one of these under an Alternating Proprietorship permit. That's where you are legally a winery within a winery.

If you aren't a winemaker you will need to hire a winemaker or a consulting winemaker. Some of the more famous consulting winemakers will command $200,000 plus a year to get started. Someone fresh out of school may cost a third of that and an experienced winemaker may be somewhere in between.

Making wine takes time. Let's say you want to make a Cabernet Sauvignon beginning with the 2011 harvest. Crush the grapes, ferment the juice, barrel age the wine, then blend and bottle it. After six months bottle-age, it will be early 2014 before the wine is ready to sell.

SP-Time is money,How long will this take?

JR-Starting with bare land, it will take two or three months to get a business plan and model together -longer if you are a true winery neophyte. Let's say you have a piece of property, you'll need to go to the County with a complete set of plans to obtain a use permit. Allow 6 to 18 months for that approval assuming there is no opposition to the project by neighbors.

Once approved, you can start building and planting. Assume another nine to fifteen months before construction is complete and you're ready to open to the public. You could easily be two or three years out. That's one of the reasons I like to start the wine production with a custom service provider while construction is underway. In this way your first wines are ready to sell the day you open your doors.

SP-How long before we start being cash flow positive?

JR-I think I can show you an honest plan, selling direct to the consumer, with an average retail price of $30 where you are cash flow positive and making money in 4 years. By year six or seven, profitability and cash flows can become quite attractive. This, of course assumes the winery is developed on the property I have in mind (which has an approved use permit), a solid business plan, leadership and a great team of vineyard managers, winemakers, marketing and tasting room sales staff.

The Good side of the wine business is that it can be fun for the right personality type. It really boils down what is the perspective owner's motivation in wanting to be in the wine business. While I like to focus on profitability, believe it or not, not everyone has the motivation to make money.

The Bad is that it is labor, time and capital intensive. With 11 acres of vines, a good location for tasting room traffic, excellent staff, good equipment and around $16 million you could have a profitable winery in 5 years.

If a person was willing to own a winery outside of Napa or Sonoma you could buy an existing winery needing some work but with a great location and market potential, for $10 million - maybe less. Right now, there are some really attractive deals if you're looking to buy a winery.

Now for the Ugly. There are risks. Jack believes wine consumption will continue to grow in the US; but there is no guarantee. Consumer interests change as do capital markets and governmental regulations (local, state and federal). Lastly, never underestimate Mother Nature.

"I believe in the wine industry" says Jack. "Like any business, a winery's success is predicated on producing a great product at an affordable price (value proposition) and being supported by good marketing. There are risks, but a smart business plan will help mitigate those risks. That's what I do".

Mr. Ryno shared a lot of information with Symtrek Partners over time and his historic perspective and insight into a complex industry was and continues to be fascinating.

About as good as it gets for meetings
About as good as it gets for meetings

Team Building Discussion

Work is richer because of people we are around.

I have always enjoyed hearing about people and their accomplishments and, in a way, the trials they endured to achieve successes. A CBS show of a few decades ago "On the Road With Charles Kuralt" was a show that was really about people. And most recently a cable TV show, "A Man Named Pearl", impressed me.

Well I am trying to set the tone here as to why Corporate Meetings in Wine Country are so valuable to a company's psyche. They are valuable because Relationships matter in any human endeavor when a goal is to be achieved. You know, the theory of the 'sum of the parts…'

My son works for an engineering company in San Francisco and once a year their staff and significant others bicycle through Wine Country for tastings and lunch and they get to select some wines from each winery. The relationships that are built have improved performance via respect via relationships.

I personally have never been enamored with the words Team Building. Probably, because it seems to imply manipulation of an individual's spirit. Unilever Corporation calls a program that fosters team building-"Insights"; GE calls it "a Pinnacle Experience. Symtrek Partners has worked with Team Building fascinators and have learned that good team building meetings must be designed to accomplish a specific need. For example, improving communications, understanding how each executive responds to stress, build a bond in advance of a pending period of difficulties, etc.

In Wine Country there are many opportunities that will address a myriad of team building requirements. This is probably true because it if remote, a very unique culture, geography/climate and great facilities. For example how about a team building exercise built around:

- A wine blending/tasting exercise at a private winery and each member of the team takes home the fruits of their labor with a personalized label.

