What is the definition of being successful? Is it making more money than you know what to do with? Is it having letters after your name that people aren’t even sure what they mean? Or is it simply being happy? When Mike and I decided to enter the wine business, we knew it wasn’t going to be an easy road. We were realistic. We understood that we would neither be an overnight sensation, nor ever be as recognized as Robert Mondavi. That’s not why we entered the business. We entered the wine industry because we love wine and it was our dream to own a winery. We chose to not just wish or dream about it, we made a conscious decision to make it happen. We chose to Pursue Our Passion.
It’s a scary thing chasing down your dreams, but if you don’t enter the race you are never going to win. One of my favorite sayings about Pursuing Your Passion was made by “The Great One,” Wayne Gretzky. He very eloquently stated, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” He knows you need to take risks. You need to leave the safety net that tethers you to your comfort zone so that you can experience what happens next.
In this, what has become a monthly tradition, a guest blogger will tell you their story of how they pursued their passion in the wine industry. These people understood what Van Gogh meant by “I would rather die of passion than of boredom.”
I began writing my blog just about two years ago. I had to ask a friend of mine from college what a blog even was. (shout out to Audrey of That Recipe) It took a bit of patience on her behalf, but she did a great job and two years and 200 posts later, I find myself deep in the blogging world. I am constantly looking for new blogs to read. I began #SundaySips on twitter, hoping that people would tweet their blogs, and I could compile a group of amazing blogs to follow…and it worked.
One of the blogs that showed up early on was Pairs With: Life. I immediately clicked that follow button, because John Taylor has a unique way of writing and telling a story. Every time I read a post, I learn something new about him. He lets his readers in- and that is not too common. It seems that John has done almost everything and never ceases to surprise me. For example, the first time I read he was in a band, or that he was the person behind the social media of Yao Ming Wines. He plays a mandolin and his music was on Beverly Hills 90210! Each time his post gets delivered to my inbox, I don’t know what I will find. A story about parenting, love, work, or death… but always related to wine and always with his sense of humor.
I am thrilled he agreed to share his story. I hope you are as intrigued by him as I am. Enjoy.
In the fall of 1976, I was a 12-year-old kid in 8th grade who built model rockets and played too much Dungeons & Dragons. My brother, who was Uber Cool because he was in high school, played the banjo and dressed like the guy from the Old Spice commercials, came into my room one day and said, “Come here and check this out.”
He led me downstairs to the parents’ Hi-Fi and dropped the needle on an old
Pete Seeger record. “Listen to this,” he said. The song was called Woody’s Rag, and it featured an instrument I’d never heard before. I was absolutely enchanted by the sound of it.
“That’s called a mandolin,” my brother said. “You’re going to learn to play it so you can be in my band and we can win the Talent Show. You have two weeks.”
So, I did. And we won.
I think that, forty years later, I can honestly point to that moment and say, this is where pursuing my passion began. And that’s all the passions, including wine. Around this same time, my parents had finally secured a position in what one might call the mezzanine of the middle class, and as such, enjoyed the occasional bottle of wine. Most nights, it was Lancers Rose, Paul Mason or Cribari (from the gallon glass jug), but on special occasions they drank Blue Nun or the Mother of All Classy Drinks, Martini & Rossi Asti Spumante. There was always wine at my family’s special events, and the connection stuck with me.
I tried and failed nine times to get into film school. Sometimes, pursuing your passion starts with truly understanding where your passion lies. I love telling stories and I always have, but what I didn’t realize at eighteen was that I wasn’t ready tell stories in long format. Music was my thing. So, I graduated from USC with a degree in Journalism, threw my six-figure education out the freaking door and started a band with my brother.
We hit the ground running in hot pursuit. We practiced six nights a week and played a gig on the seventh. We did this for three years, until we finally decided to give ourselves one night off a week. We stuck to our six-night schedule for five years, knocking on doors at record companies and getting roundly rejected…and by rejected, I mean eight solid years of relentless, name-calling rejection. But that didn’t stop us. Our efforts finally paid off with a seven-album deal on Atlantic Records in the summer of 1997.
We soaked in about nine of our allotted fifteen minutes of fame before we were dropped by the label in March of 1999. We hung up our touring shoes formally in 2001, and for the next ten years, I gave my most sincere effort to The Day Job Life. The strange thing about passion, though, is that it’s an energy, and as such, it can’t be destroyed, it can only be transformed. My real estate career was an epic failure, an absolute implosion of idiocy and incrimination Because it wasn’t me. It wasn’t what I was supposed to be doing.
So, I was faced with a decision: what could I do that I was passionate about that would also bring in a pay check…because, you know, reality. And that’s when I decided to pursue a career in the wine business.
Wine had developed a deeper meaning in my life over the previous fifteen years: a honeymoon in Paris that opened my mind to meaning of terroir; a move to the Bay Area in 1996 that allowed me to explore Napa, Sonoma and all the great northern California wine areas; a connection to the craft and artistry of winemaking. For the first time in a decade, I felt the same kind of excitement I felt when I began my music career. I knew I was on the right track.
The hot pursuit began anew. Since I had to completely start over from Day One, I got a job with a wine broker in San Francisco, schlepping bottles from one restaurant to another. My responsibilities consisted of agreeing with Somms that yes, that wine I’m pitching you is delicious and a true bargain, or yes, that (same) wine is overpriced rhinoceros bile. It was relentless, pavement-pounding work, and within a year I had earned a paycheck that was one-tenth what I made in real estate.
And yes, this was frustrating, and had real world implications to my marriage and my family. But I didn’t quit. I’m just That Guy – I can’t do something unless I’m passionate about it. It’s not going to work, it’s not going to be successful, it’s not going to be authentic. One may argue that life isn’t about you being happy with what you do all the time…but I’d be the guy arguing against that.
After a year of selling for brokers, I managed to get a job as the Wine Director for a new wine bar in Benicia, California. After six months there, a friend of mine hooked me up with an interview for the newly-opened Sales Director position at Rocca Family Wines in Napa. I was one of 145 applicants, and the only reason I got an interview was because I knew somebody. Networking counts, kids.
I landed the job with Rocca Family, and thus started my career in sales & marketing on the producer side. I’ve since held positions with Cairdean Estate (now Brasswood) and my current position as Director of Consumer Sales for Yao Family Wines in St. Helena. And yes, working in the Napa Valley is everything you think it is and everything I hoped it’d be. Sure, there are days when widgets are widgets and business is business, but it’s a business I’m passionate about, and that’s what matters.
Funny thing, though. Time was, I couldn’t tell a story in long format, but with thirty-five more years of life under my belt, I was ready to try. I’ve channeled this passion into writing, and I’ve never been happier from a creative standpoint. I began writing a wine blog, Pairs With: Life, about two years ago, and finally finished my first novel, The Flight of The Dolphin, in May of 2017.
I received 109 rejection letters from literary agents on my novel. So, I decided to write another novel, a contemporary fiction based on my Pairs With: Life blog. I expect to have it finished in late March. And I’ll send it out to agents again. And again. And again.
Because our stories don’t end with a final chapter. They end when we stop writing the chapter.
You can find John on: