Daddy Daughter Days

This time of the year always reminds me of the wonderful times I had spent with my dad in the City during the holiday season. I always looked forward to those Daddy-Daughter days when he was mine for a day and we could wander the city, go shopping and of course eat. It was a tradition that he and I would hop on the train to Grand Central and spend the day shopping up and down Madison and Fifth Avenues. We’d start out on Fifth, and stroll up the Avenue mostly window shopping until we’d get to his favorite place in Rockefeller Center — Teuscher Chocolates. This magical chocolate shop, was filled with all kinds of chocolates flown in weekly from Switzerland and wrapped in the most elaborate boxes, one more fantastical than the next. My favorite were the champagne truffles, which made me feel so grown up and sophisticated — oooh, Champagne was inside so it must be the best. Dad would get his dark chocolate covered orange peel and we’d eat them all as we strolled up the avenue. There was another location conveniently located close to one of his favorite wine shops, the original location for Sherry Lehmann, which was on Madison Avenue. So we had options and bribes. I’d bribe him to go up 5th with me and he’d get chocolate; and he’d bribe me to walk into Sherry Lehmann while he spent hours and hours talking about wine — then I’d get chocolates — and clothes.

Patience is not a Kowalsky virtue, I come from a long line of people without patience, from Grandma to Grandpa and Dad, who was basically impatience personified. I’d wait and wait until he was done with his wine shopping. Now that I think back on it, maybe taking me to go clothing shopping and chocolate eating, was his way of getting into the city to check wine shops, talk to his buddies and make me wait endless hours. I don’t really remember how I entertained myself, growing ever more impatient, but I knew that clothing was the light at the end of the tunnel. I’d tolerate the hours we spent looking at bottles and more bottles, and then he’d take me into Saks or Lord and Taylor. Now it was my turn, but again Kowalsky’s don’t have patience, so shopping with him was like speed dating with clothes. I’d say “Hi skirt, how do you do?” “Great we’re a match” so then dad would say something like, “Ok you like it, great, take 2, I don’t want to come back.” Once I figured this out, speed shopping was the best! Though once home, mom wasn’t so happy when she saw that I had the haul of the century!

But before returning home, we’d once again enter the glorious Grand Central Station, to make our pilgrimage to the cathedral of seafood, the one and only Grand Central Oyster Bar. But before I take you through my culinary journey with Dad, I have to brag a bit about an amazing experience I just had last week at the Oyster Bar, which jogged my memories of being there with dad so many years ago. One of my fellow Dames, from Les Dames d’Escoffier, invited me to the Canadian Oyster Festival, held there in celebration of the retirement of the Oyster Bar’s executive chef, famed Sandy Ingber who after 31 years decided to hang up his oyster knife. I helped my friend Michael Ann Rowe, the queen of all things crustacean, with a sparkling wine donation from Bouvet Ladubay. Bubbly and Oysters, a match made in heaven and I was in heaven! What an array of oysters to feast on, so many different ones from Canada all paired with the smooth, and creamy sparkling wines of Bouvet.

As I helped pour, my neighbor, one of the celebrated Canadian oyster shuckers from Raspberry Point, kept giving me oysters! It was a great night for sure, but it did make me think about all the great meals at the counter I had with my dad before we got on the train to go back home. Sitting at the counter was a right of passage, yes there were tables, but no true New Yorker sat at a table. There’s nothing like sitting at the counter, being served by the waiters and waitresses who had been there forever, under the vaulted ceilings designed by Guastavino. We’d start with a dozen clams on the half shell, dad loved them doused with cocktail sauce and lemon. Then we’d each get our favorite chowder — dad Manhattan Clam Chowder and me New England. The battle of the soup was on as we’d argue about which was better. Each soup was accompanied by Oyster Crackers and a bread basket with filled with savory crackers and rolls and hard as a rock butter on ice.

Bellies full, our final food stop was at Zaro’s for a black and white cookie for me, which I still think is the perfect cookie, a cake, a cookie, chocolate, vanilla all in one! We’d then hop on the train back home for the short ride up the Hudson. I loved these Daddy-Daughter days, true New Yorker days. And yes folks the City is New York, no arguments here, for me it’s the only one allowed to be called the City. Food, wine, shopping, NYC and dad that was a perfect day in my books.

Step with Both Feet Forward, Now Pivot!

