By Cliff Rames
The day he announced it, the earth shook.
As it happened, I was home grilling fresh squid on a wood fire. Suddenly the ground shivered and rolled like a small ocean wave had just passed underfoot. I felt momentarily dizzy. Then it was over.
At that moment I thought sun stroke had cause the vertigo, not a 5.8 magnitude earthquake that rattled much of the northeast United States. As I later discovered, other than some minor damage in Virginia and a famously tipped-over chair in Washington D.C., the east coast earthquake was no big deal – despite my panicked neighbors and the media hype.
But what was a big deal was the news that I discovered as I surfed the earthquake coverage on the web. That same afternoon Gary Vaynerchuk aired Episode 89 of Daily Grape, the video blog that took the place of Wine Library TV. Under a headline that read “The Final Grape”, Gary announced that he was fully retiring from online wine video production.
Talk about the earth shaking! As things like this often do, the news made me reminisce and think about Gary’s impact on the wine world and Croatia in particular.
As many of you know, during the five-year lifespan of Wine Library TV (WLTV) Gary produced two episodes devoted to Croatian wines, numbers 553 and 798.
Episode 553 aired on October 7, 2008, a time when few people knew that Croatia produced wine (Wines of Croatia was founded a few months later). As it turned out, the star of that episode was Zlatan Otok 2004 Plavac Mali Barrique, the wine that brought “thunder” to WLTV and Gary called “sensational”.
You can watch WLTV Episode 553, “A Croatian Wine Tasting”, here:
In late 2009 I happened to meet Gary at a wine tasting and told him about my work with Wines of Croatia. It was evident that he was very interested in Croatia, and he promptly invited me to be a guest on his show.
Episode 798, “Tasting Wines from Croatia”, aired on January 11, 2010. You can catch it here:
The response to my appearance on WLTV was overwhelming. I received dozens of emails of support and inquiry, and the number people following the Wines of Croatia page on Facebook doubled overnight. For this I am forever grateful to Gary. With that gracious invitation, he provided me a golden opportunity to share my love and passion for Croatian wines with a far wider audience than I was able to reach on my own.
Sadly, on March 14, 2011 Gary ended WLTV at Episode 1000, a milestone number and a respectable achievement. At the time he said that he was taking a break to work on new initiatives but that his regular appearances on WLTV were more or less over.
But then rumors of a new project surfaced, and on March 14, 2011 Daily Grape was launched. Suddenly all seemed well again in Garyland. The next chapter in a seemingly unstoppable quest to dominate wine-related social media content had begun.
Over the course of 89 Daily Grape episodes, Gary introduced his viewers to an array of funky grape varieties and geeky wine regions. He paired wine with doughnuts.
He also initiated a new feature called “Behind the Grape” which included guest appearances by heavy-hitter wine gurus such as Andrea Robinson MS, Cameron Hughes, Dr. Stephane Vidal, Evan Dawson, Daniel Johnnes, and an excellent appearance by “The Juiceman” and Master Sommelier, Fred Dexheimer.
But the highlight for me was the much-anticipated episode devoted to Plavac Mali, Croatia’s most-important native red grape. Although his review of the wines didn’t knock off any socks, the important message was that Plavac Mali has arrived and the wines are unique and people should pay attention.
You can see Daily Grape Episode 86, “Plavac Mali from Croatia”, for yourself HERE (sorry the embed function wasn’t available for this episode).
On August 23, 2011, after a few weeks’ vacation with his family, Gary returned to Daily Grape to announce – with little fanfare and obviously toned-down energy – that the end had arrived. Daily Grape Episode 89 would be his last.
As I watched Gary explain his decision, the ground of my perception of the wine world heaved and shook. Can this be? Who – if any one – can fill the void left behind by Gary’s absence from wine videos? Will he still be around to inspire? To provoke debate, ire, laughter? Will anyone ever again be able to get away with saying a wine smells like a “zebra”? Or dare to find out what wine pairs with Lucky Charms, Captain Crunch and Cinnamon Toast Crunch breakfast cereals?
Alas, I know we must go on. But today I feel that the broadband universe is a much lonelier place; the virtual wine world a tad less cool and sassy….
Say what you want about Gary (his style and personality have been the source of much divided debate), he undoubtedly made an impact on the wine industry. Over the years his internet broadcasts reached countless viewers in the U.S. and abroad (I can attest, Gary has near rock star status among many wine geeks in Croatia).
More important, he introduced a new generation of wine consumers, many of them from the coveted “Millennials” demographic, to the magic of vino and grape varieties with crazy names like Debit, Graševina, Malvasia Istriana, Plavac Mali and Teran. If it were not for Gary, many “Vayniacs” and others would still be in the dark about Croatia and its wines. For that he deserves credit and a huge note of thanks from everyone involved in producing, importing and promoting Croatian wines.
Love him or hate him, one could not ignore Gary while at the same time claiming to be serious about understanding contemporary trends in social media and wine marketing and consumption. Whenever Gary “sniffy-sniffed” and described wine, tweeted, or posted a Facebook comment, online conversations erupted and debates simmered and sometime exploded.
And presumably somewhere along the way, a bottle of wine was sold. After all, Gary transformed Wine Library from a $4 million mom & pop wine shop into a $45 million internet sales-driven business, as well as a physical destination for Gary gawkers, Wine Library TV pilgrims, “Cinderella Wine” value hunters, and serious wine geeks.
After my January 2010 appearance on Wine Library TV, the wine that Gary most liked on the show – Clai 2007 Ottocento Crno – disappeared from the shelves of the Whole Foods store on the upper West Side of Manhattan. I know this because that is where I got the bottle that we tasted together. There had been about 10 bottles on the shelf when I purchased it. When I went back a couple days after the episode, the Clai was sold out.
Today it is hard for me to conceive a world void of my regular fix of Gary Vee on TV. Yet in my disappointment and sadness, I sense that there is reason to be excited. Gary will surely explore new avenues for his intense ambition, energy and creativity. “It was never in the cards for me to spend my entire career for me to be a wine critic”, he said. “I love wine but I am an entrepreneur first. I am ready to do some new things.”
No matter what he decides to do next, it is clear that Gary Vaynerchuk has forged a stunning trajectory towards success. While he said that he hasn’t completely closed the door to doing occasional video blogs in the future – which would be great, it doesn’t matter. He had a great run, and we have many episodes in the WLTV and Daily Grape archives to revisit from time to time. What comes next is (for now) just happy fodder for the imagination.
And to Gary I say this: Thank you for all the fun, the passion, for keeping it real, and for leading us off the beaten path to mysterious wine lands, where much vino was shared among friends and strangers alike. I wish you nothing but happiness, continued success, good health, a lot of love, and of course many more bottles of Croatian wine!
I look forward to seeing you again somewhere out on the field of dreams.