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Lise Ciolino
 
September 13, 2016 | Quality, Winemaking | Lise Ciolino

Steve Jobs taught me everything I know...

Upon learning that I once worked for Steve Jobs, people often ask “What was he like to work for?”  Typically I give a brutally honest answer describing the rollercoaster ride: with Steve, one moment you were a hero, then the next moment you were a sh**head.  But that answer is too shallow and doesn’t reflect the fact that almost everyone who worked with Steve was significantly and positively affected by him.  I am where I am today because of that experience and looking back, I realize that Steve Jobs taught me everything I know about the wine business.

First a little background: winemaking is a second career for me. My first career of 15 years utilized my university degrees in applied mathematics and software engineering.  Early in my first career, I went to work for Steve Jobs at NeXT, the company he founded during his “sabbatical” from Apple. Perhaps I was especially young and impressionable at this time, but he was definitely a force-of-nature! I learned everything from Steve about the wine business, or at least the wine business as I know and practice it.  (And I don’t think he even drank wine...).

Lesson #1: Compromise is not an option

To most people, compromise is necessary; it’s a way of life.  Steve never believed in compromise.  Of course, this made him very challenging to work with—but on the positive side, he made sure that we never compromised on quality when it came to the product.  Everything was sacrificed for quality (including some peoples’ mental health).

Today, much to my current business partner’s consternation (remember, he’s also my husband), there are certain things I just will never compromise on. For example, during crush, when I’ve been doing physically-demanding work for many days and nights on end—he sees how hard I’m working and periodically suggests that maybe, just the once, I could slack off a bit and the grapes wouldn’t even notice.  But I can’t. This the most important time period during the winemaking cycle.  I just can’t compromise on something that may affect the wine’s quality.  I would never feel good about settling for less (even though it might be better for my own mental and physical health). When it comes to quality of the product, compromise is not an option.

Lesson #2: No detail is too small

Steve was notorious for paying attention to the pickiest little detail in the product, making sure it was perfect. He believed that users of the computer would consciously or subconsciously notice tiny details—or at least the engineers could take pride in those details—and he was right.  Whether it was the design of the cardboard box the computer came in, the polish of a surface internal to the computer, or the font in the documentation—he insisted that every detail be perfect.

I take pride in the details regarding my “product”.  Details that wine consumers wouldn’t notice—but even if you don’t see it, I gain satisfaction from knowing that I did everything “right”.  Whether it’s sorting the grapes at harvest both before and after destemming, the font on our website, or the topmost edge on our label—every little detail adds up to a whole.  Did you know that that the topmost edge on our label mimics the exact mountain ridge as seen from our vineyard? Probably not, but I do know that, and I take pride in the fact that this adds a “sense of place” to our wines. Every detail is important.

Lesson #3: You must believe

No one was just an employee at NeXT, everyone was a 100% believer—and the moment you stopped
believing was the moment you left the company. I joined NeXT in 1990 when it was in the business of producing a $10,000 computer for the higher education market!  What?  How many schools could pay that much for a single personal computer?! Certainly no other computer company was silly enough to consider that a viable market.  But the NeXT machine, both in hardware and in software, was a revolutionary product created by very talented people who achieved the unimaginable—all because we believed.  And lest you think it was all for naught, NeXT lives on today in the Apple iPhone and many other companies' products.

I believe in Syrah.  I believe in mountain-grown, biodynamically-farmed, estate Syrah.  Conventional wisdom would dictate that Vincent and I purchase most of our grapes (to mitigate risk), produce Cabernet or Pinot Noir (the popular and trendy varietals), and farm in the most expedient manner (using chemicals, on flat ground). But Syrah is my lifelong passion, I believe the best wines are made from mountainsides, growing grapes satisfies my soul, and I want to leave our little 55-acre property in better shape then when I moved here.  That’s the business I want to be in.  It’s not an easy road, but I am determined to make it work.  I believe... and I believe that in some small way, Montemaggiore wine can make a difference in your life—enhancing celebrations, enriching friendships, improving great meals, or simply slowing you down to enjoy the moment.

So thank you Steve, for teaching me a lot about myself, winemaking, and the business I want to be in.

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