The past year and a half has been interesting to say the least. At bit overwhelming at times to say the most! So here goes from the beginning the actual timeline of change: mom goes into hospital, new president joins my old company, mom passes away, new boss joins company, leave city after 20 some odd years, move back to childhood home, sell apartment in city. Then I decide I need more change so I leave my job of 29 years for the unknown. And that was only the first 6 months. Flashforward from there another 8 months. Change in life is inevitable, it’s how you embrace it and move forward that is the interesting part. You can chose to crawl under a rock, let it all overwhelm you or you can move forward and pivot – change direction and find a way out. I had only had one job in my career of working; I had never not worked as an adult. I was not in a position not to work, too young, not a trust fund baby, so I chose to find the way out — to strategically pivot and find a new path. After applying for similar positions to the one I had previously, I decided to pivot and set out on my own.

My high school friend, Allison Kluger lectures about Strategic Pivoting at the Graduate School of Business at Stanford. To quote her, “Pivoting is an intentional, methodical process for nimbly navigating career changes.” Check her out, from being a tv producer to being a professor, she too had pivoted her career. In fact Alex Rodriguez is a guest lecturer about career pivoting. Tyra Banks also teaches with Allison as a co-lecturer on Personal Branding, much of which involves pivoting your narrative, your interests, and message as you evolve in your career.  Being nimble and able to take your own personal assets and find a new way to use them is really what life is about. How do we adapt and find that path forward that’s the main question and task. Once you’ve defined what you have to offer and have evaluated your personal assets, then you need to figure out how to use them! Simple, not so simple, kind of like putting a puzzle together but once the pieces fall into place the answer becomes more clear.

Behind The Scenes Strategic Pivoting - YouTube
Allison Kluger’s Class

I looked inward, reached outward and came up with creating 2 opportunities for myself and the pivot began! Blogger and Sales & Marketing Consultant for the Wine & Spirits Industry were the 2 paths I chose. I knew that I had a lot of stories in me about food and wine. I grew up in the industry, went to culinary school, travelled around the world of wine from a young age, met many of the industry’s most iconic figures… all this led me to create my own blog called FKDecanted, My Life’s Journey in Food and Wine. I never thought I’d have the patience to write. I’m not inherently a patient person as those who know me can attest! But with change comes well, change and I’ve learned to be a bit more patient. Writing, I have found is not only cathartic, but is also enjoyable and comes fairly easily to me once I’ve developed the idea.

The second career path has been to create my own Sales & Marketing Consulting Firm for the Wine & Spirits Industry, called WineDistilled. I thought long and hard here; how do I use my experience and create something of my own that is of value to those in the industry. It wasn’t until after I had taken a trip to Argentina for fun that I had a revelation — I not only have the contacts but the valued experience in the Argentine wine world to become a consultant to wineries. But really it wasn’t until I spoke with a dear friend of mine who represents one of the iconic wine brands in Argentina that I realized this would be my new path. It was he that said to me, “take your own assets which are your passion, knowledge and contacts in the Argentine Wine Industry and set out on your own!” Thank you Ramiro, because once I got home I knew that this would be my path. So I pivoted, changed my way of looking for a career and set out to create my own company. Once I set my mind to this direction I did so with a vengeance and created WineDistilled LLC. I traveled, spoke to, met with and it all worked! Pretty soon once was all was in place I landed my first client.

I find it fascinating that so many of my friends, work friends and peers have also found themselves in the same position and all of us around the same age. In fact what strikes me is that so few of my friends have not had a major work life changes. Some have pivoted by choice, and others because they had to do so. Some have gone in totally different directions; and some have stayed closer to home. The common thread has been that once they decided upon a direction they were all in! They took a step forward and pivoted.

I look at what we are faced with today with Covid 19. Pivoting, being nimble, being able to adapt your business strategy, is more important than ever. I am watching my industry the wine & spirits as well as hospitality industry, do this and it’s fascinating to watch. How do such a huge industries with multiple facets change, pivot and find new ways to do business so quickly. Virtual tastings, virtual education, virtual sales calls, social distancing at point of purchase, ready to go cocktails, ready to go wine by the glass. Virtual ordering platforms, and e-commerce had just started to be implemented by our distributors prior to the pandemic, are even more important than ever, Direct to Consumer on-line sales, and so much more – our industry is Pivoting at a rapid pace. We are turning this ship around not slowly, but rapidly and at times into uncharted waters. There is a positive, can do energy and it will makes us even stronger once things have opened up completely. Our industry’s way of doing business will change and become different from what we have been used to all these years. The strong ones who are innovative and ready to not only embrace change but lead the change will come out of this stronger.

