“I think wine really needed me,” said Internet sensation Gary Vaynerchuk on a recent Monday at T Bar steakhouse on the Upper East Side, near the apartment he shares with his wife. “I think it’s way too snobby and elitist in this country, and I don’t think wine wanted to be positioned that way.”
He was sipping a glass of 2005 Flowers Pinot Noir from the Sonoma Valley. “I’m really in an anti-Pinot Noir ordering mode, ’cause everybody’s on it,” he said, before asking the waiter for a decanter, “but it was by far the best wine on the list.”
Mr. Vaynerchuk, 32, has styled himself as the leading grape guru of the Internet, with a wine-tasting video blog, Wine Library TV, whose viewers, or “Vayniacs,” average 80,000, he said. Taped out of his family’s massive wine store in Springfield, N.J., where he is director of operations, a typical “Thunder Show” runs 20 minutes and includes exhortations to try new varietals, trust one’s own palate and ignore “wine bullies.” Not that Mr. Vaynerchuk lacks for aggression. On a given program he might shout, gesticulate, spit into a Jets pail, hype the NFL draft, issue frequent shout-outs to the “CKCs,” i.e., “College Kid Crowd”—“Woop! Woop!”—and describe wine as “a little bit like mayonnaise; hot jam reduction meets gasoline body shop meets mayonnaise” (a Jean Luc Colombo Cornas) or “a little garbagey; I’m talking like New York City garbage” (a 2005 Ridge Lytton Springs Zinfandel).
Recently, Mr. Vaynerchuk appealed to the Vayniacs to help make his first book, Gary Vaynerchuk’s 101 Wines Guaranteed to Inspire, Delight, and Bring Thunder to Your World (Rodale) a success. The book isn’t officially published until May 13, but “I wanna stun the world, that’s how I roll, so I need your support,” he told his audience. They responded by catapulting it to No. 36 in presales on Amazon.com. Their pedagogue proclaimed himself humbled, but not surprised. “I just had this crazy gut feeling that everyone was going to buy it as a thank-you,” he said, “because they’ve gotten so much for free.”
Chat about Chateauneuf-du-Pape
By the time Mr. Vaynerchuk met The Observer at the steakhouse, his book was languishing in the 180-300 range, where he was monitoring it obsessively. He has continued to appeal to the Vayniacs on Wine Library TV and on the seven social networking sites he uses, including Facebook, Twitter and MySpace, to help it rebound. His zeal on this matter bordered on the religious. This was not just about book sales, and it was not just about wine.
“I have something very special to share with the world, and honestly think it comes from a very good place,” he said. “When I found out about The Secret”—the cult self-help book that asserts the universe is yours for the taking, if you just have the right attitude—“it pissed me off. Shit, that was the book I should have wrote! Because I believed in it my whole life. … I don’t wanna come off cocky, but I know I’m going to achieve staggering accomplishments.”
Smaller in stature and softer in affect than he appears on his program, Mr. Vayerchuk was wearing an untucked, oversize striped Ted Baker oxford-cloth shirt, not unlike the ones worn by 20-something traders to bars in Murray Hill. “I love this shirt,” he said.
Mr. Vaynerchuk was 3 years old when his parents immigrated to Queens from Russia with him and two younger siblings in 1978. His father began working at a wine store in New Jersey in 1980, eventually opening his own store, Shoppers Discount Liquors, in Springfield in 1983. The young Mr. Vaynerchuk began working there on weekends and over summers at age 15.