SCOTT SIMON, host:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.
Gary Vaynerchuk has been an entrepreneur from the age that most youngsters play videogames. Now 31, he still has the face of the grade school kid who started a lemonade stand and opened a whole string of them, bicycling from block to block to check up on his managers.
He had a baseball card collection that he turned into a $2,000-a-weekend business. His father brought his family over from Belarus when Gary was three and opened a liquor store in New Jersey where Gary went to work as a teenager - stacking boxes, dusting bottles and having more interest in the New York Jets, playing in the Meadowlands than any fruit of divine. But then he noticed that 30 or 40 people who bought the wine in Spectators Wine of the year.
And Gary Vaynerchuk began to think. He's not taking over his father's old liquor store. He leveled it and built an enormous new store, Wine Library, in suburban New Jersey. Almost daily, he records and posts videos of wine tasting on his Wine Library TV Web site, which he likes to think takes some of the pretense and pomposity out of talking about wine.
Mr. GARY VAYNERCHUK (Owner, Wine Library TV): My favorite thing is people at dinner. They put the wine list down. Everybody is passing it off because they're scared to make the wrong choice. I've never seen anybody do that with a menu. You're not concerned what kind of cheeseburger you order. If you say extra pickles, nobody is critiquing what you did. However, if you pick the wrong the vintage of a cabernet and buy it - in 2000 vintage cabernet, well, how can you do that?
SIMON: Join Gary on the floor of his 40,000 square-foot store and you get the full treatment.
Let's say somebody walks in here and says, look, I'm kind of interested in wine…
Mr. VAYNERCHUK: Sure.
SIMON: …I had it at a friend's wedding. Isn't that how it usually begins?
Mr. VAYNERCHUK: That's true.
SIMON: And you know, I don't want to just kind of like suck down whatever looks good on the label, so tell me please…
Mr. VAYNERCHUK: How do I go about it?
Mr. VAYNERCHUK: We try to pick certain categories…
SIMON: He moves from row to row, sometimes talking over his shoulders. He selects the first half of what he thinks would be a good starter case: six diverse bottles of wine.
Mr. VAYNERCHUK: So you know, you always want to start with one crisp to the point entry-level clean white wine. That's very important whether it's going to be a pinot grigio or a New Zealand sauvignon blanc. The next thing we always go from there is to a chardonnay. Then what I've like to recommend lately is this Waca Cabernet, $12 from Coonawarra. You know, screwtop, sets of a little new wave…
SIMON: Now I've heard screwtops are actually preferred to a cork.
Mr. VAYNERCHUK: Bacteria can get into a cork and taint a wine, where screwtops can't. Now people can't get over the cheap factor and think it's Boone's Farm and Mad Dog 20/20. But once they do, I mean, you will see screwtop probably in 60, 70 percent of the wines in the next decade for sure. And this has been a big, big deal for us so we've been really recommending it.
SIMON: The class in merlot?
Mr. VAYNERCHUK: Yeah. The class(ph) in merlot is excellent and more importantly since "Sideways," which bashed merlot, merlot sales haven't been up and it's really created an enormous opportunity because the, you know, really at the end of the day, it's supply and demand, and merlot's not that in demand. And so you can get world-class merlot right now for ridiculously phenomenal prices. And you know, if this was seven or eight years ago in merlot's heyday, this would be a $25 to $30 a bottle of wine because they'll be able to command it. So…
SIMON: You mean really because of one over-hyped movie, the merlot market crashed?
Mr. VAYNERCHUK: We're in a world where if Paris Hilton tomorrow says that I love Shiraz, Shiraz's sales will spike 10 percent. And God forbid, if you get Oprah involved. I mean, that's the society we are in at this point.
SIMON: He takes the basket of bottles up to the store's top floor, brings out some tall crystal wine glasses and starts popping bottles.
(Soundbite of bottle popping open and wine pouring)
SIMON: And pouring. First, we've got half a dozen wines in front of us and we've also got - what do I call that big, silver bucket in front of us?
Mr. VAYNERCHUK: The spit bucket.
SIMON: Oh, all right.
Mr. VAYNERCHUK: The Jets spit bucket.
SIMON: I thought there must be some little French, (unintelligible)…
Mr. VAYNERCHUK: No. It's spittoon.
SIMON: A spittoon. Okay. Yes. Spittoon. Okay.
Mr. VAYNERCHUK: I don't think it's the most fancy.
SIMON: So you just take it in your mouth and swirl it around and…
Mr. VAYNERCHUK: I do…
Mr. VAYNERCHUK: I mean, I taste sometimes 40 to 50 wines a day for my real job, which is, you know, running the company and tasting wine and things of that nature. So, yeah, I spit.
SIMON: First, we taste the whites from a crisp pinot grigio to a full chardonnay, the taste of the insides of a citrus storage closet. Then on to the reds.
Now why is it when you use for other wine…
Mr. VAYNERCHUK: Skill.
SIMON: …the wine around in your glass, right. It looks so elegant. And I do it, it looks like kids fighting in the backyard pool.
Mr. VAYNERCHUK: You know, I have tremendous hand-eye coordination. Without guessing, you might have struggled at the plate when you were five or six years old, you know. So you know, it's really come down to hand-eye coordination.
SIMON: I'm using my left hand.
Mr. VAYNERCHUK: That's right. That's right.
