Archive | February, 2012

Wine Etiquette

16 Feb

Young people, inexperienced with wine but striving to make it in the business world, are famous for their wine bloopers. In their defense, most have little or no education in wine, either in their background or from their employer. For this reason, we should be empathetic to their status as novices. A bit of good-natured advice gets many started on the road to acquiring basic competence with wine.

What’s a real jolt is how many senior businesspeople  know so little about wine, not to mention the nuances of business entertaining. There’s a double-whammy in these situations. First, if you know something about wine you may be forced not only to silently witness—but also to endure—a bad wine experience, as many people I know have.

However, if the wine offender is your boss or most important client or customer, you find yourself facing a second cluster of challenges involving long-term economics and customer-satisfaction scores.

One of my favorite stories on this front involves an American purchasing manager who flew over to Taiwan to complain about a price increase for the parts he was buying. At a dinner with his American sales representative and three Taiwanese from the supplier, he saw fit to launch into lengthy complaints about how awful he found the food and the rice wine.

The purchasing manager’s attitude seemed to be that he merited a whole bunch of sympathy for being dragged half way around the world and exposed to food and drink outside his limited comfort zone. He was also under the impression that his Asian hosts understood English so poorly as to be barely able to understand him. He simply ignored them and directed his injudicious remarks to his fellow American.

In the midst of all this, his American counterpart jocularly reminded the guest that two of the Taiwanese spoke better English than they did and that the rice wine being served was considered to be the best in Asia and well-paired with the food. Moreover, it was being served up especially to give the customer a memorable and educational cross-cultural experience.

It’s hard to imagine how someone could be so insensitive or have such an overdeveloped sense of “the customer is always right” to behave like a species we thought had gone extinct—the Ugly American.  Nonetheless, I have no reason to doubt the accuracy of my friend’s story, which ended as you might have guessed.

The purchasing manager’s long journey had no impact on his supplier’s willingness [in truth, ability] to negotiate more favorable pricing. After he left, the American sales representative had to make up for the stunning rudeness of their mutual customer by repeatedly entertaining his Asian colleagues with food and imported French wines. He wasn’t worried about losing the business. Even with the price increase, the Taiwanese were still the world’s most affordable supplier by a healthy margin.

The rep has such a sunny personality that he successfully dispelled the lingering clouds left by the purchasing manager’s visit. But in an ideal world, the purchasing manager would have had some training in the do’s and don’ts of doing business internationally.

What’s the moral of the story? Sometimes success in business means acquiring a taste for things that, at first, you didn’t think you liked.



Becoming Confident with Wine

11 Feb

The blog at focuses on the intersection of business relations and business entertainment.  People in my network who use wine in business entertaining often share stories with me about ways they use wine to help them be successful. They are also alert to the ways other people use wine. There observations tend to illustrate a wide range of do’s and don’ts.

Out of my career-long experience with wine, and with others who share my passion for wine, has come the idea for this blog.

My objective is to give visitors a window on the kinds of wine-related behaviors that either help or hinder someone in business. The big idea is to showcase the right things to do and point out the inadvertent behaviors that damage relationships.

One story that illustrates the importance of doing wine well came my way when starting out in business. I had already made an embarrassing wine blooper and was aggressively shrinking the vast scope of my wine ignorance.

At a luncheon meeting with a client, one of my colleagues, who had only half listened to our server regarding our drink options, played back that he thought “a half a caliph of wine” would be just right for our group.

Our client thought this was the funniest thing he’d ever heard and, for a long time afterwards, repeated the incident whenever my colleague’s name came up. One really wants to avoid an instance like this happening.

It’s not that hard to do. Just start paying attention to wine. BL