July 10, 2012

Impossible Things

I finally finished the Steve Jobs biography that I began back in May in the terminal at JFK, waiting for my flight back to Portland.  I mentioned it here briefly. I was thinking about winemaking as biography, how it’s about telling another’s story without getting in the way. About asking good questions, not providing all the answers.

I still feel that way, but a winemaker friend thinks all the talk about winemaking being about getting out of the way of the grapes is bullshit. Winemakers make tons of decisions about their wines. There’s no getting out of the way, and he’s right of course. Choosing to do nothing is still a choice (spare me any quotations of Rush lyrics, please.) And really, we never do nothing. Even the most simple approach to making wine is full of choices. It’s not just the interventionistas.

So, too, with biography. Authors puts their name on the book, as they should. The questions they ask are their own, the words they write, even the stories they tell, even when the story is someone else’s. Their measure is accuracy.

In wine we call that terroir, a word that drives some people crazy, like it’s another word for bullshit. What is terroir, really, they ask. Well, what is Steve Jobs’ real story? Neither can be defined precisely, but I think it’s clear that Walter Isaacson’s accounting of Jobs is true to his subject’s terroir. Perhaps not the only story or even the whole story, but a truth, a good example of Jobs much as we might write that a particular Dujac is a good representation of Chambolle Musigny.

So what of the book itself? I’m a book group of one these days, so why not get into things here. I’m going against some feedback I once received that my wine blog is good because it’s about wine, not straying much into other areas. I haven’t exactly held that line and I’m fine with it. Let me know if you aren’t.

Call it cliché, but I found the book inspirational. My brother-in-law who gave it to me said Jobs really comes off as an asshole, not the genius saint portrayed in the media, and he does. So why do I come away from the book wanting to be more like him? Because he was focused. He got the big picture and the details at once. He embraced simplicity in design. He would tell you to be great at a few things, not mediocre at everything. Those are all things I admire. He also provides a nice story of how to bootstrap a business, something I’m doing on two fronts.

Above all, he did impossible things. And that’s what drives me, the seemingly impossible. Always.

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