Wine, Video and The Cult of Gary

by Tim Elliott on March 25, 2008

Sometimes posts take several days, or even months, to get published here. Along the way, details are added and subtracted as I think about the story and form an opinion.

This is one of those posts.

I started writing this post on August 2, 2007 after 6 months inside what I began to call, “The Cult of Gary.” Of course, I was a lurker only commenting on the odd episode and not really participating with the discussion Gary Vaynerchuk has led for the past two years at Wine Library TV. And I think I nearly missed the point of why Gary connects with so many people; it’s his humanity.

But the first draft of this post did not mention humanity but focused on the ethics of using a scoring system in his reviews, lack of disclosure on the podcast of being a wine retailer and his unorthodox approach to palate training (I still would like to know what Bob Parker, Jim Laube or Steve Tanzer thought of Gary’s schtick on Conan O’Brien and Ellen). It also bothered me that Gary was so opaque to the wine blogger community who socialize on Twitter and often email each other on various subjects. Each time I hovered over the “Publish” button, something held me back from sharing my insights on the most celebrated wine podcaster in the world. Sometimes it would be to soften the language so it wouldn’t sound like sour grapes, other times it would be something Gary did that provoked more investigation.

So months past and the post stayed in my drafts folder waiting for more context in order to complete it. I found that context last week with this short video Gary published on his personal blog:

I have come to the conclusion that Gary is one of the most influential people in wine today not because he’s got the best palate — although he’s got mad skills there — but in the way he’s almost single handily changing wine marketing. He’s often quoted saying that the wine business is “broken” and he’s trying to fix it. I agree and applaud his efforts in demystifying wine and making it fun for those outside the wine blogosphere. Watching Robert Scoble’s video from last weekend shows this first hand:

My earlier concerns diminished as I realized that those of us in the wine blogosphere are not Gary’s audience. As the hardest working man in wine podcasting, he’s delivering the goods to tens of thousands who would be bored stiff reading about wine. Yes, I’d like to see some disclosure but this seems like a quibble when looking at the amount of good Gary is doing for wine podcasting and blogging.

So I think everyone interested in wine should watch Wine Library TV at least once a week. Because the kid has heart. And skills.

  • http://www.coralmustang.com Mustang Winemaker

    Well said! I first saw Gary in SF at Wine 2.0-had never heard of him. But I was caught up in the idea of what he does-bringing wine to the masses, in terms that people can relate to. As a Winemaker it is often hard to convince people that you do not have to know the fancy terms or all the varieties- if you like it, you like it. Also the idea that it is a beverage for food- this can be another scary area, but Gary makes it seem easy.
    I thought a year ago, and I still feel that he is doing the wine world a huge service. He is also doing the public a huge service to show them wines they might not try otherwise and that it is something that other parts of the world take on everyday-not just those special occasions.
    My hat off to a true entreprenuer-this is exciting stuff!

  • http://winecast.net Tim

    Thanks for your comments, Penelope. I agree with your sentiments, obviously.

    Hope to see you at the next Wine 2.0 mixer next month… perhaps we can enjoy a glass of Tempranillo with Gary?

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  • Ben F

    Great Stuff GV deserves the love casue he brings it each and every day!!! Great Job Tim…

  • http://www.surf4wine.co.uk Andrew @ Surf4Wine

    Well said.

    To my mind Gary isn’t a wine blogger in the old fashioned view of it – he’s letting people know it’s OK to like what you like, but hey, why not try something new – “people, the waters warm here in wine-land, come in and try it out. We’re not scary, honest. We’re like you, we like wine and want to tell you about it!”

    He’s doing it for the wider wine drinking public. He really loves what he’s doing.

    OK, it can’t hurt his wine business either – but we have to admire him for that too. He’s worked out that the public like passion and honesty, and tapped into it. And he knows wine CAN be very, very dull, not to mention scary. And it’s hard to always communicate how great, or bad, a wine can taste unless you have the person there with you, drinking what you are drinking. So he works hard to make it less so scary and more accessible. In spades!

    What he’s done, and doing, is amazing and deserves applause – he’s found a niche and made it his own. His style won’t rock everyones boat, but he will get more people drinking and feeling less inhibited about talking more about wine – and saying what they like and what they don’t. And maybe encourage more of them to post comments on all of our blogs.

    And I think he’s beginning to scare the traditional wine guys too – maybe not all of them, yet! But they’ll soon cotton on. Making wine accessible, and communicating your passion, as it best works for you, is the way to go. Passion is good and people like it – consumers can tell the difference between genuine passion and marketing waffle.

    I discoverd Gary’s podcasts late, after a friend recommended them, just at about the time we started to think about doing ours (and yes, I’m way behind on getting more of them out there!) Boy was I scared! Yikes, I’m going to try to compete with that, me thinks. But it isn’t a competition – everyone has a view, everyone has a right to Blog, be they wine retailers, wanna-be wine journalists, consumer rights champions or just any old wine lover that loves the juice and wants to tell people why.

    Gary is doing what I’d love to be able to do – tell people about his passion, about the wines he loves, and the ones he doesn’t. Enthuse, encourage debate – make wine accessible to more and more people. And he’s humble too – just see his twitter post about this Blog post. He’s genuinely happy people see what he’s trying to do, and get something from it.

