“It is a delight for us to be hosting this wine dinner. We are in for a treat as we’ll be profiling some true wine gems from Napa and Sonoma.
It’s a real honor to have been asked to make a few comments about tonight’s wine, but before doing so, I’d like to briefly comment on SVB’s wine practice and draw a few parallels between what SVB’s wine clients do when they make world-class wines and what first-rate entrepreneurs do when they make world-changing products and services.
The Entrepreneurial Spirit
By way of background, as many of you know, SVB has built its reputation and has established its banking leadership in the areas of technology, life sciences and venture capital — all areas of entrepreneurship.
But what you may NOT know is that Silicon Valley Bank remains the only financial institution with 35 banking professionals entirely focused on the needs of over 350 winery and vineyard clients in Napa, Sonoma and other regions along the Pacific Coast.
Indeed, we believe two of these groups — entrepreneurs and winemakers — share quite a bit in common.
My background is not in the wine industry. Wine is my passion. I’ve spent over 20 years in the high tech world — and quite a bit of time with the leadership at “growth companies” — eight years at Apple, a chunk of time at Sun Microsystems and Novell, and five to six years at Google. Most recently I have been serving on the Board of Advisors at Twitter and teaching communications at the Graduate School of Business at Stanford.
I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what’s really important for fast-growing organizations and how their thought process behind growing into established companies — when they go from being a start-up to becoming a large, consequential organization. What do they discard? What do they keep?
The same quality of thinking happens at both young companies and within the walls of great wine-making franchises. And I identified three shared traits.
First, both start-up companies and vintners need to develop some “traditions,” a culture as it were. For example, at Google we started regular TGIF parties and the Annual Ski Trip. At Twitter it is the weekly Tea Time and the zany videos.
Similarly, the most successful wineries in California have a wonderful time around harvest or organizing events around the Napa Valley Wine Auction. And if you ever check out some of the biodynamic winemakers, those places are drenched in ritual as well as mythology!
These rituals are really important. Management celebrates them as they bring people together and can often sustain the organization. Traditions/rituals — keep them!
Second, the people who work for great companies and for great winemakers share an ABSOLUTE TRUST in the vision of the founders or the lead winemaker. Absolute trust in the leadership and the clarity of the vision gives the organization a clear direction.
This may seem obvious, but that mission needs to be regularly and consistently communicated to everyone on the team. Visit any of the great companies in Silicon Valley — Apple, Google, Adobe — the employees have a shared vision for the future of the company. To be clear, I’m not talking about blindly following leadership, but rather supporting a rational belief in the viability of the vision and the strengths of products that will help the company achieve them.
Likewise, visit a world-class winery — perhaps in the Chablis or Bordeaux regions of France. There you’ll find an unwavering commitment to the unique way in which that organization is going to produce the greatest wines in the world. In many of these chậteaux, that singular vision has endured not just for months or years, but literally for centuries and has galvanized the absolute loyalty of the team associated with the brand. They’ve reinforced that vision through continual repetition over time.
Gorbachev once said, “Repetition does not spoil the prayer!”
Finally, the greatest companies in the Silicon Valley, organizations that have built franchises of enduring value, have all understood the importance of what I call “the STRUGGLE.” This is also true of both the great winemaking organizations, but also in the way the grapes themselves are cultivated.
The best example I can give is in the Bordeaux region of France where there is a well-known, second-growth wine called Chateau Ducru-Beaucaillou. It’s a classic Bordeaux blend — deeply-colored, powerful and exquisitely well-balanced (and frightfully expensive!)
If you translate Ducru-Beaucaillou it really means “the beautiful white pebbles.” It is those dry, white pebbles that the vines need to struggle through to get moisture out of the ground. That struggle for moisture results in some of the most succulent, and most concentrated grapes, and in turn some of the most sought-after wine in the world.
I sometimes think about the early days at Google when there were about 120 of us in 2001. We were well-funded at the time, but Larry and Sergey wanted us to continue to work in very close quarters on a frugal budget. It was a good discipline and paid off in the long term.
An Iconic Winemaker
Tonight we are profiling the wines of a celebrated winemaker named Luc Morlet who really shares all of the great qualities of a successful start-up. He understands the power of tradition, the value of absolute trust, and the essential — even magical — quality of “the struggle.”
Luc Morlet represents the fourth generation of a French winemaking family. He grew up in the Champagne region of France, and in mid-1990s he and his wife Jodie (a native of California) became part of the Napa Valley winemaking tradition.
First, Luc was the director of viticulture at Newton Vineyard, where he crafted the highly-rated and now famous “Chardonnay Unfiltered.”
