Exploring the hidden connections among traditional French wines and California pinot noir, face-to-face meetings and modern technologies
Over the holidays, my wife and I hosted a small private wine tasting in our home, an event resulting from a charitable fundraiser earlier in the year. One of the more memorable moments came when we paired a vintage Grand Cru Burgundy against a comparably rated top-shelf California pinot noir, together with an exquisite cobia ham sautéed in a spiced celery sauce prepared by June Restaurant. We asked the participants to blindly taste both wines with the dish and vote for the wine they most enjoyed.
After the vote, one of the guests asked me to explain the differences between the two types of wine. In the short time we had until the next wine was served, I tried to formulate a brief but comprehensive explanation of time-honored French traditional wines versus new-age California productions. For starters, this particular French house in Burgundy has been making wine from pinot noir grapes since the year 1732, while the California vineyard only recently began bottling wine, in 1999.
More generally, the Burgundian style of wine-making has existed in much the same form since it originated centuries ago, with aged vines meticulously planted near limestone crevices, while each grape is carefully nurtured through the season and hand-selected for the Chateau’s limited quantities of Grand Cru, Premier Cru or village wine blend. In contrast, domestic California vineyards typically import their vines and mass-produce their wines under the direction of business school graduates focused on lowering costs, marketing to increase demand, and pricing the product appropriately to avoid excess inventory. My preferences for French wine became obvious the more I spoke about them.
“Isn’t it possible to combine both of these ideologies,” I was asked, “to create one great wine that is affordably priced?” I had to think for a minute before responding, trying to stay focused on just the wine. “Not if you ask the French,” I finally concluded.
Later, during the evening’s wine tasting, another guest toured our home and noted that my home office looks remarkably similar to my office at work, with the VOIP phone, the wireless router, the laptop and the scanner all poised for instant duty. “So this is how you make yourself accessible,” our guest surmised. “You have quite a display of technology here.”
Yes, the modern marvels of technology have transcended into the legal industry. Just as I was about to explain the various techno-gadgets used to create today’s virtual lawyer, our guest made a comment that caused me to pause. “Your approach to your two passions seems very contradictory,” I was told. “You prefer the traditional, intimate approaches to wine-making, yet you allow your law practice to rely upon every new aspect of the latest technology.”
Admittedly, as I looked around, this was true. In our law firm, both internally between attorneys and externally with clients, we no longer meet regularly every day to discuss each file in person. We more commonly exchange encrypted electronic data and images, revise and comment on the images themselves, and return them to each other without a single word spoken. Beyond that, even in the sacred courtroom itself, much of the filing and argument today is done electronically. Indeed, Abraham Lincoln must be turning over in his grave.
The question conveyed to me at the wine-tasting event warrants discussion. How is it that a person’s greatest passions outside of God and family can be rooted in such contradictory principles? Two plausible explanations come to mind.
The easiest answer is to discard the similarities and conclude that comparing the hobby of wine collecting to the industry of business law is an apples-to-oranges non sequitur. Wine plays no economic role in my life. It neither pays the bills nor provides any education or future for our family. Our wine collection is purely for pleasure and enjoyment. As a result, no real harm occurs by clinging to and collecting wine that was produced through ancient traditional means, no matter how archaic that might be. The price paid for the wine comes from disposable and discretionary income, so the principles of microeconomics do not apply.
Our law firm, on the other hand, is a business and must always be mindful of the economic realities of our environment. With numerous employees and their families relying upon our profitability and success, failure is not an option. Trends in the industry, the supply and demand of our services, the price structure of our competition, and the revenue and expenses of our operation are items that must be evaluated constantly and cannot be taken for granted—nor are they disposable or discretionary. In short, to be an industry leader and remain competitive into the future, our law firm, by necessity, must invest in technology.
Despite the convenience of dismissing the comparison altogether, another possible explanation exists. It was touched upon by our wine-tasting guest who suggested that old-school techniques and modern technological methods may not be mutually exclusive. Perhaps the concepts can be combined to create an even better product. Logic would suggest that face-to-face meetings and handshake agreements are still possible, notwithstanding the operational efficiency being sought through the use of advanced technology. Moreover, intimate partnerships with clients can and should continue to exist, notwithstanding the ability to communicate instantly. Perhaps most importantly, honor and integrity can still support a business’s ideals, even if our environment requires that those ideals evolve over time.
It seems that both tradition and technology can co-exist in our business environment, although it may take some innovation to make it happen. The key to both ideologies is determining which elements support the firm’s vision, mission and model, and strengthen successful competition into the future.
Incidentally, the vote between the age-old Grand Cru burgundy and the modern California pinot noir ended in a tie. iBi