Monday, March 28, 2016

Last Day

So I had my last day in the tasting room as a regular pourer on Friday. As usual, there were the awesome 99 percent of our customers, who I had wonderful conversations with and who were truly pleasant to be around.

And then there was the other one percent; two parties in particular who made my Last Day Memory List:

 There was a huge party of 10 who showed up without reservations, ate lunch and wine tasted and really seemed to enjoy themselves until the bill showed up and they started bickering between themselves over who owed what (this after we even split it up for them).

 Ultimately they thanked me profusely for my wonderful service (and it was, believe me) and left me a pile of money that "covers the bill AND your gratuity." As they drove away and I counted it up, they were short five dollars on just the food tab, which of course meant absolutely no tip on $240 worth of service. Ouch. 

Since they were very sincere in their appreciation and I really do feel I "clicked" with them, I do know it was not anything I did, but rather their own inability to get along with each other and fairly contribute to the bill that caused the problem. But for me and the lone chef who worked so hard to accommodate a totally unexpected party of 10 people, it was a little disheartening.

Then there were the last customers of my day, two older gentlemen who knew a lot about wine and entered into a really pleasant discussion with me about it -- although from the get-go, there was something about them that did seem a little "off." They were very interested in our Cabernet, in fact to a point where they requested not one but TWO re-pours of it (meaning a total of three tastes, or a little more than a half-glass of just that, plus the other six wines we sample), the general indication that someone is about to make a serious purchase of wine -- maybe a case or more. 

I happily complied and told them when I was considering buying bottles of wine, it was important to me that I knew what I was getting.  One of them then mentioned that he was getting on a plane in a couple of hours, so I explained our shipping policy as well as how we can bag up a few bottles so they can be safely put into checked luggage  

Of course when they came up to pay, they did not buy a single bottle, which means they occupied a table for the better part of two hours and basically asked for free re-tastes of wine instead of doing what most nervous flyers do and taking a freaking xanax or atavan.

And it occurred to me that pouring wine is not unlike teaching in this one way: while most of your students (or customers) are lovely and nice people, it's the no-good, horrible ones you remember. The student who throws tantrums. The customer who stiffs you on the bill or tries to take advantage in some way. 

And the hardest part is smiling and continuing to present a professional face through that. Most of us have to do that (occasionally or regularly) with our bosses, but to have to do it with both our bosses as well as the general public makes for a tough job.

The good news is that after a period of time, the awful stories somehow all become terribly funny, which is why I love reading hotel/classroom/restaurant exposé books ("Heads in Beds" is my hands-down favorite, from a former hotel worker, as well as the blog "The Bitter Waiter").

In short, I'm happy to be moving outside to the plants, who never stiff you on the bill or demand more than what you are supposed to offer them. Because while I do recognize how awesome 99 percent of my wine pouring customer base was, it's honestly the one percent that you go home and think about at night. 

Monday, March 21, 2016

The Race Is On!


At the 48 hour mark, it's easy to see who is winning the germination race. It's the zinnias, by a huge margin. But there is also activity in the Sugar pie pumpkins, the Waltrip butternut squash and the Black Beauty Zucchini.


I love watching seeds sprout. They are each so different in how they grow, but for some the speed with which they germinate and get started is quite amazing.


There's also a whole mess of transplants in the sunroom, which have had several weeks to grow and will probably get planted next week.

Wine and little old ladies.

Running the world.

The wine dinner last night was wonderful, and despite all the great food and wine the best thing about the night was sitting next to a couple of elderly ladies (probably 75-80 years old or so) and getting to know them.

At first I was not happy to be seated at the "old folks" table rather than the younger set, since our table was definitely the quietest in the room. But as I talked more to these women, I discovered they were total badasses. One was a personal estate attorney who had, literally, just retired this month after an extremely long and successful career. The other was a former aide at the U.N., who told us tales of conflicts in Bolivia and meeting presidents and foreign heads of state.

Just goes to show that you should never count the little old ladies out before getting to know them. Sure, they might be grandmothers who bake great cookies and bounce grandkids on their knees, but they might also be women who have been busy running the world for the last half-century, kicking ass and taking names.

I only hope I can do the same as I enter my golden years.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Two Hats

"Man with two hats" sculpture in Ottawa, Canada.

So this month I've been wearing two hats at the winery; still finishing up in the tasting room (I am on the schedule until the end of the month) and also beginning to work on the Chef's Garden in preparation for planting in another week or two.

I've also commandeered our sunroom here at home to be a de-facto greenhouse for the first things I will be planting -- squash of all kinds, which are a staple on the summer menu at the winery, and also tomatoes, cucumbers and edible flowers like nasturtiums and calendula. Plus I've planted seeds for fall squash like butternut and pumpkin, which need to go in the ground in early May. Can you believe we already have to start thinking of fall? I only just dragged my short sleeves out of the closet again.

But while I'm dancing at two weddings as well as taking master gardening classes (and BTW our last class was all about grafting apple trees, which I discovered I suck at -- who knew?), posting will be a bit light. I'm sure that by the first week in April things will become a little more normal again. On April 1 I'm also having some minor surgery on a benign tumor that's been bothering me for awhile now -- it's been pressing on a nerve on my hip -- so it's not an exaggeration to say I'm really looking forward to being down to ONE job and having a pain-free hip again. It's the little things in life, ya know?

Endings and beginnings are rarely clear-cut and obvious in most areas we give our time to. Usually one thing winds down as another is winding up, and so you end up with periods of double this or that. In this case, double employment. At least both my jobs are at the same wonderful place, which I'm thankful for.

