Beautiful British Columbia. It’s so beautiful this phrase is imprinted on every license plate. Each year new international travelers find their way to Canada’s most western province in search of an experience in the great outdoors. Still, agricultural development – including viticulture – has been a key ingredient in the recipe to BC’s tourism successes.
While it might be best known for maple syrup and hockey, Canada’s cool climate winegrowing is earning a hot reputation. Dedicated enthusiasts might know something about Ontario’s Niagara region, or perhaps heard whispers of the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia. Canadian wine is the cool and obscure band that your hip friend’s favorite cool and obscure band says they listen to.
With small production wines rarely leaving their home provinces and complicated liquor laws thwarting ease of movement within the country, local wine can be a rare commodity even to Canadians. Each province is the main consumer of what it makes; like many niches, it’s best to experience these wine regions in person.
To grow good writers, like good leaders, we have a part to play in an unspoken but necessary social contract in which it’s required of us to hold them to task and provide an environment for them to get better at what they do. And before we unpack this loaded statement, let’s take a breath together. <breathe, please>
The sentence begins with a series of assumptions (the reader is in a democratic place, has the ability and want for good writers and good leaders), and includes an agreed upon definition of ‘good’ in relation to ‘writers’ and ‘leaders’ with a not-so-thinly-veiled layer of morality. A ‘social contract’ assumes the reader is part of a type of a (likely privileged) society, participates in it, and understands the role they play. Further, there’s an assumption we want to improve: on our participation, our status, ourselves as people along that scale of ‘good’ for themselves and the world in which they belong (the immediate and greater).
A reader can infer a lot about the writer from a seemingly simple sentence presented as opinion editorial. Recently I had opportunity to briefly discuss my inherent assumption of the social contract (thank you, Christine & David), that there is one, and how I use it as a lens through which to view my participation and the engagement of others. The conversation was challenging, but not a challenge of my ideas and perspective; it required me to ask questions of myself and in doing so helped me to better see my own lens (read: bias). As a writer, my continued development requires an awareness and it’s something I struggle to remind myself of.
While it’s part of our social contract to engage with each other and our leaders (political, employment, community), it behooves us to do so constructively (another term loaded with assumption). On my new writing platform I’ve written about leading with heart (my friend Sandra Oldfield) and I subscribe to general concepts of leadership as touched on by poet and author David Whyte. A strong element of ‘good’ (assumption) leadership is the willingness to be vulnerable, allowing space for those around you to do the work they’re meant to do and, in doing this work, provide breathing room and growth opportunities for those in positions of leadership. It’s akin to geese flying south, each taking turns to lead; if one remained in the leadership space, it would be exhausted and the whole flying V would fail. Geese are emblematic of offering that space, of showing their vulnerabilities (“hey, I can’t do this alone”), of asking for help.
From small businesses to larger corporate organizations, good leadership can make or break its workplace culture and the culture within which the business operates. I have experience with all aspects along this spectrum, from great leaders in small businesses to poor leaders in larger ones and vice-versa. One common fault with poor leaders is an inability or reluctance to see success in others as their own. One universal strength in great leaders is the value they place on the successes of their team, as individuals and a larger group. Basically, good leaders give a damn about the people around them.
Part of my social contract as a writer involves engaging with my surroundings, looking for, and seeing, these differences. At present my surroundings include a still somewhat fragile and relatively new BC wine industry, growing at a fast rate. It’s an industry I love and believe in, populated largely with people who work tirelessly for something they might not realize in their lifetime. Friends, acquaintances, colleagues put forward a vision larger than themselves and strive to see it – and others – succeed. That’s leadership, from the ground up. A large part of my role is to identify those people, champion for them, and help direct a small light their way whenever I can.
This shining of light on the good in our industry comes with the equally important task of doing the same in the darker corners that we’d rather not speak of. Perhaps it’s part of that hard to define Canadianism where politeness obscures a need for frankness, but I struggle with how to mindfully engage these darker corners publicly – although I have an obligation (social contract) to do so. However, earlier this week I broke free of my reluctance and asked a difficult question in a very public forum. I didn’t expect an answer, although I do expect some attention be paid to it and will follow up.
And so, here is the start of an open correspondence with one of the new leaders in the BC wine community.
Mr. Peller, I’m a writer who pays attention to BC wine. Almost exclusively, as a matter of fact. I have been a small voiced champion of the BC wine industry for 1o years, since I moved to the Okanagan in 2007 and began to write. Like BC wine, my platform is small. And like a good amount writers I have a day job to pay the mortgage because many of those in our BC wine industry who value the contributions of people like me don’t always have the resources to support me with regularity. But here I am.
