Oct. 4, 2007 -- If Wayne's World had a wine aficionado, he'd be it.
Gary Vaynerchuk, a 31-year-old rabid football fan who is devoted to the New York Jets, is on a somewhat unlikely mission. He's trying to uncork the mysteries of wine.
"You, with a little bit of me … we're changing the wine world, whether they like it or not," Vaynerchuk says.
From the office of his wine store in, of all places, New Jersey, Vaynerchuk records a wine Webcast five days a week. He says each day he averages close to 40,000 viewers.
So far he's done more than 300, each with a theme. At his Web site, tv.winelibrary.com, he sucks rocks, licks leather, eats dirt -- anything to explain what you should look for in a bottle.
"When I describe wine, I describe it as a it truly tastes to me," he says. "And a lot of people want to use the terms, like 'cassis' and 'terroir.' But if it tastes like Big League Chew to me, then that what it's going to be."
For example, given the choice, which would you think tastes better -- a $60 bottle of Silver Oak cabernet or an $18 bottle of 20 Rows? His answer may surprise you.
To prove the point, he taste tested the two wines. Vaynerchuck said the cheaper wine was better.
"I mean yeah, if you want to go out to dinner and smell it all night, then maybe this is the way to go," he says. "But if you want to drink it, I just think this is a great example of where price has no impact."
Long-Time Love of Wine
Vaynerchuk's style is brash, but don't be fooled. He knows his stuff. His parents immigrated from Russia and opened a modest liquor store here in 1983. He worked in the family business from the beginning, and he got hooked.
He started reading Wine Spectator magazine in junior high. By high school, he was giving shoppers advice on cabernets and chardonnays.
"I honestly believe a lot of people were coming here to buy wine from me because I was a circus act," he says.
Before long, Vaynerchuk turned his parents' small store into the three-story "Wine Library," which now rings up $60 million a year.
Americans bought more than $27 billion worth of wine last year. That's almost twice what they drank a decade ago. And this immigrant's son has found a way to capitalize on that. Half his sales are Internet-based -- wine boxed up and shipped around the country.
"When he first starts talking to me about the Internet and all this stuff, you know, who the hell ever dreamed?" says his father. "How you going to sell wine on the Internet? He brought a very different dynamic to the business."
Hollywood and Wine
His brash style has gotten plenty of attention, including from critics, or "wine snobs," as Vaynerchuk calls them. They point out that he reviews wines he sells, which they say makes him a good salesman, but not necessarily a true critic.
But Vaynerchuk says his critiques, and his business, come from a love of wine and life, not money.
"This is not about wine or business. This is about life," Vaynerchuk says. "This is about building self-esteem, about people realizing we should be sheep. Hollywood told us to drink pinot noir, and now we drink pinot noir."
The Hollywood reference is aimed at the 2004 film "Sideways," which maligned merlot and sent sales of pinot noir through the roof. Vaynerchuk says "Sideways" is the perfect example of just how intimidated we've become by all those bottles of smashed grapes.
"Because Hollywood told you, you listened to Hollywood and decided you're not drinking merlot anymore … 'I'm going to drink pinot noir because that's what's cool.' Huge mistake!" he says.
Any Wine, at Any Price
Vaynerchuk says when picking a red or a white, forget what you've heard and try everything -- at every price.
One more lesson: Vaynerchuk says when you're at a fancy restaurant and the server pours you a taste, quit trying so hard! There's no need to give it the ubiquitous swirl and sniff test before giving the waiter a thumbs up.
"I mean, I've never seen anyone delivered salmon and cut it, and analyzed it, and been like, 'Oh it's pink. Tremendous!'" he says.
Vaynerchuk says he still has a lot to teach. And he won't be satisfied until wine is, well … the new beer.
"My hope is that the next generation of wine drinkers are open-minded and don't fall into a class," he says. "You know, I love when someone e-mailed me and, 'Yes, I loved that wine. I had never heard of Chenin Blanc before, and I loved it. P.S. I drank it at the NASCAR event this weekend.' Yes! That's what it's about."