- At a private estate, a culinary exercise with a professional chef where teams prepare different courses of a meal. Along with that is a wine pairing exercise. This is great with spouses.

- Golf event followed with a dinner. A psychologist I knew said, camping was the best exercise to bring a team together because of the hardships endured from camping. Then he said, weeks later, reminiscing the bug bites, falls into the lake, etc., it provoked laughter from the shared calamity of camping events. Golf, as all of us non-golfers know, is humbling, embarrassing and shows us our select and different weaknesses. American Airlines uses golf for women executive's retreats in the travel industry.

- Hiking or bicycling in Wine Country is not overly challenging but rewarding.

- Instructional sailing activities off the Sonoma coast are another activity that builds team work and respect.

Activities build understanding and understanding builds respect and respect builds friendships and friendships are what ultimately bind a team. We know there is strength in numbers. "In today's challenging economic environment, that spirit is more important than ever," says Ms. W. Herrick of Unilever.

Team Building In Wine Country

Wine Country works for: Team Building, Product Launches, Private Corp. Meetings, Board Meetings, Incentives.

Because we stress quality, smaller can be better.


Wine Blending/Tastings


Cave Dinners

Intimate Cave Dinner in Wine Country
Intimate Cave Dinner in Wine Country

Motivating in small groups in Wine Country...some thoughts

In my former lives at TWA and Western Airlines (prior to American and Delta respectively) I ran internal incentive sales programs. My experience is that larger programs, like those run by say John Deere or some of the insurance companies, are easier to structure because of legacy performance programs to build upon and great systems/metrics in place upon which to build an incentive program. Of course I am not saying large programs are easy, just saying there are experiences to draw upon each year.

Now more than ever we are finding that "incentives" are not just about sale performance metrics but include many corporate functions; internal and external employee, customer contact support employees and non-customer support category employees. For example, FedEx has incentives for their truck drivers that reward non-accident service and punctuality.

So, let me expand your thinking about Symtrek Partners and Wine Country relative to the Symtrek Partners business model-think about us for your luxury small group incentives in Wine Country-20 people for example. We are still about small luxury meetings, but that can include small incentive events too.

I recently read an article by Roy Saunderson about incentivizing women; however, this article has a lot of applications to all small businesses that are structuring for growth as our economy recovers. Here are his thoughts to motivate employees. I am paraphrasing some of his comments because his original comments are targeted at women specifically but have applications for all employee groups.

-Make mentoring a must-what a great way to build relationships with small Wine Country events.

-Leverage the power of a personal sponsor to keep enthusiasm and dedication to the company.

-Be creative in designing incentive awards. I think relationships are built so use incentives to build rapport amongst employee leaders.

-Let more of your women employees lead. For that matter, let all employees who want to lead get the experience.

-Lifelong learning is an investment. Any chance a company can get, experiential events are an investment in learning, nurturing, and building skills.

-Give employees who do not have titles a chance in experiencing the limelight.

-Pay attention to expressing appreciation at all levels of the organization.

-Listen to employees with more than just your ears-use your time, eyes and verbal skills to show you are listening to employees you are wanting to motivate.

-Show consistent respect and courtesy.

-Reward equally and fairly.

Now are you getting the urge to check-it out?

Give us a call and let's discuss.


Keeper of the Napa Valley Spirit-The Winery Definition Ordinance

The ordinance that regulates winery events and tasting activity in Napa is called the Winery Definition Ordinance (WDO) and originated in 1990. This ordinance gives wineries the authority to host events and pair wine with food as part of a wine marketing, education, etc. event. But the rules state that wineries may host functions only if they can show they’re directly tied to the marketing of their wines. The second issue addressed in the WDO is: “Tasting By Appointment Only”.

We will address these two issues separately in the context of small luxury meetings in Wine Country.

Many people ask why some wineries in Napa have signage that says, “Tasting By Appointment Only”. This is part of the WDO mentioned above and pertains to winery tastings at wineries that came into existence after 1990. But, not to worry; let me explain.