My commitment to the BC wine industry is in continuing to champion the great things being done by nice people who are good leaders, and now with equal weight I’m committed to holding to task those in positions of leadership within the BC wine community who have the resources and strength to truly lead. People like you and your organization. Your new social contract with the BC wine industry began the moment the physical contracts for your recent acquisitions were signed. Please know this, truly, deeply, and hold it with much gravity.
You are not alone. You have the strength of the BC wine community with you should you choose to engage with it, as good leaders. Your success can be found in those within the community you help to lead, and that happens when we’re united in realizing our collective success.
Before we head down the road of any five-point-plans, we need to look within ourselves to be the community team I know is there. That takes courage and a willingness to be vulnerable. I’ve seen it in every facet of this BC wine community. I hope you, Mr. Peller, can see it too. I hope you’re willing to be vulnerable. That’s the kind of leader that can help realize the collective success of the most awesome group of skill, talent, and dedication that is within our BC wine community.
I’ll be in touch. My people – well, I – will contact your people.
In the autumn of 2013, my website provider and business neighbour inquired if I might be open to taking on a new writing assignment. His client – a private motorsport club trying to build in the south Okanagan – had need for a series of online articles to help attract new members and position themselves in the market. Oh, and Jacques Villeneuve would be involved and my neighbour knew I liked cars. Was I interested? After a three second delay, I said yes.
Almost four years, 94 website articles, and hundreds of international media placements later, the idea that was Area 27 is now a 4.83km asphalted racetrack. Acres of unproductive cornfield (often left fallow) have been contoured and carved into challenging elevation changes with 16 corners and more than one blind apex. It might be the only racetrack where drivers look to the horizon and a mountain to help pick their line through a turn, and it’s certainly the only one I saw be paved over the course of six ridiculously hot desert summer days.
Writing is an interesting vocation in the days of digital media and insta-sharing. Words have always held weight and they still do. Yet with an increased number of platforms to write comes an increased number of writers attempting to stake a claim on one of those platforms, resulting in a dilution of quality. Finding a channel through which to tell a story might be easier now but it’s more difficult to share that story in a way that matters. This wasn’t part of the request, but it was my task with Area 27.
We decided to add personality to an unknown quantity. Who joins a membership-based motorsport club that is yet to be built? Through a series of member profiles, we got our answers: Asgar Virji, the low-key and quick-to-smile president of Weissach Motors; Daryl Carter, founding member and now semi-retired business coach who lives quietly in Penticton with his collection of vintage American muscle cars; Robert Sinneave, founding member who modifies exotic performance cars, operates an antiques business (although he does more buying than selling), and adopts rescue horses on his Kelowna ranch; Tracy Banner, early Area 27 member and tea blender who has a love for a certain 1991 MR2; Christian Chia, who changed the new car dealership model with Open Road Auto Group (he’s founder and CEO) and happens to love to race competitively.
There are literally hundreds more unique stories of people who, for a variety of reasons, decided to take a risk and put their money where their hearts were. In taking a risk on the track they took a risk on those involved – me included. In the last four years I have met so many people who trusted me to share their story well. Once this group gets talking about why they wanted to be involved, there’s no stopping them. I’m grateful for their trust.
We shared these and other stories on the website, building a library of information and becoming the primary location for all things Area 27. It established personality for the club. Next, we moved on to the grassroots platforms of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to spread the news. These channels provide writers with easier access to sharing stories and yet all these voices create noise, so the challenge remains: how to make people give a damn and want to read your story. It’s not rocket science, but I can’t disclose all of my secrets here. Sorry. Let’s just say we did it and it worked.
Was it an easy road? No. Did we always agree? Goodness, no. There are dozens of things I would have done differently along the way, but although I’m the one telling the story it’s not my story.
Today, Area 27 has a significant presence in the motorsport world and a substantial measure of awareness in its community. It’s just enough to pique the curiosity of most and call to action those who are avid motorsport enthusiasts. For a private motorsport club, that’s a fine balance to hold. With limited membership numbers almost reached (capacity is 300), I’m satisfied with the presence I helped to build for Area 27.
After almost four years of collecting and sharing these stories, it’s time for me to close the door and make space for others. It’s been an interesting road and one I am grateful to have had opportunity to be on. To those who helped make this possible, I thank you. Each of you knows who you are.
Farewell, Area 27. Enjoy your life on track. I might be departing from behind the scenes but I know we’ll cross paths again.
(photos taken by me, while under contract with Area 27)