Exploring VA Wines, Wining & Dining

Cowboy Up

By Doug Fabbioli

Cowboy Up

The iconic image of a cowboy and his horse silhouetted against a setting sun, his head heavy from a long day on the range, has been used to represent so many products and thoughts over the decades that it might be worn out. I think the image still says a lot but maybe it needs painting with a broader brush. Nothing says it has to be male, or white, or that it’s even a horse. The cowboy works until the job is done, the animals are safe, and the tools are put away. The cowboy does the job that needs to be done in whatever weather and at whatever time of day or night in order to protect the herd. It is a higher level of commitment, and you can change the word cowboy to farmer, or firefighter, or sailor, or soldier, or lineman, or teacher, or parent, or any other job that demands that extra push. The challenges could be physical, emotional, mental, or even conflict-based.

The term “Cowboy Up” refers to taking on the job that nobody likes to do because it needs to be done. It is an important concept for any entrepreneur to understand and execute. The small business owner learns early on that if more of the challenging jobs can be done in house, they will need to rely less and less on outside contractors. They also learn that if you have staff, relying on them all the time isn’t the answer: I have to be willing and able to do anything and everything I expect my crew to do. I have worked with a number of winemakers over the years who have set the example and shown how to get the job done. I love to empower my team, and to praise them when they “Cowboy Up” to do the hard part or finish the job well. I also recognize that I can’t force them into it, that it’s a drive that comes from inside. I can only train them and set the example.

During the stress of harvest time, it can be difficult to find the energy to hit the cellar floor for your 12th straight day that you already know will last 14 hours or longer. Some days you really have to dig deep. If the grapes are not picked and processed in the right way and at the right time, the quality is diminished. The simple fact is that these few days in September and October set the stage for those wines and their entire lifespan, from my crush pad to your glass. Everything depends on making quality decisions and taking the right action at the right time. You find the internal drive and energy source to “Cowboy Up” to get the next round of grapes processed and moving forward toward being quality wines.

In a bigger picture, there are a lot of people with more important jobs than growing grapes and making wine. Hopefully the new recruits to those positions are learning in their early days how to “Cowboy Up” during their challenging times in order to hold the line, keep their end up, raise the bar, and take pride in whatever job they do. Every job has a need for this mindset and every person will hopefully hit that growth point along the way. Overcoming the obstacles gives you more tools to succeed next time. We old guys may take smaller bites and slower steps, but we stay in the game and help coach the younger folks through their challenges. We still have a little something in the tank.

Enough reflection—I need to get back to riding with my grapes.

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