Tuesday, December 31, 2013

As 2013 comes to a close

Reflection time. What a year it's been. Really, what a year. I knew, even in December of last year, that 2013 was going to be a big one, an important one. I had just finished sending off 4 applications to US business schools, with not even a thought about Europe as a possible destination. I was on a high, really, having spent about 6 months preparing my resume, all those essays, my references, even a few 'tell-me-about-yourself' videos. I was optimistic, and at the time, really hoping to go to New York.

The new year started on a bad note. Personal things, you see. Let's just say that I've learned, once and now always, to trust my friends without reservation. Without doubt. It was a long winter, snowy, and through February, I felt rudderless. I was angry that America wasn't working out, and I knew that I had to figure out something - working for another year wasn't an option. Yet where? I wasn't going to entertain the thought of applying to a second-tier school. Never once, for a second, did I consider that. And then, the World MBA Tour came to Toronto in early February. It seems so long ago, I don't even remember if that was when I started looking at Europe. I suppose this place has always been in the back of my head - that I would look to the best schools here if NYU wasn't going to come knocking. I met with IE, HEC Paris, Insead, Esade, among others ... and slowly a new action plan began coming together.

I didn't meet IESE before applying. Truth be told, I didn't even hear about the school. But having a one-on-one discussion with IE's North American admissions gave me a great feel for studying in Spain, and the quality of schools here. I think it was past midnight one of those nights, when I looked up the other Spanish business schools, and somehow, even just looking at the website, something about IESE seemed right. So I applied. Another 3 applications sent out, and amazingly, all 3 asked for an interview. So, a trip to New York to attend IESE's Assessment Day, and it's still true now as it was then - something about the school just felt right. Decision through intuition, and my intuition has never been more spot on.

I got my admissions offer from IESE in mid April. What an amazing feeling. It was early morning, just as I had finished breakfast and was about to go to work. My mom was on the phone with my aunt, and I was doing a routine email check before heading out when the email came in. All I saw was 'congratulations', and I pretty much exploded in screams and fist pumps. My mother didn't get why I was so excited - she didn't really understand the significance of that moment. Reading through 2012, what do I write about the most? Besides bitching about GMAT studying and applications, it's about this dream I had, this goal I was working towards. It was about changing my life. And that acceptance letter was my one legitimate chance to change my life. Of course, being me, I calmed myself and drove to work. I finally said goodbye to Dalbar on July 5, ending nearly 5 years of service with the firm. Lots of projects accomplished, lots of memories there, and lots of important things learned.

So, with acceptance letter in hand (most importantly from IESE but also from the other 2 European schools), I had a great 27th birthday. After my last day at work, I had a great summer wandering around Toronto. Lots of drinks, lots of dinners with friends - spending time with people who mean the most to me, who've been incredibly supportive since before I began the GMAT. So, summer came and went, and I was packing for the first truly big move of my life. I was beginning a life in Barcelona, and I couldn't find a place for my wine stems nor my cocktail gear. Tragic, but I knew that with all the great things Europe was going to offer me, the focus was always going to be on academics and career. And what an incredible 4 months it's been. I've met so many new people, made so many friends - I've seen so many new things, tasted amazing new food and drink. It's been a dream come true.

And what about wine and LCF? Of course, UGC Bordeaux in January, pouring the 2010's. Wines of great breed and elegance. And then a California tasting, giving me the opportunity to meet some of the grand icons of Cali including Gary Eberle and Josh Jensen. What happened that night after the tasting was pretty epic too. My last two trips to Niagara were great, getting to know some new producers, and touching base with old friends. I really miss those tasting trips the most. We tasted some interesting wines during the year. Emptied out some stuff from the cellar, some things I've had since undergrad. Always a great joy to open wines that are still alive, that are fully mature, and that have true character, especially with friends. And here in Barcelona, the journey continues, with a particular focus on Spanish wines. And the cocktails ... my goodness the cocktails. The gin tonics are everything a cocktail should be. Elegant, balanced, complex, and fresh. LCF also did a lot of events in Toronto before I left. Some cocktail events, a restaurant opening, a few tastings ... all those things that inspire me to continue working harder to find those stories, find those new angles to write about. 

Which finally brings me to IESE Wine & Spirits. I've never been very involved in school clubs. I've never found one that really excited me. Well, now I do, and what's even better, I get an opportunity to create a club in my own image. I get to create the mandate, I get to decide how it's run ... it's all my responsibility now. We've already done one (informal) tasting event, and the reaction has been overwhelmingly positive. Lots of love from my classmates, which is both confidence-building and incredibly humbling. So it's time to work and get IWS officially on its feet, so we can begin working to bring the wine (and spirits) industry to IESE.

What a year. What a year. Some of my favourite moments, in pictures and words ...

1. The Decision 2013

Not much else needs to be said here. Announcing The Decision 2013 was one of the best moments of my life. It was the culmination of more than a year of hard work and dedication, with the deep satisfaction of knowing that I was about to go on an adventure.

