Team. Work.

I have boys ages 9 and 11 who play a lot of basketball. Recently, they conceded if they don’t make it to the NBA they are willing to consider other career options although, well, it is highly possible they will be drafted. First round, most likely. It is a little early in their lives for a lesson in statistics but it does not take high level math to work out the probabilities on the likelihood of this scenario. So, I have encouraged them to study – just in case – while they work on their left hand. And jump shot. Sure, the double pump reverse dunk will be their signature move as we all know they will be 6’8” or maybe even 6’10” but even the big man needs to hit the three in today’s game. While they are practicing their moves for the Dunk Contest, I encourage them to enjoy the game of basketball for the sheer pleasure it brings and to be sure they pick up some of the lessons a team sport can offer: working together to achieve a goal; finding roles on a team that complement one another and brings out the best in all of the players; witnessing the reward and pleasure in unselfish play; working through and overcoming doubt and cold patches; playing with people different than you and learning how to best communicate so all succeed. Anyone a Golden State Warriors fan? Yes, tough times these days and I am sure the schadenfreude runs deep in a lot of the country. But the Warriors of the previous 4 years were an absolute pleasure for any basketball fan to watch as they understood how to play together as a team. Yes, a team of individual stars each possessing blinding brightness, but playing together they made one another shine brighter. Kind of like this year’s Lakers.

This is something we are learning to do at Peay. When Nick and I planted the vineyard over 20 years ago we planned to share the grape growing job while Nick made the wine and I sold it. Ha. Laughable. Neat on paper but way too much for us to handle and totally impractical. For one, we are brothers. Anyone work with their spouse or family member? Yes, it is not at all like working with a non-related co-worker. The subtext for every action and conversation runs deep. He was more knowledgeable about farming as he went to UC Davis to study Enology and Viticulture. I had a lit degree and more muscle on my frame so until we had wine to sell that made me good for doing what I was told and lifting heavy objects. That arrangement lasted about a year until I determined that to achieve our goal of making great wine we both needed to be alive. That was not looking probable if he didn’t stop telling me in his special older brother way what to do. Then Vanessa came along and joined the Peay team and all of a sudden everything fell into place. Huh?

Vanessa had quite a pedigree from making wine at some of the best estate wineries in the world. Nick is no dummy and graciously handed off the winemaking role to her. Initially, Nick helped with the barrel work and would provide input on winemaking but over time he found he needed to say less about winemaking and instead focus his attention on the vineyard and his crew of vineyard workers. With Nick full time in the vineyard, I was released from the vineyard to use my MBA to get a paying job in the city and to return when we had wine to sell and a business to run. Over the next five or so years we learned – not always seamlessly – how to be supportive teammates. It took time to develop trust and not meddle unnecessarily but offer insight and encouragement when it was needed (and to know when it was needed and not when we were fretting and wanted “to offer just a little helpful” input.) We each operated within our own sphere of expertise and reached out when a situation required another person’s knowledge or advice. Over time, we had fewer meta conversations about communication – when you say x it is the way you approach it and not what you say – and instead could anticipate one another’s needs or desires without having to ask. We began to understand the overall operation through the lens of our little fiefdoms and how best to work together to achieve our goal of making great estate wines. We were still short a few key players on our squad, however.

When I returned full-time to Peay in 2002, I recognized immediately that I was not very interested, and hence not very good at, the detail-oriented tasks of bookkeeping, compliance, and inventory management. Into the void stepped Ann Murray. Ann is my surrogate mother. She nags me. She scolds me when necessary.  I bite back and then feel remorse. You know, typical family dynamic. But, importantly, Ann has a sharp attention for detail and follows up on the threads that I lose as I run around representing Peay Vineyards. Without her, the business side of Peay would spin out of control and things would fly off leaving an empty checking account at the center. I try to keep Ann from driving customers crazy with bean counting questions and she tries to keep me from straying from systems that keep the trains running on time. It has worked for over 17 years and will for the next 17, I think.

