Confessions of a Wine Evangelist
It's safe to say Gary Vaynerchuk has one primary goal -- to turn the stodgy wine industry on its head. With help from the Internet, the host of the popular Wine Library TV video blog, brings wine appreciation to all who care to listen, taste, and smell. During his daily 20-minute webcast called The Thunder Show, he describes wine flavors as Skittles and sweaty socks, and compares varietals to action figures. His unconventional method has won him a cult following of more than 80,000 daily viewers.
Vaynerchuk, who got his entrepreneurial start by franchising lemonade stands as a kid, has come a long way. He built his family's Springfeild, N.J., store, Wine Library, from a $4 million business to a $40 million empire. He's a buyer, a wine taster and expert, an online celebrity, and can now add his first book, 101 Wines Guaranteed to Inspire, Delight, and Bring Thunder to Your World, to his list of accomplishments. And then there's that personal quest to own the New York Jets. Inc.com recently caught up with the master wine librarian.
How does someone go about choosing a bottle of wine if he or she knows nothing about it?
My entire journey and why I started Wine Library TV is to get people to try as many different wines as possibly. You have to try many different wines to build a palate. You start by picking a variety that you've never had before as long as you don't repeat the same type. At the end of six months to a year, you'll have a massive wine library.
Is wine currently going through its golden years?
Yes. The Internet as a whole has created the golden years of most things. I think that wine is mostly misinterpreted and positioned incorrectly. Wine is put on a pedestal that wine itself has no interest in being put on. I think programs like mine and other bloggers around the Internet are doing a lot of justice for the product: bringing it back to earth and talking about things the wine media world wasn't talking about.
What triggered your entrepreneurial dream?
I was entrepreneurial at an obnoxiously young age. Not only did I have a lemonade stand, I had a lemonade franchise. I had six lemonade stands when I was six years old in Edison, New Jersey. I'm a big believer that everything is genetic. I've wanted to sell and build brands since I first started speaking. But obviously, being from an immigrant family [I was born in Russia] and watching how hard my dad worked was a big influence on my work ethic.
Succession is something that can cause tension in family businesses. How did you make it work?
My dad has been out of the day-to-day operations for a decade, but he still works in the back office. He started and built the company. In 1998, I took over. We both went out of our way to try and make it work and we went through a lot of headaches. We are polar opposites, but our love for each other was powerful. For both my dad and I, the dollars and cents were always second to being together and loving each other. Even though many times I would cry and he would be upset, we made it through. Now that Library TV is such an important part of my life, it's almost like neither of us is running the company -- our team is. The store is now probably better than ever.
How do you manage family and work life?
It's tough. I just came back from taking 12 flights in 10 days. I spend 18 hours a day with my community building my brand. I'm on Twitter and Facebook and all the social networks. I work my face off, but if for a second I feel that mom is upset, I cancel things, drive up, and have tea with her. I show my family that they are the most important to me.
Do you see yourself doing something else?
The only thing I see myself doing is owning the New York Jets. Everything else is a stepping stone in that direction. I did see myself running baseball cards stores or being a sportscaster. In a weird way, they combine into what I do now, which is run a website that has 80,000 viewers.
You have Wine Library TV, the store, and now your book 101 Wines Guaranteed to Inspire, Delight, and Bring Thunder to Your World. What's the next step?
I don't know. Obviously, I've been offered a lot of television deals and things of that nature. But what I'm really most passionate about is following my heart and being happy. That's what I did with Wine Library TV. I didn't sit down and say I want to be an Internet superstar. The only goal, professionally, I have is to own the New York Jets. Anything that gets me in that direction… everything that feels right with that singular goal in mind I'm going to chase.
Would you drop wine for the Jets?
Yes, I would.