[Image borrowed from The Press Democrat’s site: KENT PORTER/The Press Democrat]


In an upcoming episode of CBS’s hit series, Undercover Boss, Rick Tigner, president of Kendall-Jackson Wine Estates, gets choked up during the hour-long reality show.

Production of the show started last spring, around the time that Tigner’s boss and mentor, wine industry icon Jess Jackson, died. Jackson himself gave the go-ahead for the show early last year.

When I got a call from a production company last spring, I was asked to participate in the taping of a program. I said, “Yes,” without even realizing why, except that it sounded interesting. I asked myself more than once at the time, “Why me? How did they even get my name?”

After the taping, I was still pretty stymied, although a plausible reason was given by the crew; but still, why me?

I still don’t know why; most especially since the reason for the taping has now been revealed in a story run by the Press Democrat: K-J chief previews his role in ‘Undercover Boss,’ and I’m not an employee.

I did work for K-J for a while, but I’m no longer connected to the winery. I worked weekends in the tasting room, when I had first started Diaz Communications and my phone hadn’t yet begun to ring. Those nine months were critical for my survival; and the people that I worked with were some of the dearest people I had yet encountered. They were right up there with my former Mondavi Winery crew for being kind, sincere, and eager to share their knowledge.

Still, I can’t help but wonder why I was asked to go there to be part of their taping. How was I chosen from all the people that could have played the role I played? I’m not going to reveal what I did, because I honestly think that I must have been a dummy plant; I signed a contract for confidentiality, so I’m not going there.

I’ve watched some of the programs and have found them to be very revealing about how out-of-touch some executives become when they forget their past. And, it always reminds me of a quote by Sandra Day O’Connor, that I held to my heart when I entered the wine business: Do the best you can in every task, no matter how unimportant it may seem at the time. No one learns more about a problem than the person at the bottom.

Not being an employee at K-J anymore, I know that I’m not relevant to what the program was trying to achieve, but the production team still did put on a great show like I had some relevance… in all that they did.

During the taping, Tigner posed as a former grocery store worker from Plano, Texas, named Jake Williams. He wore a cowboy hat and boots, a horseshoe mustache, and braces. He was gangly and looked like he had just gotten off a Clydesdale… He was that believable. If running a wine company doesn’t work out, I think he should head straight to Hollywood.

At the time, I walked away clueless. Now that I’ve got a clue, I’m still clueless until this program airs on CBS at 8:00 p.m., Sunday, January 29.

You know I’ll be watching.

What a great “undercover” experience, and I’m delighted that I got to watch it from the inside, even though I was totally (and still am) in the dark.



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