Because Symtrek Partners focuses on small (approximately 25 and fewer participants) luxury meetings in Wine Country, we are not impacted by the “By Appointment Only” restrictions. With constraints on time inherent in business meetings, visits to wineries must be scheduled anyway, i.e. By Appointment Only. Further, no luxury meeting participant wants to compete with “open to the public” tasting room guest that arrive by tour buses. Other wineries, existing prior to 1990, are grandfathered to have public tasting rooms.

What about having an event at a winery? Wineries are specifically prohibited from hosting weddings, wedding parties, anniversary events or any parties that aren’t considered directly linked to the marketing of wine. Again, small corporate events of say 25 or fewer people would most likely not be impacted by this restriction. Especially, as wine would be a central theme of the meeting at a winery. So, go ahead and explore small wine cave dinners.

You are probably still asking what is the logic of the WDO? Napa County’s WDO limits commercial activities in Napa County’s agricultural areas by ensuring that wineries focus almost entirely on the production of wine. The County does not want to build a commercial industry that puts agriculture/wineries in a support role. This is a double edge sword. But, if you are wanting a small luxury meeting with an agricultural ambiance and remoteness only Wine Country offers, the WDO ensures a rural feel well into the future.

As an aside, in 1968 the floor of Napa Valley, all 38,000 acres, was designated as an Agricultural Preserve and is the only such designation in the US today. The mountains and hills around the Napa Valley floor have been designated as an Agricultural Watershed. The watershed designation encompasses more than 100,000 acres.


Auberge du Soleil-Napa
Auberge du Soleil-Napa

Making Wine Country fit your needs.

There is something for every company and event.

I have repeatedly told potential clients that we are a firm that specializes in "pinnacle experiences". Well that makes us an "experiential" firm. So, the starting point is a simple question: What persona or personality does the sponsoring company or group bring to the table? We ask because Wine Country offers a perfect environment for companies to enhance their image in a tasteful (no pun iontended) way.

Whether the event format is for small corporate off-site meetings, budget planning exercises, customer recognition, an event to build team rapport, or a personal event (i.e. family reunion); Wine Country is the place to be. Of course we are talking about our sweet spot...the small meeting of say 25 or fewer.

Here are some extremes to start thinking outside the box. An agricultural company from the midwest was looking for something unique, a setting within their industry, but needed to offer a related hands-on experience. Well guess what, Wine Country is about as agricultural as it gets. Besides that, this region is the epicenter for biodynamic farming. This is the hub for Demeter believers. If your company is interested in seeing environmental practices that work, how about visiting a winery with an extremely low carbon footprint due to solar power? Then lets go see wineries using man made caves for their wine production facilities. You want culture? Then let's look at a very upscale glass artist's salon in Sonoma. His art is seen in major commercial and private collections nationwide. Maybe you can blow your own glass sculpture. Culinary experiences...well you have come to the right place, Wine Country. And, there are more gourmet restaurants in Napa and Sonoma than in San Francisco.

There are great accomodation options: luxury resorts, luxury hotels, great selections of small properties in and around Wine Country city centers (Sonoma, Napa, Healdsburg, St. Helena, etc.). All hotel options are equipped to provide great experiences relative to a meeting site, functions and accomodations. But, let's look at tailored and focused activities outside of the gathering itself.

There are obvious things that can be add to the productivity of the meeting/event itself. For example:

-Hands-on culinary experiences with a chef who can work as a single group or teams of participants.

-Wine blending excercise with Master Sommelier that may end with a case of private labeled wine for the group.

-Wine barrel making with the barrel being used for a special corporate vintage.

-Golf is always a must in Wine Country. Golf Links at Bodega Bay is a personal favorite.

-All hands sailing team building off the Sonoma Coast.

-Hot Air Ballooning.

-Participants painting their own masterpiece of Wine Country with the help of a major artist.

-Cave dinner.

-Wine tasting with at least a taste of a 95+ point Napa or Sonoma wine.

-Private winery visits with noted winemakers who are known for their craft.

-Visit UC Davis and see their work in viticulture research.

-Pan for gold.

-Helicopter to San Francisco for a some sightseeing. Napa and Sonoma both have great airports so your options are for convenience sake.