SIMON: If I were you, I would be using my right hand…
Mr. VAYNERCHUK: You'd be hurt.
SIMON: …I assure you…
Mr. VAYNERCHUK: I believe you. I believe.
SIMON: …it would be poetry in motion.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. VAYNERCHUK: Pure poetry. So you know, one of the big things, though, I think people miss out on such a big part of wine when they don't allow themselves to really enjoy and smell the wines. I mean, the bouquet is such a factor in your senses and your taste, giving you that first hint that little, you know, flirt, of what it could become. And so I think that's interesting and fun, and pour it and then something. I'd see a lot of people and then something I can see a lot of people miss out on.
SIMON: Well, all right…
Mr. VAYNERCHUK: Okay.
SIMON: What are you going to try first?
Mr. VAYNERCHUK: This is Waca Cabernet and this new world wave style. This is $10.99. And this is, to me, the better, much, much better version of what got - has people excited about with Yellow Tail, which is a huge phenomenon. But there are a lot of traditional fans that are not going to like because this is, to them, sugarfied, over the top kind of aspect. And so you have to know your client.
A new wine drinker, if you said, hey, I love Bordeaux. I'll never give you this. But if he's like, oh, I love Yellow Tail and I love Kendall Jackson. Okay, now you need to go here because this is just a better more clean, more well-made version of that. You're going to get your sugar. You're going to get your fruit.
SIMON: Black currant fruit?
Mr. VAYNERCHUK: Oh, yeah. Big time.
Mr. VAYNERCHUK: Mm-hmm.
SIMON: Black currant cough drops, sort of, thing. Yeah.
Mr. VAYNERCHUK: Very (unintelligible) syrupy, but a lot of black fruit, but very thick and viscous and very new world and very over the top and raisin-y(ph) and there's a lot of people that love this. This is actually the hottest growing area in wine, and it's mainly with new consumers that are looking for that fruit. But then there's this, which is the polar opposite - and what we're pouring now - and this why I did this two back-to-back.
And this is why I whopped this into a case of wine for somebody because, I think, it's important to give people different profiles to figure out what their style is like. When I give somebody a perfect case of wine, when they first want to learn about wine, I expect them to come back with four wines they hated.
And this Chateau Valrose, which is a Saint Estephe, grown right next to Château Cos d'Estournel, which is a very famous winery, 2002 vintage. And this is the classic, more refined, polished, elegant style.
SIMON: Puts(ph) a lot in the nose there, isn't there?
Mr. VAYNERCHUK: A lot. Very earthy tones, you know?
Mr. VAYNERCHUK: It's, you know, a little force the action going on. And so…
(Soundbite of noise)
Mr. VAYNERCHUK: I'm going to keep that one. I mean, polished, great (unintelligible), great grip, dry, structured, not fluffy, like the wine before, more myself. But there's that bitterness. There's that, you know, that earthiness, the broccoli flavor. I mean, this is a food wine. It's not a wine, you're going to sit…
SIMON: This is like soil after a rain.
Mr. VAYNERCHUK: There you go. And that's very nice. Maybe you can host for me when I'm not around.
SIMON: I'll try. I'll do my best.
Mr. VAYNERCHUK: But that - but you know what? By the way, that was a tremendous analogy and I'm hoping people use more stuff like that. Oh, this reminds of cotton candy I had at the fair in '84 - that's real. The terms that they read from Robert Parker of the Wine Spectator that mean nothing to them, but they regurgitate and think they're cool means nothing.
And so that's a big part of what Wine Library TV, I'm hoping, is bringing to the table. I've noticed this is bringing to the table. I've seen it. People told me, Gary, I was at a wine tasting and I said, this wine tastes like chicken soup. And everybody looked at me. And I wasn't scared, because I knew you would say the same thing, and I felt comfortable in saying it.
And I said yeah. You know what I mean? That's just great. And so, you know, to me this is a great wine of Valrose's, you know, a $20-bottle of Bordeaux. Twenty dollars for really polished elegant Saint Estephe.
I think, Americans, in general, are so stunned that they can buy an $80-bottle of wine and get something poor. Wine is really the one place where the entire equation that we're grown to believe in is not true. And it's, you know, farming. And I think so many people forget that wine is farming and that some people are just lucky and have the right soil, the right terroir. And other people, with all their marketing savvy, and all the money they can pour in and hire the best winemaker and hire the best vineyard manager, yes, that will definitely increased their quality. But if it's not in the land, it's not in the bottle.
SIMON: Do you have a wine set aside, all set to go for when the Jets win the Super Bowl?
Mr. VAYNERCHUK: I do. It means a lot to me. It's actually not the most amazing wine, but very early on, when I started buying for the store, I bought a case of 1975 Chateau Leoville Las Cases Magnums. This is the year I'm born, '75. And I've been sitting on them and I said when the Jets win the Super Bowl - please, God, please, let that happen. When they do, I'm going to pop that bottle. Those - that case, the whole six Magnums. They're going - I have to pour them on my head. I don't care. I'm opening them all. That would be a very good day, no doubt.
SIMON: Thank you.
Mr. VAYNERCHUK: Thank you.
SIMON: Gary Vaynerchuk, Jersey wine maven. A list of all 12 bottles in his moderately priced, diverse case is on our Web site, npr.org. Salut.