Competition – Erin Nixon

Erin Nixon is a recovering former management consultant and tech executive now living in Barcelona. She is WSET Level 3 certified and has earned her MBA from the Stanford Graduate School of Business, both of which she hopes will help with her future wine business and writing aspirations. She hails from Texas, and has lived in LA, San Francisco, Amsterdam, and London, before settling down in Spain. You can find her exploring local wine on Instagram @erinsips.

It all started in an airport wine bar. I had been working 80 hours a week for a client in Seattle. It was the dead of winter. We had been keeping this maniacal pace for ten weeks, and ahead of us there was no end in sight. Our routine went something like this: me and my fellow consulting team would fly in from our respective cities across the US on Monday mornings, work until the wee hours each day at our client, fly back home on Thursday nights, and then usually work through the entirety of our weekends. Brutal. To make matters worse, we were the kind of team that competed for influence, aggressively debating strategy, flexing our muscles, and striving for invincibility. Despite my relative youth, I was running on fumes. I was miserable. I needed an escape.

It was in this overly-stressed and buttoned-up work environment that I discovered the power of wine. One of our senior partners on the team was an oenophile. I myself was 27 years old at the time, and a complete novice, save for the boxed wine adventures of my early twenties. One Thursday night after bad weather delayed our respective flights home, the senior partner suggested the team try a wine bar he’d spotted over the dozens of trips he’d made in and out of this port. Why not, we thought to ourselves. We had time to kill.

Our team shuffled in, carry-on bags and briefcases in tow, and sat down in this haven of a place: cozy lighting, ambient noise drowning out the surrounding airport chaos, numerous outlets to recharge our waning smart phones and laptops (a true consultant’s dream). It felt awkward to be sitting face to face like this for the first time, without the glare of our laptop screens to distract. And yet by the time our glasses of wine arrived, already the air between us had softened. The ambience helped us relax and feel more human than we had in weeks.

We junior team members began sipping while our senior partner led us through his expert tasting notes. The warmth of my red thawed my tense shoulders and elevated my sensory perceptions above the racing thoughts of my anxious mind. Cabernet Sauvignon from Walla Walla, Washington State. High acidity, med plus body. Fresh fruit of black cherry, blackcurrant, blackberry, along with notes of chocolate, leather, dried herbs. Elegant, the senior partner told us. Refined. These sensory details became the soothing backdrop against which my team finally dropped our pretenses and began to speak honestly with one another. For the first time, we opened up about our personal lives. About our dreams. About our fears. After we all ordered a second glass, the senior partner began a round of work stories (“the worst client I’d ever worked for…”) and we all jumped in, laughing over late-night antics and embarrassing slips and heroic saves when all felt lost. In that moment, in that wine bar, we were transformed from overworked, anonymous cogs in a never-ending corporate wheel into modern day tribesmen gathering around the proverbial campfire, warming ourselves and beating our chests before we bravely headed back into battle.

On this cold and late night in the Seattle airport, I could feel on a visceral level how wine is, above all, magic. It can set a mood for profound things to happen. It can conjure in us an empathy that allows for a deeper connection. It can shine a light on what we have always known matters most in this life. It can even melt the hearts of unfeeling, insecure, overachieving consultants attempting to survive an intense project in a strange land. I became completely enchanted.

Since that night 7 years ago, I have invested in learning as much as I can about what makes wine a true and honorable craft. But despite all my studies, what intrigues me most about wine remains its finest mystery: its ability to elevate any moment into one that brings us closer together.

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