Vanessa also recognized the need for a smart set of experienced hands to help her in the winery. Nick’s job as grape grower kept him on the coast during the week and in our first 10 vintages we hired a series of cellar masters and assistants to assist in performing the day to day winemaking tasks. In 2012, we hired Orion LeGuyonne as our cellar master and we have been incredibly fortunate as he has evolved into our associate winemaker and more. Orion is the glue at Peay. Vanessa is the boss, the palate, the fount of wisdom and experience, and the ultimate decision-maker. Her palate and focus you taste in our wines. Orion is the one tracking and working with the barrels all day in the cellar. He is smart, has a strong work ethic, and is reliable. You want to know where something is and what stage a wine is in, ask Orion. Though Orion was hired to make wine, he has seen the need in other areas of the winery and has stepped in to help with aplomb. Without a moment’s hesitation he will come in on weekends and host customers or if I am traveling, stand in for me at a tasting. He manages the winery’s extensive library inventory picking bottles for me to send for dinners. Annually, he takes three days to count every bottle and move over 2,000 cases of library wine until his arms won’t straighten. And despite all we ask, Orion is our resident good humor person; part wisenheimer, part sarcastic wit, part lyrical poet. Not to be undervalued. He is the oil that keeps all the relations running smoothly at Peay and is vital to our success. He makes us all better at our jobs.

Almost from day one, Nick realized the value of having the same vineyard workers every year farming our 51 acres. It is a big vineyard for our small operation (you have tiny yields to thank for that!) and the accretion of knowledge that comes from the same workers farming our grapes every vintage is priceless. Well, not exactly priceless, as I know the premium I pay to have a year-round crew even though vineyard work is on a 10 month bell curve. It is expensive but, without a doubt, it leads to better wines. Despite all the changes in the labor situation over the past 20 years, we have had essentially the same core of workers in the vineyard. Our foreman took the reins at a very young age and now is in his 15th vintage. He speaks the same language as my brother and not only understands what Nick wants done at every stage of the growing season but he also has the same emotional investment we do in our vineyard. When Nick was injured and hospitalized at the end of harvest this past fall, our foreman took over the vineyard and was able to get the blocks in when Vanessa wanted them. Without a hitch.

Speaking of which, about 7 years ago I began to realize that despite my best intentions I was not able to deliver the level of customer service I felt our direct mailing list customers deserved. You are the bulk of our business (and all of our profitability) and without you we would not be able to stay in business. We want every aspect of your interaction with us to make you feel appreciated and connected. Quite a bit is involved with getting wine ordered and delivered to a customer’s door, however, and at every stage things can happen that require some input from us. I became too busy to follow up on every customer service issue that popped up during and after release. Balls were being dropped. I was the one dropping them. In to catch came Jenn Velasquez. Any of you who have purchased from Peay in the last 7 years have received emails and maybe even phone calls from Jenn. Due to the demands of sales, I may be harried, running up a sand dune, responding to emails from a plane or rental car. Jenn, on the other hand, is calm, poised and efficient; all with a cool air and a smile. Yes, she can change your shipping address and delivery date. Yes, she considered the weather along the shipping route before submitting orders. Yes, she will find out if we have any more Roussanne or Elanus Pinot or…

And, lastly, a year and a half ago Derek Reijmer joined us to help with national sales. Initially, I saw this as a way for me to spend a little less time on the road so I would see my family more often.  An unexpected result has been the need for me to develop processes and systems to replace the more intuitive approach to wine sales I have practiced the last 20 years. Like most entrepreneurial ventures, there is a point where a business evolves and infrastructure must be constructed so the founder can stop running full pace with their hands in all the pies. I am still running but I trust my teammate Derek has “got it” and I can place my attention elsewhere. There is a diminished sense of panic with fewer defunct flagged emails, missed deliveries, and misplaced POs. My need to articulate what we are doing and our overall strategy also causes me to reflect more often on how best to achieve our goals. This has benefitted Derek, me and Peay Vineyards.

Anyone who works or plays on a team can tell you that there is a reason the word teamwork ends in work. It takes work to trust one another.  Yes, sometimes people get together and everything flows naturally. But way more often, there is a process of learning to identify and coax out the value individuals contribute to achieving a collective goal.  When this happens, you operate “in the zone.” And as anyone who was glued to their TV set watching the Warriors play basketball the past 4 years will tell you, it was a beautiful thing to witness.

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