April 22, 2010

The Lab is Moving to Hong Kong

One of our new interns stopped me in the hall and said (I'll quote her verbatim):

"Kipling's been dead for, like, a long time. You need to be less oblique. Say what you mean or people won't get it."

Fair enough.

The Lab is moving to Hong Kong.

April 20, 2010

After Pears, A New Adventure

There's no gift shop at the Pear Distillery. Not much of anything really. So it wasn't much of a surprise when the man sitting in the waiting room followed me out of the building.

He told me his name was Li Ping. He had read an article I'd written for the Journal of Oenological Lab Management on the benefits of outsourcing and wanted to discuss the implications with me. He'd called my office at the Lab and been told where I was. It did cross my mind that tracking me down in the Australian outback to discuss cost efficiencies was a bit strange. But I didn't have much else to do. After breakfast, Chinskirin had taken enough codeine to put down a bear. He'd be out all day.

So we found a cafe in downtown Shepparton and ordered two coffees.

When the drinks arrived, Li Ping handed me an envelope. In it was a letter from his boss, a Hong Kong real-estate tycoon who wished to remain anonymous. I read the letter curiously. It offered enthusiasm for my ideas about managing experimental costs via offshore lab facilities. It explained that Hong Kong has repealed the customs duty on wine with hopes of becoming a beneficial tax haven for Far East oenology. The envelope included photos of an industrial site in Guangzhou, as well as pictures of a suite of executive offices with views of the harbor in Hong Kong.

I was of course flattered by the flowery praise in the letter, but confused by the images and asked Li Ping what gives. He looked at me as if I had only the intellectual capacity of a small child and then said, slowly, so that I might understand, "My boss wants to buy your Lab and relocate your operations."

Now it was my turn to be condescending. I waved over the waitress, paid for our drinks as I pushed back my chair. "Mr Li, I'm sorry you've come so far on an empty errand. But I would never sell the Lab."
As I turned to go, he produced a second envelope from his jacket pocket. He handed it over without a word. Inside was a check. A big check. Made out to me.

"My employer hopes that you will consider continuing in your present capacity as Managing Director. He will, of course, pay all your relocation expenses. Thank you for the coffee."

With that Li Ping walked out of the cafe.

I just stood there for a while, wondering what the weather will be like in Hong Kong...

April 12, 2010

Dreaming of Pears

While Chinskirin convalesced at a local farmhouse, I took to wandering the nearby orchards.

On one of my walks, I happened upon a large, industrial building flying the tri-colors of the French flag. Given I was, at the time, walking about in the Australian countryside, I decided to investigate.

As improbable as it may sound, I had happened upon a distiller of the pear-flavored eau de vie, Poire William.

Umpteen years ago, a Frenchman on holiday discovered a bounty of fresh pears in the region, and -- to shorten the history considerably -- he partnered with a local gentleman farmer and together they (or more properly speaking, their children now...) turn between 4 and 10 tons of fruit into pear-flavored jet fuel each season. The entirety of the production is shipped back to France in specialized containers. Where it is consumed in staggering quantities by the locals.

Eau de vie in the Australian bush? It couldn't be real. The fumes leaking out from the massive still are enough to make you wobble a little. And if you sample as much as I did, it all starts to feel like a dream.

I might even have convinced myself it all had been a dream. Except for the fact that I met Li Ping in the lobby of the distillery. Ping was very real, indeed.
And he would soon bring a big change to the Lab.

More on that next time.

April 7, 2010

In Praise of Faraway Friends

I have been long away from the Lab. For that, gentle readers, I offer my sincere apologies. I have been in faraway lands. Called away in the middle of the night by a desperate call. Chinskirin Boktani, one-time intrepid guide and devoted Man Friday, had been injured in a climbing accident.

I made hasty arrangements and left immediately to travel the many miles to be at his side.

As it turns out, he wasn't hurt all that bad. A twisted ankle and a scrape on his knee. But as is usually the case with Boktani, several adventures ensued, and none with any internet access.

I hope to recount some of our escapades in the coming weeks.

In the meantime, I returned home to find in my in-box some well deserved praise for a dear friend of the Lab -- which I will reprint here. The source is Jon Rimmerman, who runs the single most interesting wine mailing-list in the known universe.

Dear Friends,

Let’s get this out of the way:

Pyramid Valley is currently New Zealand’s finest winery.
There are others that produce a single entrant of equal stature (such as Rippon) but no one produces a line-up from A-to-Z like Mike and Claudia Weersing. In fact, few wineries in the world do so. With multiple climates, soil structures, elevations, islands, ferry crossings and general mayhem to deal with on a daily basis, this winery takes us on a high-level tour of New Zealand equaled by no one else.

From Spatlese to Pinot Blanc, to Cabernet Franc to Pinot Noir (not not mention a new Sauternes-like wine that is going to re-define what can be done with Semillon), Pyramid Valley is a serious candidate for the most diverse winery in the world – all while playing at the top register. They expose us to one of the richest landscapes of terroir anyone could hope to imagine and, if “understanding” is your goal with wine, the often limpid and reflective examples delicately placed into bottle by Mike and Claudia will go a long way toward anyone’s study of life, relationships and all things vinous. Circa 2010, the top of the pyramid is in sight and they’ve only just begun.

I’ve waxed poetic on this winery in the past and taken many punches from numerous pundits that accuse me of over-hyping wine that is no better than, say, Felton Road. To you I say phooey. That is missing the point. This is about the people, the places, their dedication to an interconnected system of the world – one that includes an eco-sensitive realization that we are all, indeed, in this together. This is about Mike driving 12 hours in an old old Airstream so he could sleep by the side of Hwy 1 near Blenheim while he sat, watched and waited for each of your grapes to ripen perfectly - precisely as nature intended. This is about an abstinence of chemicals, additions, yeast, intervention or the unwanted hand of man altering the course of vinous events. In the end, this is about your few moments with the Weersings and their children of each vintage. If you ask them, this is about you.

If you met Mike and Claudia everything above would be obvious and endearing at the same time. They care about every detail and let’s just leave it at that. Call them friends, partners in crime, lovers, wanderers – whatever you wish – these are people of life and its reflective direction. These are people many of us wish we could be...

As the young folks at the Lab like to say: