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Monday Manifestos
There Is Always A Wine Angle

By Charles Olken

I was stuck in traffic on the way out of the 49ers game yesterday trying to explain to my seatmate how the team needs to mature before it becomes great. And, then it hit me. The wine angle.

For any sports team to be great, it needs vision and leadership, it needs great materials and it needs superb execution. My friend, who is no wine expert but is a wine lover and does not hesitate to spend in the $40 to $100 range from time to time, was struggling to find an appropriate analogy that would explain how it was that our team had crashed to defeat when victory was within its grasp.

The wine angle was the answer. It is not the only answer, and it is obviously a bit of a stretch, but besides our love of sports, we share wine passion and so we explored, because we needed something for our wounded pride, the wine angle.

Why is it, we asked ourselves, that wineries using the same grapes, located in the same neighborhoods, come up with such different results. Our first and best answer, we decided, was vision. Even more important than great grapes, comes the absolute necessary to know what one wants to do and why. Not just as a goal. We all have goals, dreams, hopes. No, by vision, we meant knowing the path, seeing the way, having the clarity to get on that right path. Clearly, that is what happened to the 49ers this year. The team went from a coach who frankly could not find the path to greatness to a coach whose ability to lead has to be among the best there is. As kids we used to have an expression about folks who could not reason effectively. We used to say of them, “He would not recognize the tune if it hit him in the mouthpiece”.

It is not unkind to say that there are wineries and winemakers who sometimes do not recognize the tune. They simply cannot find their ways, and, as the result, their efforts underachieve relative to their peers using the same fruit. This year, the 49ers, in Jim Harbaugh, were led by a man who not only knows the tune but can improvise around it, can script scores for fifty musicians who then play above their heads because the vision and leadership is so good.

But, then, what of materials? In the wine biz, we are fond of saying, “you can’t make great wine without great grapes”. Nobody is going to argue that proposition. No matter how one slices it, no matter what rhetorical tricks one employs, it is a truism that the best wines are made from the best grapes. But, then, how to explain why some wineries do better jobs with grapes from such fine sites as To Kalon or Keefer Ranch or Garys’ Vineyard? The answer in the first place is vision. And in the second, then is talent.

At that point, we wandered around the materials versus talent equation with the 49ers and came up with dashes of both because they are interrelated. So, leaving football aside for the moment, we next come to the winemaker. It is true that the very best winemakers bring their own visions to the table. They are the Joe Montanas, the Bret Favres, the Johnny Unitas’ of the wine world. Their skills translate the vision and the materials into the finished product. The best of them add that extra bit of spice, seasoning, mastery that separates the very good from the exceptional.

In wine, those people are the Andre Tchellistcheffs, the Robert Mondavis, the Aubert Du Villaines. They are the folks who do it year in and year out and across many vineyards and grapes. The 49ers, we concluded for the umpteenth time since the loss of the Joe Montana/Steve Young “winemakers”, do not have such a person. A good man in Alex Smith, yes, but yesterday, Eli Manning of the New York Giants taught us a lesson about leadership and the Giants’ wide receivers taught us a lesson about the talent that is needed in the whole team.

One of the “excuses”, although I like to call it “analyses” one will hear is the relative lack of maturity in the 49ers. It does take time in any profession for “wisdom” to develop. We see that need all the time in winewriting, and it is obviously true in winemaking and in football. And, with that final bit of “analysis” in place, we concluded that the 49ers will be better next year. In football, as in wine, there is always next year.

Maybe, those thoughts were not so profound after all, but they did, at least give us some solace in the two hours it took to exit the stadium and wend our ways home. Yesterday, we worked the theory out as it applies to football. Tonight, we will apply it to a group of Cabernet Sauvignons.


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Practice, Practice, Practice
by Sherman
Posted on:1/23/2012 1:21:04 PM

There seems to be a generally accepted truism that one needs 10,000 hours of practice at any given thing in life to become truly adept at it. Talking of football is a good analogy, since what do teams do in between games but practice, practice and more practice! Kineseologists tell us that one needs 3,000 perfect "reps" before any movement becomes engrained in one's muscle memory.


So a certain amount of practice with attention to detail (and "getting it right," not just mindlessly banging out lackluster throws down field) is needed, just to be competitive in the NFL -- or today's world wide wine market. Wine makers have maybe 30 or 40 "seasons" to get it right, perfect their techniques and practices, and engage in the daily struggle of craft vs. commerce -- somebody's gotta go out and hump those cases of wine!


The NFL is the best of the world's football (we can exclude soccer for the domestic portion of this discussion ;) and we can make analogies to the domestic wine market, as well. The visionaries like Mondavi (who have the resources to back their vision) are few and far between; haven't been too many Lombardis either.


When you can marry the talent, time, resources, dedication, craft and sheer cussed determination to do the thing the best that you can (over many years) -- then you can build a legacy, whether it's related to pigskin or grape skin.

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