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Libations, conversations and skewered crustaceans: the annual staff wine & cheese social in Toronto

Sometimes workplace social events can get dragged down with a bad case of the "awkwards". There's a simple cure for this: wine. It’s one of history's great social lubricants. Esri Canada staff in Toronto recently sampled wine together, not to mention a selection of great food, at a recent social event on the green roof of our corporate headquarters in Toronto.

For centuries humans have been gathering to enjoy wine, food and good conversation. From Greece, to Egypt, to India and China, archaeologists have found evidence of wine production and consumption in ancient civilizations. If you're familiar with Greek mythology, you’ll know the Ancient Greeks had their very own god, Dionysus, who was responsible for grape harvest, wine and wine making—not to mention ritual madness and ecstasy, but let's park those pursuits for another post, shall we? The Ancient Egyptians had high regard for wine, too. So much so that pharaohs were entombed with the stuff so they’d have libations to share with guests in the afterlife (the ultimate “after party”?) And, according to the New York Times, Ancient Rome featured a wine bar on almost every street.

The most usual style of wine drinking cup in ancient Greece was a Kylix, a shallow two-handled bowl on a short stem. This Kylix from 530 BC depicts Dionysus, the Greek god of grape harvest, wine and wine making, crossing the sea. Photo courtesy of Carole Raddato.

Since ancient times, wine production and consumption has steadily spread throughout the globe. Grapes are being grown and harvested around the world, creating a vast selection of wine for dabblers and aficionados alike. (Tour these story maps that profile wine and wineries from around the world). Wine bars have been a familiar site in cities in Western culture for many years. Everyone these days seems to have an opinion about wine, don’t they? I’ve run into amateur sommeliers at kid’s birthday parties (“I think the buttery mouthfeel is at odds with the overpowering vanilla notes in this chardonnay. Ah, looks like Timmy got himself a Transformer.”) In short, we enjoy wine and we like to drink it together. In Canada, it’s estimated that per capita wine consumption is about 15 litres a year (don’t feel too guilty though—we’re well below France’s impressive per capita wine consumption average: 44 litres).

And what is it about wine that we love so much? One reason might be best expressed by Benjamin Franklin, who once said: “Wine makes daily living easier, less hurried, with fewer tensions and more tolerance.” For me, Franklin’s idea isn’t just about wine on its own (well, not all the time anyway). It’s about the experience of drinking wine—the people you’re with, the food you’re sharing and the setting you’re enjoying together. It was within this context that I recently gathered with fellow colleagues on the patio of our Toronto office’s green roof to sample wine and food and unwind on an unseasonably cool August afternoon.

Esri Canada staff gather on the green roof at the company's Toronto office for its annual wine and cheese social event.

Now an annual event, this year’s wine and cheese social featured wines from Italy and France, including a crisp pinot grigio (Casal Thaulero), a mellow merlot (Cesari Merlot delle Venezie) and a sprightly sauvignon blanc (Remy Pannier Sauvignon Blanc). Artisanal Canadian and imported cheeses were also served, along with a steady stream of tasty hors d’oeuvres, including Limoncello shrimp skewers, small Caesar salad cups and—perhaps the biggest hit—mouth-watering mini burgers.

One important feature of the wine and cheese location was the fact that the intimate patio area kept people close together, which gave the mid-afternoon gathering a tight-knit feel. It encouraged people to jump in and out of different conversations with colleagues that you don’t have occasion to speak with often.

This is, of course, the whole point of workplace social events: engaging people beyond the usual water cooler pleasantries and hand-washing small talk. With the common bond of food and drinks to help let our guards down a little, many of us got to experience a different side of that familiar face whose personality you’ve never had a chance to place. You could actually have a decent chat with someone, and not be interrupted by the ring of the phone or ding of an Outlook meeting alert. In the end, I think Benjamin Franklin’s words rang true: the experience did help me feel less hurried and tense… until I returned to my desk and checked my inbox.