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Wine 2.0: Internet changes wine appreciation

  • Story Highlights
  • "Wine Library TV" Internet show has about 40,000 regular viewers
  • Show takes irreverent look at wine business
  • Wine consumption has risen in United States for last 15 years
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By Neil E. Schlecht
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(LifeWire) -- Voluble Gary Vaynerchuk, 31, the host of "Wine Library TV," an online video show, has been known to lick rocks, suck leather and eat dirt while on camera, all to illustrate the unique properties of wine.

"Wine Library TV" host Gary Vaynerchuk discusses four spooky wine varieties for Halloween show.

Of a "wild and gamey" red from Rioja, Spain, Vaynerchuk says, "Hit a deer on the road. Throw a bunch of cherries on it. Take out your knife, cut the deer. Bite it. That's the flavor profile."

That kind of attitude appeals to people who are mystified by the arcane lexicon of traditional wine journals or turned off by what they perceive as elitist barriers. Across the Internet, budding wine geeks are discovering a burgeoning number of Web sites, blogs, bulletin boards and other outlets that preach the gospel of the grape in terms they can understand.

About 40,000 Internet viewers -- many of them 20-somethings -- have a daily appointment with "Wine Library TV." The low-budget video blog is produced five days a week from a nondescript office in the three-level wine retail operation that Vaynerchuk's family owns in Springfield, New Jersey.

Vaynerchuk has a discerning nose and palate, and he doesn't dumb down his subject. Yet he stuffs his patter with sports and pop-culture references -- and the kind of language a Wine Spectator critic would be unlikely to employ.

The mission of wine sites like "Wine Library TV," say several of the people behind these new outlets, is to demystify wine (and in some cases, sell it, too). Using the language, attitude and new media that appeal to a young, tech-savvy generation, they advocate trusting one's own palate rather than obeying powerful wine critics. Some of the sites also provide opportunities for average wine drinkers to share their opinions.

One site,, declares its dedication to "exploring the spirit of wine for a new generation," with reviews, online journals and essays that explain the finer points of winemaking -- all with attitude. "The (wine) establishment is about ratings and 'reputation,'" says the site's founder, Tynan Szvetecz, 29. "It's about collecting the 'good' stuff as defined by someone else's palate and tastes. That bores a younger generation."

"We're not afraid to be smartasses," he continues. "We make fun of ourselves, old-world wine makers, new-world wine makers, and anyone else we can get our hands on."

In the U.S., interest in wine is exploding. While consumption has leveled out in traditional wine-producing countries such as France, Italy and Spain, especially among young people, it has trended upwards in the U.S. for 15 straight years. The U.S. is projected to overtake No. 2 Italy by the end of 2007, according to the annual report The U.S. Wine Market: Impact Databank Review and Forecast a leading industry trade publication.

Many of the new converts to wine are the so-called Millennials, the under-30 age group coveted by beverage marketers and so comfortable online that they're also called iGen, or the Internet Generation.

One of the wine Web sites targeting a younger demographic is, which features a blog called "Wine Burps." "We love wine but hate the elitism," writes founder, Ryan O'Donnell. "After all, it's just grape juice."

With rants about wine tasting fees, a feature spotlighting "wine hotties" working at California wineries, as well as interactive maps that plot and rate wineries, leaves little doubt about its target audience., an online wine community, appeals to more established wine collectors. The site provides free software -- designed by Eric LeVine, a fortuitously named former Microsoft software developer -- that allows wine enthusiasts to create an online inventory of their wines.

The 39,000 users (who count 6 million bottles in their virtual cellars) post reviews of their wines and access scores and other data via PDAs and cell phones. Community tasting notes shed light on how cellar-worthy wines are evolving, helping others decide when to crack open a treasured bottle., another online community of wine fans, already had 40,000 users when Vaynerchuk purchased the site last year. The free service allows users to catalog and review wines. Instead of having "friends" as on Facebook, members identify "drinking buddies" and check out what they're drinking.

In the growing presence of wine fans on the Internet -- newbies as well as connoisseurs -- Vaynerchuk sees a movement. "They're part of forums, they meet up (offline)," he says. "It's about bringing people together. It's all that's right about wine."

Vaynerchuk should know. The 300-plus shows he has taped in the past two years have developed a cult following of online fans, who call themselves "Vayniacs," share wine tips and obsess about their hero on the site's forum.

On a recent rainy afternoon, Vaynerchuk barreled, unrehearsed and unscripted, through a 20-minute show in a single take. He wrapped up Wine Library TV episode No. 337 with what has become his signature line.

"You, with a little bit of me, we're changing the wine world, aren't we?" E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

LifeWire provides original and syndicated lifestyle content to Web publishers. Neil Edward Schlecht is a freelance writer based in Litchfield County, Connecticut and the author of more than a dozen travel guides.

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