The other day I wrote something about how different the world would be if "shock and awe" meant impressing our adversaries with great wines instead of bombs. That comment emanated from a lunch I had last week where several of us discussed how two bottles of wine had once made a difference in a situation in which we had been involved.
It's not easy being a lawyer and a winemaker I might add. “How do you do it all”? It’s a common question I am asked, and honestly, I don’t know sometimes. I think balancing the demands of a law practice, raising a family and being a winemaker is probably too much, but whenever I consider slowing up or dropping one, I decide I am just fine with the way things are. Which is hectic, to say the least.
Practicing law, despite the stress and pressure, still provides intellectual challenges that are unmatched elsewhere in my life (unless you count trying to outsmart my kids, which I have actually done. Once). And, believe it or not, I’ve had a lot of laughs as a lawyer, sometimes at opposing clients, sometimes at one of my clients, and often at myself. 'Cause if it ain’t fun, why do it? But sometimes wine and my law practice intersect (aside from my representing wineries and vineyard owners).
Anyways, to the point of the story, several years ago, a very complicated case I had seemed absolutely impossible to resolve. After a couple years of pretty hard-fought litigation, we finally went to mediation by court "order" (where the judge "asks" you if you will mediate while he or she gives you that look that says you will agree). Things didn’t improve there either- we had mediated for a full day, and by lunch the second day we all knew we were at an impasse. There was a long history between the parties, who owned neighboring vineyards. Although they were suing each other, they remained (reasonably) respectful, and even though the opposing counsel was a friend of mine, we were both really dug into our positions. But at lunch, we all ended up at the same restaurant, and the hostess sat them at the neighboring table.
As we saw each other, comments were made about the coincidence (I went with a classic line: “of all the gin joints…”), but everyone agreed there was no reason we couldn’t sit next to each other. Both tables ordered wine with lunch and as they were served we each commented on the other’s selection. Naturally, I offered a taste of our wine to them, and they did the same to us.
And we ended up basically having lunch together, and our clients started telling stories and reminiscing. And by the time lunch was over, we were all having some pretty good laughs. We all went back to the mediation, and almost immediately the other side conceded an issue that until then they were resolute about, and it had been a deal breaker. My client sighed and then conceded a point, and in about 45 minutes we had struck the framework of a deal. Our clients shook hands at the end, and to this day are better friends than they had ever been.
My friend and I and our respective clients had lunch together last week as we discussed a joint venture they are exploring. We all laughed about it, and agreed whatever concessions each had made, the long term benefits had far outweighed.
It wasn’t “the wine that did it” in the sense of someone being drunk and making a concession they would not or should not have made. We’d only had two bottles and all of us have substantial body mass (unfortunately). But it was “the wine that did it” in the sense that over a couple bottles of wine, our clients, and the lawyers, were reminded of what really matters in life- and it’s not obscure issues like whose Tideland Patent from 1883 gave them control over a creek.
But isn’t that the beauty of wine? It has this amazing power to reconnect us to what really matters. Sure, it can also make us think we are smarter, funnier and more beautiful than we are (as can cocaine apparently), but even in the bottle and in the glass, wine retains its connection to the earth. It can ground us and make us pause a little. I mean who ever heard of a fast lunch with wine? We hear people speak of “sip and savor” in enjoying wine, but sometimes I think the “savor” part is what wine reminds us to do about life.
I don’t get to drink wine in every case-and rarely with my adversaries, although maybe I should. But that day I learned that sometimes the best lawyering can be when you stop acting like a lawyer and start acting like a person. “Leading with your heart” so to speak. Which, coincidentally, is a hallmark of the wines I usually gravitate to- wines made with heart instead of a formalistic approach. I use four things to make wine; my nose, my tongue, my hands and my heart- my brain is for when there are problems. I find the wines that speak to me are from other winemakers who embrace a similar approach.
So, we resolved a dispute over a couple bottles of wine. Might not be the answer to international diplomacy as I suggested the other day, but I'd like to see folks try. Heck, I’d like to someday see a rule that before a suit is filed, the parties need to sit down and talk, preferably over some wine.
But even wine cannot answer all questions. One such issue arises from the lunch last week where we talked and laughed about this case. Since the four of us discussed it, do I bill both parties?