A term that has bounced around in my consciousness recently is “first person”. I found this term in relation to food in my reading of, and discussion about, the Omnivore’s Dilemma. It seems that my support of the WGCoop is also rooted in this concept.
The term “first person” resurfaced again coming out of the mouth of someone speaking about “sustainability” at a block party near our house last month. That person was pointing to a plate of homemade baklava and commenting that “that’s no store-bought baklava.”
At the time, the statement seemed somewhat old-fashioned. It was like making a comparison between microwave popcorn and popping kernals of corn in oil on the stove.
Pointing to the baker of the delicious treat, the message being communicated by this person was clear: we should seek (as much as possible) to develop a “first person” relationship with every supplier of those of our products or services what we can’t (or won’t) make or do for ourselves.
Yesterday was definitely a day in which “first person” contrast was high. I say that “contrast was high” because I got to see side by side comparisons of “first person” and “not first person.”
The day began when we left San Jose around 5:30am for Carneros at the southern end of Napa Valley. Our mission: To purchase a small amount of Merlot grapes from a man named Paul.
Paul is a silver-haired, blue-jean clad, no-nonsense guy. He tells stories of working at the Levi’s plant in San Francisco and in front of Pear peelers in San Jose — and from his stories, it seems that he was not a “management” type in those jobs. Paul is much more “management” now, but you can clearly see the “farmer” in his walk and demeanor. Paul looks you in the eye, he laughs deeply, and he does not mince words.
Paul grows a lot of grapes. We are very lucky that he is willing to make time for us (and to endure such a small purchase of grapes). He is in the middle of harvest, he has rain due in on Tuesday, grape pickers in Napa are scarce and he brought a crew of four to pick our grapes.
Yes, I liked the nostalgia of speaking with a farmer. It was simple; it felt like “days of old.”
In many ways this was a perfect “first person” transaction. Paul owns this land, he planted these grapes, he and his supervisors tend these grapes year round, and he was present for the pick.
Interestingly, the “first person” contrast was high (and immediate) between picking the grapes and our first stop.
One of our “transportation crew”, Lynn, is a devout white-wine drinker — yes, we have tried in vain to convert him to various red-Bordeaux-type grapes.
Lynn arranged for a tasting at Acacia winery so that he could have an excuse to buy some premium bottles from the winery that are not sold in stores. Our appointment was with a very nice woman who was very personable and lead us in a short, but way too early (10:15am?) tour of some fabulous wines.
Half-way through the tasting I noticed a Guinness poster on the wall opposite the tasting bar. The response to my inquiry completely changed my view of Acacia.
The Acacia winery is part of a conglomerate that includes Smirnoff Vodkas, Captain Morgan’s Rum, Baileyâ€™s Irish Cream, and yes, Guinness.
The makers of Guinness were responsible for making this wine.
Yes, we ended up purchasing some bottles (the wine is very good) — and yes, I joined their wine club. However, I left feeling a bit hollow. I did not know why then, but I do know why now…this was NOT a “first person” transaction.
Yes, the people I met from Acacia winery were dedicated to making great wine (and it was reflected in their product). However, the “buck” doesn’t stop with anyone I met there. No matter how dedicated they are, each of those people gets their semi-monthly check from someone else — someone who sends payroll checks to Ireland as well.
In two and one-half hours, our small band of friends had stemmed and crushed Merlot grapes into about 120 gallons of grape juice — it will require 12-14 days of fermentation before we can pretend to call it “wine”. In every way, this grape “crush” was truly a “first person” transaction.
Two years from now, when I bring this wine to a party, I can attest to its origin from land and grape to wine-in-bottle, all in the first person. My father and Lynn and Hank (the last member of our transportation crew) can each make the same attestation. Everyone else at the crush can come pretty close — having only missed the “pick” portion of the journey from grape to wine.
The difference between our wine and Acacia’s is probably noticeable to many — ours is good; some may say that theirs is great.
But when I take wine to that block party in two years…the bottles of Acacia will be consumed…the bottles of Chateau Garage will be devoured.
I have always been honored to be a part of Cheatau Garage. Now I know a bit more about why. It’s the difference between microwave popcorn and popping kernals of corn in oil on the stove.
My wife has been doing the latter in these last few months…and I really like it.