The word “family” gets used in relation to the workplace pretty often these days. Most of the time the use of this word feels cynical; it’s evocation a simple marketing device meant to make a faceless organization feel more personal to employees and customers. I have been fortunate to have worked for some really closely knit businesses, the staff and owners of which do feel like family. Although the ultimate goal of a business is to be profitable, businesses can still feel like family when the owners look beyond the bottom line and demonstrate that they care for people personally. This is especially true when that care is shown beyond the time that they spend employing a person.
Thanks to the support of my wife and my Nectar family, lead by my employer, Josh Wade, I was recently able to spend about a week with my Alexandria Nicole Cellars family, helping them out with harvest. This support from my Spokane family in my pursuit of starting my own winery has been humbling and inspiring, and I am at a loss to put into words how thankful I am to have them all in my corner.
There were a lot of things about this trip that were stirring my emotions as I prepared to leave town. I was feeling the emotions above toward my Spokane family, and was also feeling a huge amount of gratitude toward Jarrod and Ali Boyle from ANC for allowing me to come down and work in the winery for a week with them, and for helping me with various aspects of my own personal project. I was excited about the opportunity to pursue an experience that would help bring me another step closer to making a dream into a reality. In the middle of all of these emotions, I came across an exchange on Facebook that I found truly moving, and that further demonstrates why I feel so fortunate to have become connected to Ali and Jarrod.
For me, looking at Facebook is rarely an inspiring experience. Most of the time I find the emotions generated as I peruse my feed to be largely negative. Even the positive stories that I come across are quickly drowned out by a series of items that diminish my faith in mankind. In fact, the post that started this particular story was extremely deflating when I first read it. The post from Firefly Hill Vineyards, a family winery in Virginia, describes owner, David Dunkenberger, walking into the vineyard one morning to find that thieves has stolen nearly their entire vintage of grapes. This is not the kind of story that causes warm and fuzzy feelings to arise toward humanity. Fortunately, I then saw that Jarrod had posted the following in the comments –
“We are so sorry that this has happened, I know how exciting and rewarding it is to start bringing in the fruit you worked so hard to grow all season.
We would be honored if you would allow us to donate the 2.5 tons of fruit that was stolen so that you keep going. Our Estate vineyard Destiny Ridge is located in Washington State, I’ll take care of shipping as well.”
I’m not going to lie, reading these words brought tears to my eyes. I have known Jarrod for several years now, so the gesture did not surprise me. In my experience with the Boyle family, they have always been incredibly generous, and I have personally been the recipient of that generosity at various points in my time knowing them. That being said, I still found myself overwhelmed as I read the story.
By the time I pulled in at the winery, the story of a Washington winegrower offering a helping hand to a fellow farmer from across the country had garnered national attention. The day I arrived, David was also on his way in from Virginia. All of the activity meant that I was of more use as a chauffeur and tour guide than I was as a cellar hand, so I happily carted reporters around the vineyard and spent time helping David get settled in. As I guided representatives of the local media around the vineyard and talked with them about the wine business, the vineyard, and about Ali and Jarrod, I was struck by the fact that my Alexandria Nicole family has done (and is still doing) at least as much to help me along my wine industry journey, and truthfully much more, than what they have done for Firefly Hill Vineyards. There won’t be any news stories about their generosity toward me or toward many others who they have helped and supported over the years, and they have absolutely nothing to gain from helping a former employee eventually start another winery in Washington State.
Due to the flurry of activity the Firefly Hill story stirred up, it wasn’t until the afternoon of my second day at Destiny Ridge that I got into the cellar. For those who haven’t experienced working in a winery at harvest, there is never a shortage of work to be done. If you aren’t bringing in fruit to crush, or starting yeast for inoculation, or racking wine from one place to another, or any of the hundred other winemaking activities taking place this time of year, there is always cleaning to be done. I had told Jarrod that I was willing to help with anything, and I would say that I was able to reacquaint myself with a good deal of the range of cellar work that I remembered doing during my tenure at ANC, cleaning included.
There is an almost meditative quality to a lot of this work. I found myself chuckling as I imagined the act of pushing grape skins into piles on the crush pad with a squeegee for disposal as being similar to a Buddhist monk raking designs in a bed of sand. There is, however, also a constant awareness that is required to what is going on around you, as lapses in concentration can be dangerous or costly. Jarrod had drilled the importance of caution and attention into my head during my first harvest, when he catalogued the countless ways that a person could maim or kill themselves through carelessness in a winery, and I found all of those lessons returning quickly as I settled back into work.
Despite the business of the season, Jarrod took time to explain the process of the work that we were doing when I had questions, and he included me in conversations that he felt would provide learning experiences. Both Ali and Jarrod talked to me about the lessons that they have learned about the business side of wine during their time in the industry. They offered me help and advice. They also let me come into their home in grungy harvest clothes and fed me dinner. In short, coming back to Destiny Ridge, even for a few days, I felt like family.
During my time at the winery, I watched the ANC family rally to help care for vineyard foreman Santiago Ruiz and his family. Santiago had a heart attack in mid August, during the lead up to harvest. The crew at the winery had performed CPR while they waited for an ambulance to arrive. If it hadn’t been for this, Santiago wouldn’t have survived. While I was at the winery, I watched as various people at Alexandria Nicole helped the family during Santiago’s hospital stay. They gave rides and places to stay to family members, made dinners, and helped raise money for expenses. These are the kind of things that family does for one another.
I wasn’t surprised when I heard about Alexandria Nicole Cellars offering to help another farmer through a tough time, because I’ve witnessed their generosity numerous times over the years that I’ve known them. I was touched by that story, but what really touched me most during the week that I was back at Destiny Ridge, was the reminder of the things that they do for their ANC family that will never make the news. For me, one of the prodigals who are no longer on the winery payroll, I feel blessed to still be a part of that family.