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Finding balance among the grape vines

David Paul's Field Notes
|Written By David A. Paul
Finding balance among the grape vines

Much has been written about the importance of work-life balance. For those of us in the legal profession, it’s no wonder because as lawyers, we are notorious for working long hours, often at the sacrifice of our family.

Not surprisingly, this lack of balance between our work and personal lives often leads to physical and mental illness. This imbalance has also resulted in many of our colleagues leaving the profession early because of burnout or job dissatisfaction. Yet for others, this imbalance means never retiring because of the fear of not knowing how to do anything besides being a lawyer and dying of boredom.

Fortunately, there are things that we can do to help us achieve a healthy balance between our work and personal lives. Among the more popular ways of reaching this balance are spending quality time with family and friends, exercising, reading, vacationing, and volunteering. Having a hobby is also a great diversion.

Hobbies can help us to achieve greater work-life balance by giving us an opportunity for time to ourselves and relaxation while at the same time providing a challenge that helps keep our minds sharp and our bodies active. For those of us with type A personalities who are worried about giving up those valuable billable hours, hobbies can, in fact, improve the bottom line by serving as an effective networking tool.

My hobby of choice is viticulture (growing grapes) and wine making. I started growing grapes some years ago. I began with three vines. Over the years, as my passion increased, that number grew to just over 200, limited only by the confines of my property lines. Because of the nature of my hobby, I am able to keep active at something I love doing throughout the year.

During the spring and summer, I enjoy the fresh air while working the dirt, weeding, fertilizing, pruning, propagating new vines, tightening the trellis wires, and maintaining the irrigation system. In the fall, immediately after a hard day of work and fun harvesting the grapes, my family and I take on the task of crushing and pressing them. The job is physically demanding and a great way to burn off those extra calories. It’s also an excellent diversion.

Whether I am out in the vineyard or working the crusher or press, I am constantly thinking about things like how to achieve the right balance between the Brix, pH, and TA; the best yeast for my primary fermentation; whether to perform a malolactic fermentation; and how long to keep the juice on the skins before pressing. During the winter, after the wine is pressed and placed in the barrels, I am busy reading and thinking about matters like whether or not to oak, and if so, for how long, and when to rack and finally bottle.

Those who know me, including my mother, often ask why I go through all of this effort. For me, the answer is simple. While it is time-consuming and sometimes physically demanding, being out in the vines gives me the time to clear my mind and, if I choose, the opportunity to reflect on a particular file or office matter without the constant interruptions of telephone calls, e-mails or staff. The whole process also gives me quality time with my family. Some of our best chats happen while working the vines or crushing and pressing the grapes. Of course, the other benefit of my hobby is the end product and the fun I have sharing it over a meal with my family, friends, and colleagues.

My hobby has also opened the door to many new contacts and friends. By meeting other grape growers and wine makers in my community and by joining the local winemakers’ association, I have not only had the opportunity to learn more about growing and wine-making techniques, I have been able to make new lifelong friendships with others in the community sharing the same passion.

A few years ago, I befriended a retired mechanic, Silvano, who himself had a passion for grape growing and wine making. Upon learning of our mutual passion, Silvano invited my family to his home where he and his wife prepared a lovely Italian lunch complemented by a delicious bottle of his merlot. When he told me the wine was produced from his own backyard grapes, I was immediately inspired and he soon became my best friend. Over the next six years, he mentored me and taught me countless techniques he had learned himself while growing up on a vineyard in northern Italy. Sadly, Silvano passed away in November 2008.

Grape growing and wine making have also served as an effective networking tool and means of getting my name out into the community. My vines are located on a hillside just above a local park. They are visible from certain sections of the city, including the Trans-Canada Highway, which passes through Kamloops, B.C. Articles about my backyard vines have been published in local papers and magazines. On Thanksgiving Day in 2008, I was featured in an interview on CBC Radio.

Finding the right hobby is certainly important. The key, of course, is to find a hobby that excites and interests you to do something outside of your work. You will know fairly quickly if what you’ve picked is right for you. If you’re at work on a Friday afternoon thinking about what work you might want to do and end up at the office the following Saturday morning, your hobby choice might not be the right one. If, on the other hand, you are thinking about when you will be able to take some time off and spend some fun time doing what you love to do, or if you are thinking about how you might like to pursue your hobby even further once you retire, you might have found your calling and you may be on your way to achieving the work-life balance you and your family have desperately been hoping for.


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