In 2001, Luc joined the Peter Michael Winery as winemaker and developed his expertise for handcrafted classical wines from mountain vineyards — all in very small quantities. Building on the tradition of winemakers Helen Turley and Mark Aubert, Luc’s technical leadership helped the Peter Michael Winery to achieve even higher reaches!
In 2006, Luc and Jodie began crafting their own wines in limited quantities from unique vineyards in Napa and Sonoma counties. (Indeed, for some of the wines we’ll be enjoying this evening only 100-200 cases were produced.) It’s a pleasure to highlight some of the features of the wines we’re pouring tonight.
The Wines of Luc Morlet
Briefly, we’ll be presenting a total of five different wines. Four of them are from the Morlet Family Vineyard and one of them is from the Peter Michael Winery.
On arrival, we are enjoying the Pierre Morlet Grand Reserve (NV). A perfectly balanced sparkler to accompany the hors d’oeuvres that are being passed.
For the first course of our meal the wine choice is the 2009 Morlet Bordeaux Blanc called “La Proportion Doree” or “The Golden Rule.” A Bordeaux Blanc is a blend of Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc and a little bit (just a thimble full: 2%) of Muscadelle. The grapes are from Sonoma County and should pair nicely with the butter lettuce, candied walnuts and citrus dressing. You’ll notice the honeysuckle flavors intermixed with the slightly sweet notes of ripe apricot and fresh quince. This is a full-bodied, yet refined and complex wine.
For the soup course, a lobster bisque, we’ve followed the guidance that is given at sommelier school: Where there’s smoke, bring on the oak! But just not too much. This is why we’ve reached for a gem from the Peter Michael Winery: the 2007 Mon Plaisir Chardonnay (French for “My Pleasure”). This is a super creamy wine from Sonoma County. From the tasting notes:
“… lemon cream, honey and candied fruit on the nose. A rich palate with hints of lemon, pear, and brioche. Flinty minerals and hazelnut give way to a long finish!”
And for the entrée we are offering two different red wines. For those enjoying the sesame crusted halibut, we suggest the 2009 En Famille Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir. This is a true classic and blends the fine handcrafted techniques that make Morlet wines famous with the finest traditions of the Burgundian winemakers. Take note of the intense raspberry, wild strawberry, a bit of forest floor! This is a rich and graceful Pinot Noir with a wonderful leathery finish.
Finally, for those who have selected as their main course the slow-roasted beef tenderloin, it is a great pleasure to be pouring the 2008 Morley Family "Mon Chevalier" (translated “My Knight” in honor of the Morlet’s son, Paul). This is a Bordeaux blend whose grapes are sourced from the Knights Valley near Calistoga.
Naturally, it has all of the hallmarks of a classic blend: an intense bouquet of red, black and blue berries. It’s a full-bodied wine, so be prepared for some hillside tannins as well as some licorice, fresh blond tobacco and a hint of lavender on the palate.
When it’s time for dessert, depending on whether you are selecting the limoncello semifreddo or English toffee bread pudding, you’ll have a chance to revisit one of the wines you enjoyed during the main part of the meal or sample something you may not have tried.
In Conclusion: Love Your Work!
Taking all these concepts together, I’m reminded of what my mom, who was actually a chef, used to say, “The best food you’ll ever enjoy will have been prepared by someone who loved making it.”
This is certainly true for the meal we are about to enjoy and definitely true for the wines that we’ll be pouring with the meal.
I would submit — for the entrepreneurs — that the best products and services will have been made by teams who really loved what they were building.
On behalf of the Silicon Valley Bank, we hope you enjoy tasting these gems as much as we enjoyed selecting them for you.”
Silicon Valley Bank's Wine Division publishes Liquid Assets as a quarterly column featuring visionary winemakers and wineries. As the leading provider of financial services to wineries and vineyards in the western United States, we are using our unique perspective to help our readers further understand winemaking and the innovative vintners who create some of the world's premium wines.
Silicon Valley Bank is not selling, marketing or distributing wine or wine-related products. Through its SVBwines.com Web site, Silicon Valley Bank provides information to clients, employees and other parties and refers those users to wineries and other wine industry service providers. These communications are for informational purposes. Silicon Valley Bank is not responsible for (or a participant in) the sales of any of the wineries' products in any fashion or manner, and makes no representations that any promotion or sales of alcoholic beverages will or will not be conducted in a lawful manner. Further, Silicon Valley Bank disclaims any responsibility or warranty for any products sold by wineries or other wine industry service providers.