So I will be light on word count for a couple more weeks but I'm going to try and make up for it by posting more pictures.

Tomorrow we will be attending a wine dinner and I hope to share that with you. It's a huge festival weekend in Paso Robles and all the wineries are doing something. It sure will be nice to get out and have a Date Night with Big Ag.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Turn the steering wheel.

I'll be finishing my last two shifts behind the bar at the winery in the next couple of weeks, and it's causing me to reflect on my experiences as a tasting room attendant. 

The best (and coincidentally, also worst) part of my job has been the people -- the best, my coworkers, all of whom I enjoy and most of whom I'm friends with outside of work. And the great customers I meet -- people I'd love to invite over for dinner or to my home for the weekend. Honestly, I've met people I'd be honored to call my honorary relatives. Pouring wine allows you to interact with cultured, funny, intelligent and wonderful people who all have one thing in common: they love wine. I've met NASA astrophysicists, POTUS advisors, current and ex-movie stars, you name it. But also just retired couples, newlyweds, "just-turned-21" youngsters (to me) who are anxious to really learn about how to taste wine, and oenophiles of every social class and occupation.

But in my time behind the bar I've also met people who I was less than thrilled to meet, but who I had to smile and serve wine to, nonetheless:  There was The Russian, a repeat customer who constantly asked for re-visits on the wine, complained about the portions he was poured, claimed he was owed discounts and freebies no one promised him, and who treated service staff like serfs. There were the parents who brought their children with them when they went to winery after winery and didn't look after them. There were drunks who broke things, caused scenes, tried to crash weddings going on on-site, or attempted public sex in some pretty public places. 

But thankfully, those bad experiences were very, very much in the minority and were mostly things we could all laugh about once the doors closed and it was just staff and a half-finished bottle of Cabernet going around as we swapped tales of the day.

One of the things about providing great service though is to always ensure your smile is genuine; in other words you should never burn out, and after three years and increasingly busy customer counts, it's time for me to hand over the bottle to someone else before I do, in fact, burn out. It would happen. I've always believed it was a smart person in life who knew when to change lanes or get off the damn freeway completely when it was time to do so, and who turned the steering wheel without fear. Before someone asks you to, or you are desperate to change. Make the change before you hit that point, if you can, I say.

My new office.

My new job has several distinct advantages: I can set my own hours, including during summer when I'll try and be home before the heat sets in. I can take breaks when needed, or just stop and visit with a coworker without fear of neglecting a customer awaiting their next pour of wine. I still get to work in a happy work place with happy coworkers. And I'm outdoors on the best days -- the cool, sunny, breezy ones, and at home with a good book when it rains or when it's 105 degrees.

My shifts will also be a bit shorter, but more often, which will allow me to dovetail my own homesteading activities with work a lot more, which will help around here a lot.

But of course there will be the challenge of growing a beautiful and also a productive garden, meeting the needs of our kitchen staff and chef while also making the garden a place that beckons you to walk around and visit. 

At this point, I'm just turning the wheel and hoping for the best.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Used to feel bad

So I used to feel bad every time I'd see this -- a fruit or nut tree in full bloom with at least half its blossoms knocked off by a significant rain or windstorm, and all that gorgeous color just lying on the ground. Wasted beauty, wasted fruit, I used to think.

Now I realize that this is nature's way of ensuring the trees do not produce more fruit than they can effectively ripen. Spring storms are a great way of knocking excess flowers off the tree, thereby ensuring there will not be an excess of fruit. Which means maybe I won't have to thin the fruit as drastically as I might otherwise.

What a freaking genius idea.Well played, Sir God. Well played.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

A New Chapter

So yesterday afternoon I found myself among friends at the winery on a purely social visit, sitting beneath the veranda as the sun set with a glass of Cabernet and catching up with everyone. One friend is going through a difficult divorce and was passing her phone around so we could see pictures the new house she just purchased, which she'll be working on to make totally hers, reflecting her new life.

I will be starting a new life of my own soon, in a wonderful way. I will be moving on from the tasting room in order to manage our Chef's Garden at the winery. Oh, I'll still probably jump in behind the bar on special occasions like festival weekends, but my energy and work hours will now be focused on making our winery garden both productive and a lovely place to look at as customers enjoy our wine and stroll the property.

There comes a time when everyone needs a bit of a change-up; in the three years I've worked at the winery it's been "discovered,"  we've have won numerous (well-deserved) awards, and the restaurant has also recieved numerous write-ups and high praise (also well-deserved). These are all great things to be sure, but the result is that my workplace has become twice as busy as when I started, and unfortunately I'm not half as young to go along with that. 

While everyone has been pleased as punch with my job performance as a tasting room attendant, I knew that I would not last through another hot summer (most our our work takes place outside in summer, in the heat of the afternoons) out pouring wine, schlepping plates and helping serve food, and I had all but determined that my last day would be the end of June, regardless of whether or not I had another job to go to.

But that made me very sad, as I love my bosses, coworkers and customers, I count good friends among them all and it would have broken my heart to leave.

But providence threw down a blessing this week in the form of this job offer, and so beginning in April I will be out in the garden at the winery in the cool mornings, making it a place you want to be -- to stand in, to walk around, and of course enjoy the products of in your lunchtime meal.

So here's to moving out -- out into a new life, and in my case, out into the garden, a place I seem destined to inhabit in one form or another. And now there will be double posts on growing and wine country life,  both from home and work. I really think I'm going to enjoy this new view from my "office," just a few yards from the tasting room, but where the breezes blow and the seedlings grow.

Can you tell I can't wait to get started?