2. A year of personal development

A year of ups and downs - mostly ups. I've learned to be more disciplined, more organized, and also more caring and engaging. That's a good word ... engaging. To be more engaging with other people, and to be more engaged in what I'm doing. I've also learned how much Toronto means to me, how great it is that I had the upbringing that I had. And that yes, there's plenty of people here with more technical ability, more problem-solving and analytical skills - in short, more brilliant people than me. But there's something to be said about living with imagination and romance. Being a dreamer. Do I have those things? Maybe I'm still learning, but compared with 12 months ago, the change in the way I think and do things has been night and day.

3. IESE Wine & Spirits

This is the story that's just beginning. I knew I wanted to be a big part of a wine club here - what I didn't expect coming in was that I'd be the one creating the club. We've already a fantastic first tasting. And now that the club registration process has begun, exciting things are coming in the future.

4. Learning the cocktail

I drank a lot of cocktails this year. Made a lot of cocktails too. I mean, instead of asking a family friend to bring over practical items from Toronto like winter clothing or food, I asked them to bring over my cocktail gear. Priorities, son. Priorities. 2013 was a year of deciding I wanted to learn the way of Japanese bartending, assembling gear like the Yarai, and focusing on the classics.

5. Last dinners in Toronto

We don't go clubbing, but we do a lot of eating and drinking. I suppose we all have our quirks. I do like to keep these things small, because big groups devolve into bad cooking, cheap ingredients, and equally cheap wine. That's not how we roll. So, for my last Christmas in Toronto in a while, we opened a lot of old Rioja, we had a lot of home cooking. As my summer drew to a close in Toronto, we bid farewell to a few bottles I've had since undergrad - a bit sad, but we'll remember those meals with great fondness - wine doing as it should. With my best buddies, a last dinner before I left, a table full of LCJ and sushi. And finally, the night before Barcelona, a quiet thank you to my parents, with old Champagne and Barolo expressing what I never could with words.

6. Memorable wines

A year of simple wines, but a few stand out. A pinot grigio, reminding me to never, ever discount anything because of unjust prejudices. Izumi Ontario sake, always an absolute joy to drink. Pulling a few more of the 2006 LCJ's out to drink, and what beauties. A trio of old Niagara cabernets, full of memories of past dinners and crushes. A humble Bordeaux, but with depth and personality. And how could I forget, the bottle of Bandol that started all of this. 

But the most memorable - maybe not even just of this year, but of my entire wine drinking life - was a pair of wines from the Jura. One red, one white ... wines that excited, that amazed, that completely left me speechless. Confirming, through sheer force of spirit, why I love wine so much. 

7. California Legends and the last Niagara tasting trip

Tastings teach you two things - they sharpen your palate, of course, but they also give you greater insight into the people behind the wines, the human element. The California Legends tasting gave me that, in abundance. What an absolute pleasure and honour to meet so many grand personalities, people who've created the Californian wine industry. Truly legends. My last trip to Niagara allowed me a chance to visit Pearl Morissette for the first time, and meet Francois. What a man. What a man. Integrity and conviction, and a powerful character. This was also a great summer for #TeamLCF. Lots of events, lots of interesting new people met - much appreciation for the love.

8. London

I knew a big part of coming to Europe was going to be the opportunity to travel. What I wasn't counting on was my first destination being London. It was great, to be in one of the great capitals of the world. Lots of interesting things to see, quite nice to be back in an English-speaking country, and great food.

9. Barcelona gin tonics

This I knew about though, about Spanish gin tonics. Again, what was surprising was how good it would be. They truly are masters of gin, but more importantly, Barcelona has an extraordinary cocktail culture. There actually is no such thing as a bad gin tonic here. Yeah, you can roll your eyes about how simple of a cocktail it is, but taste one and tell me you're not amazed at how the gin tonic is elevated to something on an entirely different level here - fresh and bright, yet complex and savoury. Beyond using good spirits and tonic, it's all about the garnishes - matching them to the flavour profiles of the gin, and accentuating those dominant notes. 

10. New York in the spring

I've always loved New York. But now it has even greater significance for me. I was invited to IESE's NY Campus in the spring for the Assessment Day, and it went great. Had a chance to go out to a few of my favourite spots to eat and drink, and also spent some time with an old friend in an amazing, one-off Korean joint. A great, great few days in New York.

11. Eating through Barcelona

Whether it's the wines, the cocktails, the food, or the markets, Barcelona has been an eye-opening few months for this wino. Shellfish like I've never had before, fabulous gin tonics, and while not exactly friendly (or responsible) for a cash-strapped student, I'm plunging into it all headfirst.

12. First day of classes

To end it all off, the first day of classes was the most significant day of the year. Period. It was the official start of this whole adventure, the whole reason why I'm here. I was nervous, I was anxious ... but also incredibly excited. I felt a sense of control and optimism that I was sorely missing in my life. I'm here, in the right place, doing the right things, with the right people. Next year is only going to get better.


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