There is a saying that money ruins everything. I saw your first episode as well as recent episodes, and the show hasn’t lost its soul in its candid and irreverent approach. How have you kept the show from being corrupted by money?
I think that my parents raised a good human being. I think they did a great job, and I want to execute against their skills to shed light on who they are, so I just like people. Listen, I am a entrepreneur, I want to make money, I want to do all those things, but authenticity and transparency are imperative, and I’m very proud of the way I do this show and the way I tackle my criticism and I feel like I really try hard to be a good person, and I think that it matters to me so much more than anything else, that it becomes very easy to keep the soul.
You’ve become a figurehead in the new media movement in wine. Do you feel a responsibility in this role in that if you mess up, you mess up for everyone?
How do you handle that?
I try not to mess up! (laughs)
And how is that working out for you?
I feel like so far not so bad. I’m sure there are people who see me launch a t-shirt site like I did with Please Dress Me with my brother, they might be like, “What’s he up to?” First and foremost I am an entrepreneur, but my passion for wine is always gonna be there and I love it, and I do feel a tremendous sense of responsibility. I also feel a tremendous sense of responsibility to get to know a lot of people in this space who might think I’m a little obnoxious and a little over the top. That is something that I think about as well, because I do care about what people think. I want them to know who I am.
Have you had any big ideas that you thought would work but instead failed?
You know what’s funny? I’m sure there are things, but I don’t spend time thinking about the negatives. You know what I mean? I’m sure if I sit here, I mean I want to give you off the cuff answers, but I’m sure I sit here and…Cork’d, I bought Cork’d, I still haven’t done anything with that. So I’ve been sitting on it for two years. I don’t want to call it a failure because I know what I’m up to, but I’m sure a lot of other people look at it as a failure, but I’m a long term guy, I’m a marathon guy. Even though my personality and my energy screams “sprint”, my head and my soul screams “marathon”.
Do you ever feel like you’re in over your head?
No. Because I have big goals. I want to buy the New York Jets, and so this is still “minor leagues” compared to some of the pressures I’ll feel when I’m trying to close a deal on a billion dollar sports franchise.
How much of wine new-media’s potential been realized, and what do the next couple of years look like in your opinion?
Oh, I think we are in the infant stage. As much as I have brand equity, I’m still a peon compared to Wine Spectator or Robert Parker, and if you look at the blogger below me, I mean, we have a long way to go. That being said, there is no doubt in my mind that this space is going to reshape the way wine is looked upon in America, and I’m excited to be a part of it.
In America, government regulation and the three-tier system have made it difficult for the wine industry to communicate with consumers. How is new-media in wine changing that?
We go direct to consumer, right? A blog is direct to consumer. Our message can be heard whether we’re a winery, a blogger, a distributor, they can do it too, God bless. The restaurateur industry has done a terrible job in embracing social media. So I think there are enormous opportunities.
What is the biggest challenge facing the wine industry right now?
Archaic laws I think hurt our industry quite a bit. I think the non-shipping laws really hurt the industry. I also think perception. I think we still have to fight perception that wine isn’t for everybody. I think that the sheep mentality where we are all drinking the same stuff. I hate that, and that is the thing that I think I am doing best with Wine Library TV I think. I’m really pushing people to try wines from Portugal, and South Africa and so on…
Is there a risk of over-saturation with more beverage new-media ventures entering the marketplace?
I don’t think so. I think that over-saturation a lot of the time is actually accomplishing something.
Have you experienced any backlash from the wine industry as a result of your success?
Not too much to my face, but I have a gut feeling because of my personality and how intense it is, for people that don’t know who I am as a person, I’m sure there are things said behind my back. I’m sure there are wineries who are not happy when I score something a 67 and compare it to, um, ugly towels, but I hope that people understand what my global vision is, and that is to create new wine drinkers, bring excitement to the space, and hopefully that trickles down to everybody, because eventually they will get bored of me, or get enough of me, or look for other alternatives, including me, and I hope they find them.
Connecting with your followers is a big priority for you. How do you approach that?
It’s all I do. I answer every single e-mail I get.
Why is it so important to you?
Because it’s real. Because then people know I really care. It is also important from a research and development standpoint. I have an enormous pulse for the industry because I read about 1,000 e-mails about it a day. I mean, what’s better than that?
You know what people are asking about. I can see the trends shift from Albarino to Falanghina or Torrontes three years before everybody else does. So, it is an important part.
You don’t consider writing to be one of your strengths, so talk about your book 101 Wines and your experience writing it.
So I had a ghost writer. The entire book is dictated into a small recorder, and I sat and tasted 4,000 – 5,000 wines, narrowing these down 1,000 right off the bat, and recorded 1,000 tasting notes, and then started narrowing it down, and that is how I got to my 101, and that was the process.
So this was not you referencing archived wine tasting notes, this is you starting a whole project.
Yes, because I didn’t want to use wines that were on Wine Library TV already, and I tasted a lot of things that weren’t out yet, because I wanted the book to be time sensitive.
What are your thoughts on the book now?
Um, it could’ve been better, I mean, the book did very well, but I feel I could’ve done better. I could’ve put more marketing muscle behind it. But I didn’t want to spam-bot everybody and say, “Buy my book! Buy my book!” As in your face as I am, I’m a funny character, I’m a big contradiction. I might talk really fast, but I get uncomfortable pushing stuff sometimes as well, which would make a lot of people laugh because I’m such a pusher, but, you know, it’s just the way it is.