After immigrating from the former USSR to New Jersey, Vaynerchuk honed his wine skills at his family’s liquor store—also called Wine Library—and used social-media networks to catapult the bodega into a $60-million brand. Yet it wasn’t until Vaynerchuk launched his daily Web cast three years ago that his buzz propelled him onto Decanter magazine’s 2009 Power List. Today, Vaynerchuk’s straightforward—and often hyperactive—online reviews (he recently broadcast that one varietal “reminds me of Skittles” and that another “tastes like asparagus pee-pee”) has led him to become a wine guru for some 350,000 followers on Twitter and more than 90,000 “Vayniacs” who tune in to his Web cast each day.
We caught up with the self-taught wine expert aboard a train on his way from Manhattan to DC.
How long are you in Washington, and what are you looking forward to doing?
“I’m just here for one night, and I’ll be busy speaking at the book signing. If I had another night, I’d love to go to a Capitals game. I love hockey, especially live.”
In March, you signed a seven-figure book deal with HarperCollins to write ten books. What can we expect from your first book?
“A jolt of motivation but also practicality. I talk a big game, but I back it up with business maneuvering. In order to build a big business, you have to be willing to get your hands dirty. You don’t become successful by being a dreamer. You have to have guts and execute. In today’s environment, everything is completely different. Crush It! is kind of a State of the Union of how to actually make some money in this changing economy.”
What is the biggest misconception about wines?
“That red wine is more serious than white wine. There are plenty of white wines that dismantle red wines—for instance, Riesling from Austria and Germany or Burgundy from France. Everyone thinks you graduate to reds, and that’s insanity.”
What is the best-kept secret about wine?
“That there are exceptional wines that cost $13 to $25 a bottle. Portuguese reds and wines from the Loire Valley in France are wonderful examples of this.”
What’s the next up-and-coming wine hot spot?
“Greece—specifically Greek white wines. There’s a small producer called Katogi & Strofilia Agiorgitiko that I just tasted, and I recommend their 2005 stuff.”
What are some of your favorite wines from the East Coast?
“Lieb Cellars from Long Island and Chaddsford from Pennsylvania.”
I’m going to give you five situations when a Washingtonian would need to pick out a wine, and I want you to recommend something in less than five seconds.
1. You love Maryland blue crabs dashed with Old Bay but are tired of pairing them with Coronas. What wine could you substitute?
“An Australian Riesling.”
2. You’ve just started seeing someone you really like. You’re planning a picnic in Rock Creek Park and want to bring a wine that says, ‘We should up the ante and get serious.’ What romantic varietal sets the mood?
“I’d go with a Sauternes from France. It’s sweet, it’s delicious, and you’ll pound the whole bottle.”
3. You’re a young professional who has recently moved from the suburbs to DC’s Columbia Heights. Your parents are coming to town, and you’re making them dinner in your shared rowhouse. You want something sophisticated that says, ‘I’m all grown up and no longer live in your basement.’ What do you choose?
“A 2004 Brunello.”
4. You’re a K Street powerbroker looking to wow a new client. You want to offer a wine that he or she has never tasted before. What would you choose?
“A 2005 Côte-Rôtie from the Rhône Valley in France.”
5) Your beloved Redskins just lost to the Dallas Cowboys and you’re looking to drown your sorrows in a strong glass. What do you go with?
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