Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Why I am Dumber Now Than I've Ever Been in my Entire Life

Years ago, sometime in my early thirties, I read somewhere that the human brain is at its best for raw computing capacity at around age 24.  This was depressing to me.  (Sorry....I've forgotten the reference here, but it was legitimate, trust me....this was before Facebook.)
Obligatory picture of Enistein from Wikipedia

I'd known at that time that I wasn't as accurate and quick with my math skills as I used to be, but I chalked that up to just being too stressed with starting a winery or short on sleep due to young kids and being tired or focusing on a million other things.  There was no way in hell I was getting slow at age thirty-four.

(Note beside: in hindsight, that was the year in my life that I was at my peak physically as measured by the amount of pure labor I was able to's been downhill ever since.....may this be a warning to all you thirty-three year old males out there!)

Now, we've all been told that as we get older our wisdom increases.  What does that mean?  I like to think of intelligence as the ability to know how to use something, much like using it as a tool.  Wisdom, in my analogy, is knowing how it works.  Very different.  It has to do with the underlying factors out there.

But, you'll say, I was twenty-two and I knew how an internal combustion engine works, so what the hell am I talking about?

It's more about the structure of things, how things interconnect.  And more importantly, why they interconnect.  The first inkling I got about wisdom was when I figured out Jerry Maguire was's all about the me the money....follow the money.  (Money being a very dirty term for any kind of currency, be it monetary, goods-oriented, or anything intangible like attention or affection.)

I thought that was wise at the time, and in many senses it was.  But seeing the forces that act on behavior in an internal personal realm, human societies, or even the natural world, is what I call wisdom.

From somewhere on the interwebs:
home winemaking at its simplest.
It's even found in winemaking.  Anyone can make wine.  Any one.  Yes, you, too.  Hell, grapes want to become wine (with the help of ever-present yeast.)  The problem is that without human intervention, wine quickly becomes undrinkable (vinegar).

The bare mechanics of fermentation are easy to understand.  Start with a substratum of liquid with sugar.  Introduce yeast.  Fermentation occurs.  Wine results.  Congratulations, you're a winemaker!

But that's not really "wise" winemaking, nor is it really "intelligent" winemking but we'll let that pass for right now.....  It's winemaking, sure, but there's no thought about an end product.  Or at least, there's no real thought about where the wine will end up.  There's always a need to have a goal for winemaking.  Goal-less winemaking is all about luck.  An old boss of mine once said, "Even a blind squirrel finds a nut sometimes."  True.

Winemaking with wisdom is knowing where a wine should be going, and even more importantly knowing where it can't go and and when not to push it.  That's because I am starting to understand the interconnections of winemaking, perhaps getting closer to "wise" winemaking.  Unfortunately or forutnately as the case may be, I feel like I "know" less these days than I ever used to about winemaking--more of an uncertainty than anything else--and yet the wines seem to be better.  At least that's what I tell myself.

Am I dumber than I've ever been?  Yes, the further away from that magical age of twenty-four I referred to earlier.  Am I wiser than I've ever been?  Sure!  Every year that goes by is one where I like to think that I gain in wisdom.  But this brings up an important point, one probably best illustrated by a graph.

(Graph and data by the author)
Since intelligence and wisdom both can be related to age, we can plot them versus time.  Intelligence decreasing over time and wisdom increasing over time.
As you can see, intelligence goes up over time till twenty-four then starts to slide.....We naturally start with zero wisdom, but I see that function as exponential (or at least I am hoping it is.....)  What I find is really important is that there is one point where the two lines intersect at a trough point.  I've empirically determined that point to be at the age of 46.

Strangely enough, the data I have from 2012 shows that trough to have existed at that time at around the 42 year point.  Even more strangely is that in 2009 my data shows the deepest depression around age 39.  This phenomenon continues to boggle my mind.  I can't for the life of me figure out how the scale seems to slide with each passing year, matching perfectly with my own age.  Extrapolating from these anomalies makes me guess that the depression point next year will be around age 47......

....which is why I am dumber now than I've ever been in my entire life.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Why We Left....

You know, every once in a while something happens that makes me question myself.  Or why I'm in business.  Or why I tend not to engage my brain before putting my mouth in gear.

We recently had a review put on Tripadvisor (here's the link:  It's interesting in its tone, and believe me, like everything, there are two sides to the story.

At one time, our winery desperately needed the wine trail and the events that went along with it.  When our family took over Allegro, we were extremely under-capitalized.  I remember talking to a consultant and showed them the asking price....he said, wow, it will probably take twice that to get it back into shape.  We, of course, didn't have twice that amount.  Hell, we didn't even have that amount.  But through borrowing from family, credit cards, and AgChoice Farm Credit, we pulled off the sale.  After a year of running the winery, we realized we were up a creek with regards to sales.

The only thing we knew to do at that point to save our collective butts was to ramp up sales.  So, my wife Kris re-started the Mason-Dixon wine trail single-handedly.  (This was before the UnCork York wine trail was bequeathed the name.)  She was also part of the formation of the UnCork York wine trail.  (She was the one who came up with the name "Tour de Tanks"!)  We desperately needed the sales and exposure that these events brought us.

We did all the events, everything it took, and we stayed in business barely.  Just barely.  Then after a dozen years, we realized we still were around and hadn't closed our doors.  (And our loan officer started to make more positive comments--thanks, Bruce!)  It was at that point that we knew things were starting to change for the better for us.