-Helicopter to Pebble Beach if you want to play a great golf course with the team.

But don't forget the spa experiences and the overall luxury feel that comes from great people and services you expect, that help you get the most out of your time and money spent in Wine Country.

Article Sonoma vs. Napa

Business Insider

Great reading-Wine Country and Conducting Great Meetings - About meetings and wine country

Good reading to give you some new ideas on having a great meeting in Wine Country.

When the Rivers Ran Red: An Amazing Story of Courage and Triumph in America's Wine Country
When the Rivers Ran Red: An Amazing Story of Courage and Triumph in America's Wine Country

Vivienne Sosnowski lives in Healdsburg and did a lot of research on a subject many know little about-Prohibition. This was a 14 year long disaster on a major industry in California. A fun read about the people who lived through this mess.

The Wine Bible
The Wine Bible

A great indepth look at wines. Nice read.



Seth is the brains behind this addiction I have for Squidoo.

A Go-To source for Wine Country information

My reference guidebook of choice for Napa Valley is "Napa Valley Guidebook" Published maybe twice a year. Great reference source for all things Napa; nothing on Sonoma however. Keep it handy everything is in it for your next road trip to Wine Country. Ads are great!

Napa Ballooning
Napa Ballooning

Napa-A Bird's Eye View

Looking down on Napa Valley

It takes all kinds of interesting people to make a company thrive. So that same concept must apply to Wine Country. In making Wine Country an exceptional destination for a small luxury corporate meeting, it takes diverse interests and personal commitments to the customer to make Wine Country work. Gabe Gundling was born in Napa, went to high school in Napa and has a BS degree from UC Santa Cruz. He lives in Napa because, “I like the smells, the sounds and the people who live and work here,” said Gabe. “I can’t think of any place I would rather live and I can’t imagine doing anything other than what I do; fly balloons for people who are in awe when they see Napa Valley from the air at a leisurely pace.”

His experience with Napa Valley hot air ballooning started 25 years ago when he was 6 years old Gabe, with his younger sister Julia, stood in an open field behind their Napa home with a handmade sign that read- “Balloons Land Here”. “We yelled up to the balloon pilots and passengers asking them to descend

so we could see the balloon up close.” Eventually, balloon pilots started descending and Gabe and sister would yell at them, begging for free rides.

Today Gabe is a partner in the company (Napa Valley Balloons) who’s pilots he yelled at to land in his backyard. With 1,200 hours to his credit and being 29 years old he knows right where he wants to stay.

The peak season for ballooning in Napa starts in May and runs through the October harvest. Probably 80% of their business is during this time period. With 5 balloon companies in Napa Valley, it is competitive so they are focused on maintaining their equipment and providing a structure service that exceeds customer expectations. With a perfect safety record they obviously enjoy a stellar reputation.

When her father was President of the United States, Chelsea Clinton made a trip to Napa and wanted Napa Valley Balloons to give her a ride over Napa Valley. “Secret Service was everywhere. They did personnel background checks, equipment checks, our FAA records checks, the whole thing. All for a flight that lasts about 1 hour,” Gabe elaborated. They have had Matt Lauer, MSN, Oprah and other notables onboard for ballooning over Napa.

Some facts about hot air balloons:

-A balloon’s life span is about 700 hours.

-A balloon envelope is made up of 2 different fabric’s, the lower portion is fire treated material.

-Weight of a balloon is approximately 1,800 pounds empty.

-Passenger capacity is from 2 to 16.

-Balloon costs are approximately $110,000.

-Largest balloon manufacturer is Cameron Balloon’s in England.

Gabe is one of the many good guys in Wine country who loves the thrill of ballooning over Napa Valley.

A balloon experience, as part of a corporate group, will consume approximately 2.5 hours; 1 hour actual flight time and the remainder is taken up by transportation to the launch site and return after landing. Figure this cost to be approximately $240 per person. The total distance traveled is 5 miles during the 1 hour aloft.

All flights depart in the morning when the air is cool and still. To accommodate meetings they should be scheduled in the afternoon.

