About eight years ago or so, my wife and I tried some Zaca Mesa Z Cuvee and Syrah and it was love at first sight. We then figured we’d give the Mesa Reserve and Black Bear a try. And with the Black Bear, going north of $50 a bottle price point was an adventure into new economic risk frontier that screamed “this better be good”. Well, it was ALL good and well worth the risk. We had never had that before- the complete line-up scoring well with us.
Fast forward a few years, and lo and behold, one of our neighbors, Stewart Cushman (whom my wife and I had met at a UCSB event- subject of another story), turns out to be the son of the owner of Zaca Mesa, John Cushman. Well one thing led to another and here I am- a guy from outside the industry whose total previous experience in the wine industry was only to have belonged to several wine clubs.
My dad had a saying: “The dumbest farmers get the biggest potatoes.” My dad meant nothing offensive to potato farmers- he was a Chicago city boy. But it was a saying that seemed to make sense when someone fell into something- like a winning lottery ticket. For me, it was running a winery- specifically a winery where I already loved the wine. While I knew nothing about the wine industry, everything in my career led up to the precisely what Zaca Mesa was missing. What Zaca Mesa was NOT missing was quality wine-making. Heck, I already knew that after I had already bought and tasted the wine.
My business life up to this point had been about fixing broken products, processes, organizations, and businesses. What I knew before the Zaca Mesa opportunity came about was that Zaca Mesa made damn good wine. And when I walked in the door that first day, I knew this would work. Why? My career path exposed me to the guts of many, many business operations. When you are exposed to the guts of a business operation- the numbers that typically mask what is really going on get thrown out and reality is right there in front of you. Do the employees show up to Zaca Mesa? Check. Do they put in real effort? Check. Are they dedicated to their craft? Check. Are they willing to change? Typically, no, but that can be expected. I must say, much to their credit, they have changed- it took a while, but they have changed. And so, too has Zaca Mesa. We even changed the wine-making but that was a part of the culture that was already in play before I ever showed up. That’s why they make good wine. And now it’s better, and continues to get better.
This is a new website- one of the many changes that have occurred at Zaca Mesa. But these changes are really minimal in one sense- we have really, really good people here. Lots of businesses make changes, but nothing happens in terms of improved performance. That’s because they don’t have the right people or the right culture to make any change matter. We have the right people here. It makes my job easy and they make me look good- so personally I am fortunate to be blessed with so many good, dedicated, hard-working employees. So, for me to have this opportunity at Zaca Mesa, my dad was right: The dumbest farmers really do get the biggest potatoes. Or to put it more gently, it was serendipity.