As has been my custom here’s a picture of one of my favorite culinary creations from during the lockdown. Cooking has been my joy while home and I’ve become very adept at using what’s in my pantry, freezer and refrigerator. I’ve turned pantry cooking and freezer cooking into mini homecook episodes of Chopped. I look in, assess what’s inside and then create! I had farm tomatoes, zucchini and eggplant, onions and a piece of arctic char and homemade pesto. So I whipped up a Provencal Tian and a pesto coated Arctic Char. Simple, good food that is easy to make and used what I had on hand!

I’m super excited about all the possibilities ahead of me. So many more things I’d like to do with career. So go ahead embrace the future. You have nothing to lose and potentially everything to gain!!! And with both feet, take a step forward and pivot!

Harvest in the Time of Covid 19

Up until now, most of my blogs have been personal, about my life’s journey in food and wine. I’ve been writing about my experiences and hoping you’d find them enlightening and at times entertaining. What I’d like to write about now is more serious than many of my other posts, more timely and more business oriented. We are all living through a very strange and serious time in our lives and it’s affecting us all very differently. For the past 15 years I’ve been working with the Argentine wine world and today I’d like to enlighten you on how Covid 19 has had a direct effect on the harvest.

When most of us think of harvest time we think fall; however it is fall in South American and harvest is well underway, if not almost done in Argentina. Again I’ll mention that I was there only a month ago and harvest was just gearing up. The Mendoza Harvest Festival took place and all seemed normal. The tanks were getting ready, the pickers were starting to pick, the trucks were being loaded with grapes ready to go into the crusher and all seemed well just fine, on track, if not even a bit early. Most wineries luckily finished picking by the end of March, but it was not before the country went into lockdown on March 13 just like we did.

On April 3rd, my colleague, friend and amazing winemaker, Karim Mussi Saffie of Altocedro in La Consulta, Mendoza wrote about how challenging things were. And in his words, ” These last days have been very stressful for us at the winery, dealing with many open fronts at the same time, but moving the fastest possible, keeping calm and managing everything by priorities. We are all healthy, both at home and at the company.” He immediately upon hearing what was going to happen, activated a crisis management committee and decided to manage the situation using the following strategy: Take care of the team in order to keep the operation active and ready for — “the day after.” Most Argentine business owners are pretty well versed in mitigating financial crisis, as you probably know it’s a country that has them often.

Karim Mussi Saffi

So what did he have to do and how did he do it with government mandated self isolation? Since wine is considered food, it was allowed to continue operating. Permission was needed for everything . Everyone who needed to go back and forth from the winery to home needed a permit. Without a permit you could not work outside of the home. They closed their offices and tasting room, however, they were able to keep the bottling line open and fill pending orders. In Karim’s words, “All of the staff at KMW are working under safe conditions in order to reduce the risk of infection and guarantee the quality of our wines. The preventative measures not only comply with the official protocols, but also reduce the risk of infection and have since been adopted as our official practices going forward.” Social distancing was mandatory, 1.5 meters apart for everyone. All of the necessary supplies or what we now call PPE’s are continuously being delivered to protect all staff and everyone receives daily instruction on how to use them. Masks, gloves and protective glasses are mandatory. Everybody was given alcohol based sanitizing sprays to clean the equipment, surfaces, tools, plugs, valves, pumps — basically anything touched. Additional measures include staggering the shifts so that a minimum amount of people are working at any given time again to mitigate the risk of infection.

As of April 3rd, they had harvested about 90% of their grapes from La Consulta. It was a very warm growing season, one of the warmest March months in a long time. Sugar ripeness came early which helped speed up the phenolic ripeness. Harvest was therefore about 2 weeks earlier than normal, for all varietals, including Cabernet, and this is a very good thing all things considered. In fact it is shaping up to be a great vintage, and the quality is amazing; a memorable one in more ways than one. All of Altocedro’s fruit is hand-harvest and getting cash was not easy to pay the workers so that posed another great challenge. Banks were not open, and they don’t “deliver cash” but as I said, Karim found the way to make sure all his workers got paid every Friday.

Harvest time is always a challenge even under perfect conditions, but this year as with everyone and everything, this has been a monumentally challenging time. This harvest will prove to be memorable and , according to Karim, “a beautiful and important activity, one that generates jobs, strong-minded people who persevere, and cannot be stopped no matter what crisis is in front of them.” Karim and his team took the task at hand and did what they do best, as a team, and as a family, so that at the end of the day we can enjoy his amazing wines. I’d like to end with two quotes from Karim, “Imagination is half the disease, tranquility is half of the remedy, and patience is the beginning of the cure” and “Wine is sacred and necessary for a human’s happiness and progress.” From me and Karim and his entire team, we wish you all well, stay home, stay safe and if you can enjoy a glass of wine with each other.