Last year we looked back and noticed a few things.  In our desperation for sales, we had asked a lot of our staff.  They were the ones who had to put in the hours of pouring and talking about our wines (which they say they enjoyed!)  But they also had to put up with the bad situations, and these were becoming more and more frequent.

This all came to a head last year when a large group who had obviously been on the wine trail all day decided to make us their last stop.  We ended up having to refuse service to three women (something we have fortunately rarely had to do at the winery), and they ended up becoming belligerent.  Their boyfriends weren't happy about it either when they came inside after drinking beer in front of our winery.  Needless to say, this was one of the most unpleasant experiences for our staff, and something I don't ever wish to put them through again.  My staff mean a lot to me, and they are dedicated to Allegro and our wines.  But this was the limit.

So, out of respect for my staff, we have been trying to eliminate this element from our tasting room.  The first and easiest way was to drop out of the wine trail.  I know that doing so upset people out there, probably because we had a reputation for the best food spread on the trail.  And, even though the guy in the back (me) would rant on and on and say bad things about Chambourcin, people still came back.  

What we've noticed since leaving the trail is that we now sell more wine at our spring and fall events.  In the past, we would average about $11 in sales per person on the wine trail.  Without the wine trail, our average is up to over $40 per person usually.

Why is this?  I think it's because the people who now come out to our winery aren't coming out for a chance to drink some wine....they're coming out because they want a good tasting experience, they want to learn about the wines, and they want to purchase some to take home.  And that works out well for us, since we're a winery and not a bar or a nightclub or a restaurant.  Our customers tell us that they appreciate our signs about no large groups, no buses, no limos.  It makes their experience better, and my staff happier as well.  And that's what our winery is about.

So, yes, we don't need the wine trail anymore and we don't like dealing with drunks.  If that makes us arrogant, then so be it.  But for me, it's about taking care of my staff and taking care of the customers who take care of us.  And maybe not second-guessing myself so much anymore.

Friday, November 6, 2015

The Cost of a Typo....Or, How Important it is to cross your i's and dot your t's......

Full disclosure and transparency is important.

I stopped in at my local garage the other day to get my truck worked on. (Urey's Garage in Brogue on Rt. 74--they do a great job!) He mentioned he saw me in the paper. Having been in the paper a lot recently, I asked him what he saw. He said it was for a liquor violation.

Not what I hoped he would say.....but he was right.


Here's the article from the York Daily Record:

Here's our side of the story.  The headline makes it sound pretty bad, but it's actually pretty simple. It was an honest mistake.  In fact, it's a typo.

For any off-site event we go to, we have to apply for a permit. They cost us $30 each day (payable to the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board), and are usually rubber-stamped by the licensing division in Harrisburg. We will do a total of about 35 days of off-premise licenses in 2015 (some of which are multi-day events.) Since we started doing this in 2002, we've probably filled out over 300 individual permit applications.

These days, the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board supplies an online form that you can fill out, which works great if one remembers to over-write every field on the form from the last time it was used. That's what happened for an event in mid-August. We had the license properly displayed and the fee paid for that festival, but unfortunately the form's date was from a different festival. It was a typo, an oversight and it meant that we were in violation of a state liquor law.  A member of the State Police Liquor Enforcement dutifully noticed this violation and reported it.

The date on the license was a month removed from when it should have been, and the officer said that if it had been a little less, maybe he would have just given a warning. PLCB--rightfully so--takes violations like this very seriously and are recommending a $250 fine. We will pay that.

For a typo.

There are, of course, wineries who try to sell wine without licenses. (I have heard of numerous wineries that have knowingly or unknowingly done it.) We, on the other hand, naively displayed our invalid license not knowing it included the wrong date. An honest mistake. Just a bit costly.

Even crazier is the fact that the reporter, Mark Walters ( @walt_walters on Twitter) at the York Daily Record, decided sending a message to our winery's Facebook page at 6:30 PM was enough to justify that he could write that we "could not be reached for comment" a few hours later when he posted the story.

Now, I don't have any journalistic background, nor do I claim to know what journalistic integrity it.  But with a story about something as serious as a violation of a state liquor law, I'm thinking he should have tried a little harder.

(FYI: I posted a comment on his story and emailed him.  Turns out he "could not be reached for comment" either.) (11/7/15: see postscript below)

Anyway, I thought you all should hear our side of it before the rumor mill gets going too far.  And, just to be clear, this isn't about the PLCB or state liquor laws.  They are fair laws, fairly enforced and adjudicated......and we simply screwed up one little part of one form.  This is more about letting you all know that the news story may have made it look like we were doing something illegal--which we were--but there's more to the story than what you may have heard.

So, in the end, feel free to share with me in the comments section any of your stories where a simple typo cost you some serious bucks and mud on your face....just think how you'd feel if you were caught speeding and had it published for the whole world to see.


Postscript: On 11/7/15 Mark Walters called me.  We were both able to tell our side of the story to each other.  I sympathized with his need to make a deadline with his story, while at the same time I tried to stress with him the PR damage this causes a small business.  I'm hoping that in the future this doesn't happen again....mostly because we're going to watch our typos, but also because he has my cell phone number now.  I commend Mark for reaching out today.