After landing, we recommend a brunch at Ãtoilé. The restaurant is located at Domaine Chandon and the chef there is also a guy born and raised in Napa. The restaurant is Michelin Rated and is highly recommended by Michael Bauer who is the food critic of the San Francisco Chronicle. As everyone appreciates, Domaine Chandon makes some outstanding sparkling wines for over 30 years from the 1,000 acre vineyards they own. Just another opportunity to experience all that Wine Country has to offer, and besides you have to eat.

This is not meant to be a sales pitch, but if this sounds like one please forgive me. A recent report claims that the biggest draw to Napa Valley is food not wine.

Napa Vineyard
Napa Vineyard

Meetings in Wine Country, good for your health.

Symtrek Partners brings reasons for Napa/Sonoma Meetings

It has been proven that there are some health benefits to drinking wine in moderation. Some of those health benefits include prevention from cavities, Alzheimer’s, and prostate cancer. Wouldn’t it be great to know that wine could also help prevent skin cancer? According to a new study, drinking wine may protect your skin from ultraviolet radiation.

Source:Smart About

Executive Team Building...Conceptually

We feel there are different approaches-entry level to "C" Level

"Successful Meetings" magazine recently had an online discussion about Team Building. Like most such events, it provoked added thought. Allow me a background statement. Fresh out of college I started with TWA and within a week I was sent for a sales training class which included a team building exercise at the conclusion. In hindsight, I realized it was really an exercise to evaluate the participants. That subjective evaluation was then sent back to respective supervisors. I felt it was a little bit devious.

Today, when I hear people talk about "team building", I want to first know what is the group dynamic in which "team building" is to take place. For example: entry level, mixed ages, men and women, levels of education, experiences, ethnicity, military experiences, etc. Then I want the planner/client to articulate what is expected by way of an 'end product'. Here I am really trying to see if there is a subliminal motive to the exercise that goes beyond-building a cohesive team. As in my hindsight diatribe above, if the real motive of a team building exercise is to ferret out leaders (future or current) or to build a spirit of 'team', that direction dictates the selection of a proper facilitator and plan.

Now, let's touch on the "C" Level teaming exercises. These individuals come to such an exercise with experience, corporate political acumen, leadership attributes, achiever drive, and education. Meeting Planning Companies offering classical "team building" components of a meeting are missing out on additional revenue opportunities by not developing a teaming presentation for Senior Managers.

It must be recognized that the moniker of "Team Building" is not approporiate in the accepted definition of team building, with senior managers. What is wrong with calling it-Dynamic Reinforcement or Leadership Review or Organizational Unity. Whatever. In reality, the size of the organization will dictate a lot about the direction of a teaming exercise for Senior Level people.

Because Symtrek Partners is focused on small size luxury meetings that target the "Family Businesses" sector we find demand for teaming meetings that have objectives such as: Introducing a new member of the management team and his wife/significant other; Presenting a new corporate direction for a group buy-in; A recognition event for deserving employees; etc.

Point being, the level of sophistication of a teaming event is dictated by a myriad factors, none of which are cookie cutter. Don't forget, offering senior management teaming events can work well if a outside planner does not bring a set format to the table.

Suggestions if Senior Management are in a group of mid and low level management:

-Do not put a Senior Manager into a potentially embarrassing position unless such a maneuver is agreed to first and has a purpose. Some senior managers may not do well in a rope climbing event for example.

-Do not have Senior Managers lead a team building exercise. In such instances, almost always an outcome is preordained.

-Commit to participants exactly what the process includes and how will Senior Management use the findings of the exercise.

-Don't let these exercises morph into a legacy event where outcomes can be handed down from one group to another.

Of course, opinions about Team Building are like snowflakes, no two are exactly the same.

Kay Carlson-Napa Artist
Kay Carlson-Napa Artist

Another Team Building Thought

Art is in the eye of the beholder

Team Building as an exercise to build productivity through a cohesive group of people seems to be a misnomer as applied to senior management. Wikipedia says about team building, “Team building is pursued via a variety of practices, and can range from simple bonding exercises to complex simulations and multi-day team building retreats designed to develop a team (including group assessment and group-dynamic games), usually falling somewhere in between.” This certainly seems to apply to most groups up to officer level positions. But what can we do for an executive that is out of the ordinary? How about each participant painting a Wine Country scene in say 2-3 hours?

