Written by: Center for Care Innovations

For our first “innovation safari” we took safety net thinkers to Intuit to learn how a huge organization catalyzes culture change from within. This week we explored the nimbler strategies of a small, unconventional wine maker in Sonoma County, Old World Winery.

Old World Winery is the project of Darek Trowbridge, whose family has been making wine since prohibition days. As the name of his winery implies, Trowbridge uses older, less industrialized techniques that allow him to both create wines with unusually subtle flavors and operate his business in a hands-on, sustainable way. He builds his facilities out of reused and repurposed materials. He eschews a numbers-driven approach to wine production in favor of trusting his instincts and experience to guide him to interesting flavors. He even uses his land to keep small numbers of pigs and chickens, selling eggs and making ice cream.

In particular Trowbridge seeks to make Old World a part of the local community, holding regular communal “crushing parties” where friends and supporters turn out to stomp the juice out of his grapes—and share a potluck and enjoy each other’s company. This community-oriented approach felt familiar to some of the clinic representatives that joined in on our combination safari and wine tasting.

“His commitment to building community and relationships really resonated with me,” Mary Szecsey of West County Health Centers later wrote of Trowbridge. “West County Health Centers also prides itself on high touch, personal service. It is not always easy to deliver and his comment about the relentless pace sounded very familiar. I talked a bit with his assistant and she was pretty excited about being able to learn about all aspects of the operation. Analogous with our ‘care teams’ and wanting to give our staff the opportunity to be engaged in many aspects of service delivery.”

Also familiar was the frustrating tangle of regulations that Old World must navigate. Winemakers are subject to a host of laws restricting their ability to ship wine to different states, and small wineries like Old World face an uphill battle getting their products to customers and into stores.

“I was quite intrigued by the sheer amount of regulation that impedes Old World’s ability to freely sell its wine to individuals,” wrote Michael Yee, Senior Data Consultant at Kaiser Permanente. “I can see parallels between the small boutique winery/big mass producers and our innovation group’s smaller health care organizations/giant Kaiser Permanente. Both are subject to the same regulations and the same political realities. But the larger organizations have the advantage of size and scale and can more easily absorb changes in the financial climates.”

Both in terms of its products and its practices, Old World is a highly unconventional winery compared to its Sonoma County peers. Like many safety net organizations, it has had to take risks and try new strategies constantly to survive the last 15 years of economic ups and downs.

“Charismatic leadership, knowledge of his practice, willingness to take risks without knowing all the outcomes, and passion,” wrote Carlina Hansen, Executive Director of Women’s Community Clinic in San Francisco. “It reminded me of a talk I had just listened to by Malcolm Gladwell where he says, real innovation often involves the risk of being ‘incapable of describing where you are going to end up.’”