    So he sells the stuff too. Woo! We all have to pay the mortgage etc., Maybe he should carry some sort of wine blogging community warning ‘beware, I am a wine retailer – but I’m not trying to sell you something EVERY TIME I open my mouth’! In fact, I don’t think I I’ve heard him ‘sell’ very often at all – he’s far too switched on for that. He worked out long ago that as a retailer you don’t need to shout ‘buy, buy, buy’. Just enthuse, show the passion, and be honest – sometimes we wine merchants make mistakes and don’t get right. So shoot us. Well, maybe not :)

    Go on Gary, keep going for it, and keep scaring the suits :)

  • http://wineculture.blogspot.com Robert

    Interesting post. I have watched Gary on and off for some time (I remember coming across his show in the very early days and thinking it was “fun” but then forgetting about it until he really had become quite well known).

    I agree with your point that we in wine ‘business’ are not his audience. About a year ago, a well respected UK wine writer (Oz Clarke) did a TV show in partnership with another presenter best known for TV shows about cars.

    The show, Oz & James’ Big Wine Adventure, was a big hit and loads of my friends and family asked me what I thought about it. I thought it was misleading, contrived and frustrating. I was in the (very tiny) minority.

    People loved it because it was delivering information about wine at the level they were prepared to accept it, and therefore hopefully take further steps to enjoying it.

    I don’t say Gary is any of these things, but his style and content chimes with an audience we don’t reach or even connect with most of the time, and that can only be a good thing.

    I just don’t have to want to hear the ‘thunder’ myself.

  • http://www.coralmustang.com Mustang Winemaker

    I will be there- would love to share a glass-
    Cheers!

  • http://www.catavino.net Gabriella Opaz

    I think you have all hit the nail on the head by highlighting how Gary has converted a segment of the population into wine loving folk. And as much as I would love to believe that we do the same thing, the reality is far from the truth – cured ham, Cava and manchego cheese only go so far. Gary has gone above and beyond the call of duty, rallying together a new community of people who can magically string together football and oak monster in the same sentence and have it make sense. In my mind, this is genius.

    Oz & James’ Big Wine Adventure has also reached the same audience, but in smaller numbers and by substituting the word “football” for “cars”. Between Oz’s charm and short temper, and James’ bad boy mentality, the duo is hard not to love and consequently, learn from.

    And despite the fact that I have difficulty watching Gary’s show, I too appreciate everything he’s done. He’s put his heart and passion out there, making wine accessible to all walks of life, and I am immensely grateful for it.

  • http://www.marcomontez.com Marco Montez

    I love Gary’s show and here is the reason why… Gary is providing content and information to people who are not into wine as much as wine bloggers or people who work in the wine industry. He’s likely igniting thousands of people to move from drinking mass produced bottles of wine to premium wines. Maybe even converting non-wine drinkers to wine lovers. So, despite the fact that his method might not be perfect, he is providing the wine world with something that has been lacking for a long time… education in a fun and enjoyable way. The positive aspects of what Gary V. is doing far outweigh the negatives.

    On a different but related subject… I often find many wine blogs are written with wine aficionados and other wine bloggers in mind, not the novice who might not be well educated about wine. I love reading them, but I’m a wine geek. I fell that the common wine drinker would find them less interesting. In the few posts I’ve made to my blog, I’m always holding myself back from going overboard with wine technical terms and some highly specific wine-talk. I want to remain focused on my audience, primarily the person who has interest in wine simply as a beverage and who might find it interesting to follow my experiences in the world of winemaking. It is a balancing act.

  • http://www.eatingleeds.co.uk Alex

    I really like his content but there’s just far too much shouting going on … often I start watching a video and turn off part way through because of all the noise.

    I agree that more wine content should be accessible – I’m just not sure it needs to be so shouty!

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  • http://smellslikegrape.blogspot.com Taster A

    Funny, Taster B sent me a link to the same “It’s going down hard” link. I’ve never been a big GV fan and when Taster B posted a tribute to GV on here WBW#44 post, I was a bit lost…”what the devil?” or something like that. (Probably what she thinks when I play Frank Zappa.)

    But when I saw the above video that Taster B sent me the link to, I think I finally got it. GV and I have some things in common. Take care of the people that take care of you, take care of the family, take care of the other people around you. Also, I’m a big promoter of “Drink it because you like it, not because I told you to like it.”

    So yeah, I had this same post rattling around in my head for a few months too. You had the hutzpa to post. Good for you.

  • http://lapeira.wordpress.com RobDougan / LaPeira

    I think the reason is that he is, like Parker, dead honest, super enthusiastic and works really hard. Dead simple really. And like Jancis, or Parker, Jefford, Brook, Spurrier, Neal Martin, Hugh Johnson or a whole bunch of great writers, he can communicate really well. As Jancis Robinson said in a recent interview about starting out:

    "If I had a fight, perhaps in Britain at that stage the wine business was dominated by pinstripe suits and 'old school tie' types. I hope I was a bit more open-minded than that, and was looking at people for what they actually brought to it and their own interests, rather than who they were." & "I think I have a philosophy of inclusiveness, rather than exclusiveness – I want to turn the world on to the pleasures of wine. Particularly, for me, wine is not just that top layer. What I love about wine is all its forms, and I can really enjoy quite a simple wine, as long as it is made honestly and expresses where it comes from and who made it."

    Imagine reliving the last 2-3 years without GV. Would have been a lot more drab.

    Looking forward maybe one day to tasting your wine Tim. Is there a bottle or two coming to England or Europe?

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/winecast winecast

    Rob: I agree with you on Gary; it's his hustle and passion that make him a success. Along with great instincts and a fresh approach to talking about wine. If Parker were starting today, he'd be a blogger… and maybe a podcaster as well.

    My wine will be released soon and I will be sampling some European wine bloggers. Perhaps you can meet one of them in London for a taste? Alternatively, I'd be pleased to trade with you ;-)

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