“Because, Symtrek Partners focuses on small, luxury meetings in Wine Country our efforts in Team Building on behalf of clients are focused on experiential elements that are not the usual,” says Steven Lay, President. Yes, there are a plethora of ways, in Wine Country, that can lead management in experiencing things together such as: crewing on a sailboat, culinary assignments where a group can experience their results together, wine blending, etc.

“Let’s take a new approach to building a team dynamic; think outside the box,” said Lay. Unless a person was an art major in college, chances are most people have zero experience in capturing something they enjoy looking at, such as a vineyard or winery or ocean, and transferring that minds-eye image to canvas. So, why not spend a couple of hours after meetings, going to a vineyard or winery, and paint something you see that interests you.

Symtrek Partners works with an artist that is a recognized landscape artist that has done a wide range of Wine Country paintings. Kay Carlson is professionally trained and makes a living doing art instruction and selling her work in galleries throughout Northern California. This Symtrek Partners program is very hands-on and requires Kay working individually with each participant to achieve a finished masterpiece. This process takes from 2 to 3 hours.

Depending on the medium (oil, acrylic or watercolor) the cost varies from $100 to $350. But, a group of 8 participants working in a watercolor medium would cost approximately $100 per person. “The artist/instructor provides all the necessary materials. Everyone can leave Wine Country having painted a scene that memorializes their corporate meeting in Wine Country,” says Lay. “It probably would be more interesting than a coffee mug to remember your last corporate meeting.” Ideally, after your masterpiece is finished you can retire to the wineries wine cave for a fabulous dinner with the wineries signature wines. Also, don’t forget, if spouses and guests are in attendance, this is a great experience for them to participate in the Team Building experience.


Team Building and Tasting-Meet and Greet in Napa and Sonoma

Tasting is obviously part of the experiences of having meetings in Wine Country. It is somewhat about building common experiences. If you can't wait for a winery visit for you next meeting think about getting started locally-With Total Wines 7 More.

For our website Symtrek Partners, I have been writing stories about people in Wine Country that love to talk about what they do to make great wines. What makes their stories interesting is that they are humble in the way they impart their wine knowledge. Point being, it is easier to gain knowledge when the atmosphere is friendly and unassuming. Learning about wines is about you-finding what you like and understanding why you like it. Discover wines for yourself and with your friends!

In a recent article by Christa Vohs,"How To: Become a Wine Connoisseur (on a Budget)", she lists 5 things a person can do to self educate about wine so there are never occasions to let people intimidate you. Besides, wine snobs probably have a repressed character flaw.

Of Ms. Vohs' 5 things you can do to learn to appreciate wines I like 3 in particular: educate yourself, go to wine tastings or appreciation classes, and visit a winery. Her other 2 are: go to wine friendly restaurants and be open to new wines. But, I want to focus on the immediate self-help options.

*Educate yourself-Research is key. You can do research on the internet, go to the library, and peruse magazines that focus on wine. A good book to start with is The Wine Bible. Also, many local colleges offer evening wine education classes.

*Wine Tastings-These can be massive events like those sponsored by wine magazines or the industry. Or, they can be small events sponsored by a single winery or restaurant. Point being, listen to the presentations about the wines being served, listen to questions being ask and take your own notes.

*Visit Wineries-This is a great place to eventually end up on your effort to self educate about wine. This is a user friendly environment with a staff that is totally dedicated to educating people and selling their wines. There are no foolish questions here.

But, there is a company out there that is dedicated to working with all levels of wine enthusiast and they have all the tools at their disposal to educate, entertain and help people better enjoy the wine experience. That company is Total Wines & More. You can get something for nothing here…an education on wines.

Let me explain what makes Total Wine and More a great resource. And use it with your friends in tow.

*50% of the 80 Total Wine & More stores offer private meeting rooms that are FREE for business meetings, clubs, fundraising and legitimate organizations. Don't forget this facility for a team building exercise. Heck, start your own wine club.

*They also conduct formal monthly classes on wine in these private rooms for a very nominal fee ($25 per person or 5 classes for $100)

*Too steep for you they also conduct free wine tastings every weekend featuring 6 wines … just look for the tasting station on the sales floor. There is a wine expert pouring and educating anyone who wants to try the featured wines.

*Total Wine & More can conduct private wine tasting in these rooms for $10 - $30 per person. Obviously they have a huge selection of wines at a lot of price points to try. They offer great packages or one can tailor a wine tasting which will best suit your needs. It is best to contact their Director of Wine Education, Robb Kimbles at if you are interested in more information.

*Total Wine has professional staff on-hand to manage all private events. Tasting and classes also include handouts, glasses, bottled water, cheese and crackers. They make it very easy.

*They also have available everything you need for your personalized event. Everything from AV equipment, to podiums, tables/chairs, microphones...and don't forget more than 7,000 wines to chose from for your event along with on-staff wine experts.

There is nothing in it for me, Symtrek Partners or Image of Wine, in promoting Total Wine & More. Our interest is in promoting Wine Country and wine enthusiast. Total Wines is a great bargain to learn about wine in a professional and casual environment; whether you sign up for one of their many in-store courses throughout the year or putting together your own wine club and using their facilities. It is just another opportunity to get educated about wine.

Try it and let us know how you found the experience.

Team Building In Wine Country

Keep Team Building Unintended Consequences In Mind

First, team building is a term I use for mid-level management exercises. For senior management, i.e. officer levels, I prefer synergy building. The later is an attempt to recognize the experience levels and add a degree of respect for people who understand the dynamics of building teams within less experienced groups. Anyway, just my pet peeve.

The problem I see with team building is that many exercises and approaches run the risk of embarrassing participants, highlighting deficiencies of individuals, and often foster people to react to a team leader’s re-enforcements (positive and negative). Team building often times turns out to be an adult version of kid games.

Team building should not be a situation of a Facilitator (also in real life often is a psychologist) whom everyone knows is going to manipulate the team and is going to report to management his/her views of specific participants and the group dynamics as a whole. If this relationship is recognized, a skillful manager can keep this from happening and demonstrate unity. I feel, not all diversity is good and the-- “there is no right or wrong answer” approach is not always true.

Maybe an example of my observations would make my point better.

We do a wine blending exercise for senior managers (but not VP level). The idea being; that what the team decides, with the help of a winemaker, that will be the private label wine that is produced for corporate private label Christmas gifts for customers.

The problem arises when:

1. Not all team building participants are wine drinkers. Some don’t even like wine.

2. Some are embarrassed in that they do not know the lingo of the wine industry and a winemaker does not take that into account.

3. When relating the experience to subordinates they can’t really explain adequately what their participation was in the team building exercise.

4. Some managers that know wine display that comfort immediately and the rest acquiesce to a team member with obvious wine skills. Thus the team reverts to a lead/subordinate situation.


1. Stay away from team building exercises that will differentiate or even highlight differences in life experiences. Wine has an obvious snob appeal to some so avoid such exercises that will force a semi class distinction. Wine does build community, but it must be done with experienced facilitator.

2. It is OK to team build with attributes that traditionally differentiate sex’s. For example, ‘most’ women have some cooking skills better than men, so men are not embarrassed when cooking is a team building exercise. There is a great culinary institute in Napa that does great work.

3. Be careful of unintended consequences to any team building exercise.

4. Make team building a regular deal, maybe even schedule in advance team building which can be anticipated. Let participants know what is going to be expected of them.

5. The facilitator should make ‘tasks’ that allow each individual (in the case of small teams) to shine and/or a large group to excel. Even an 'after action' critique by a facilitator will allow positive comment on individual team members participation.

Just some random thoughts.

Out of the ordinary Team Building in Wine Country

A lot of options.

Let me present some experiential team building exercises that are out of the ordinary.

--Painting Exercise

One out-of-the-ordinary team building exercise can be “a painting task”! This is a dynamic way of pointing out the many ways to view things a person observes. Imagine for a moment, 6 individuals (team members) task with painting a landscape they see before them. With the help of a professional painter, they will see things never noticed as a novice: the colors, light, reflections, and details unnoticed before. This is a team building exercise that will show members of the team they need to look at tasks with more depth; look at situations as a whole and not superficially. It would be expected that people undertaking this task would be more analytical in their interpersonal skills. Said another way; what you see at first, relative to a business task or practice, may not lead to a proper conclusion. A professional painter can direct the participants to realize this.

Thinking outside the box requires a large dose of creativity. Team building, through an art exercise, will focus managers on the value of creativity and how to reacquire it. “The muscle of creativity stops functioning at a high level at about age 10, when the left brain comes on strong and leaves the right brain in the dust , says Kay Carlson a Napa artist. Remember, Tony Bennett took up painting at age 60 and credits that with causing his creative juices to flow.

--Barrel Making-Cooperage

An old profession that is alive and well today is barrel making. The genesis of this team building exercise is answering the question: Can 2 people make a wine barrel that will be water tight? Don’t say it is easy until you try it. In a real cooperage company one person builds the 60 gallon barrel singlehandedly. Even with a team of 2 intelligent executives it is nearly impossible.

The 2 person team starts with the 4 to 6 hoops, 36 staves, 2 barrel heads, and a mallet; all lying in a pile before them and then the fun begins. The ultimate goal is working together to construct a water tight barrel that is ready for delivery to a winery. This team building task is not about speed it is about achieving the goal-a water tight wine barrel. This must be achieved through co-ordination, task assignment, visualization and technique.

--Panning for Gold

This is a team building exercise that is designed to focus on understanding a process and fitting the right people to the task. The process is about: planning, communicating, assessing skill sets, self development and having a willingness to tolerate exploration/stepping out. In the end, a team leader often knows what they are after but fail to effectively plan for finding it (whatever ‘it’ may be). Not knowing where the gold is, you must plan for finding it.

The guide/geologist is a great resource to get the exercise started. First the teams must get the knowledge from the geologist and combine that with the tools that are provided to get the task accomplished. A photographer will document the exercise for each participant.

--Culinary Experience

With the help of Napa or Sonoma chef’s and souse chef’s teams will set about planning and pairing a meal course paired with a wine. The ingredients are provided according to plan and each tem them prepare their part of a complete meal. The chef is there to provide assistance.

After the meal is prepared the chef’s assistants will serve the meal with the wine and everyone will experience the fruits of each teams efforts. The chef will critique the meal; from planning to completion and how each team worked together to bring it together.

--Team building under sail-

Most people forget that part of wine country is on the coast. Sonoma offers some great opportunities in a team reaching a destination by addressing many variables simultaneously.

Think outside the box and consult with a team building facilitaor.

Mood impacts the wine

Wine tasting, business meeting, at home; you need to be in the right frame of mind.

I have been interested in 2 things that impact me personally, which I wish I fully understood. The first is charisma and the second is how your mood will impact how much you enjoy a glass of wine. For 1 year as of this Christmas 2011, I have recorded on a fairly religious basis, how I have enjoyed wine. To keep the test somewhat controlled I have stuck with a single varietal from a specific vintage and a specific winery. I have been consistant with with reds and 1 white. The settings for my tests have been wine at meals, wine in a social setting with finger food and just watching TV with a glass of wine. I have definitely found the mood I am in, when I started drinking wine, changed how much I appreciated the flavor and aromas of the wines. It also impacted how fast I drank.

Three specific findings out of many are as follows:

1. Intense conversations at a meal or social setting about a business problem or personal problem resulted in not noticing the aromas of the wine and the wine seemed to be more acidic. I drank slower probably because I did not enjoy the flavors.

2. If I was in a relaxed mood or desiring a relaxed mood, the beautiful color of the wine and the aromas seemed to compliment the wine.

3. In a restaurant I also found that if service or quality of the food aggrivated me I did not like the wine. In one instance I corked the bottle, brought it home and had it later, when I was in a more relaxed mood, and the wine was perfect.

After a 100 pages of notes, I can remember exactly the setting and mood I was in and whether I enjoyed the wine or did not. Mood matters. So when you entertain make sure your guests are welcomed warmly, treated with respect, complimented and feel unhurried. Go so far as to focus on lighting and elegance. I guarantee you will be recognized as the "Hostess/Host with the Mostus"!

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