Watch Me Drink!
A wine guru for the YouTube era.
The show has not enjoyed unqualified acclaim. It is often noted that Vaynerchuk is working both sides of the checkout counter, reviewing wines that he happens to sell. But as he points out, he trashes a lot of those wines. In fact, he claims that WLTV has hurt his business more than it has helped; I doubt that, but I don't think the conflict-of-interest charge has much merit. A more valid criticism is that he talks out both sides of his cabernet-stained mouth. In the New York interview, he said he wanted consumers to stop relying on expert opinion and to start trusting their own palates. But when he introduces a wine on the show, he invariably cites the score it received from Robert Parker, Steve Tanzer, or Wine Spectator. And, of course, if he sincerely wanted to wean wine drinkers of their reliance on critics, he would start by removing Parker, Tanzer, and Spectator scores from his own store. Yet the Wine Library peddles ratings with gusto. Vaynerchuk readily acknowledges the hypocrisy: "I know we're part of the problem," he said. But he went on to explain that he has to separate his feelings from his interests: As much as he wishes it were otherwise, the public insists on using scores, and as a businessman, he has no choice but to yield to the market.
I suspect he was just telling me what he figured I wanted to hear. But I'm OK with the hypocrisy because a) he is a mensch; b) if I were a wine retailer, I'd probably do the same thing; and c) his show is brilliant. Behind all the gags, Vaynerchuk is conveying the essential truth about wine: It is an immensely rewarding hobby, but it is also a complicated one, and there is no quick-and-dirty method of mastering it. His singular genius is to have found a way, employing modern technology and a pop-culture sensibility, to give wine a more accessible sheen while actually presenting it in all its daunting intricacy.
When I made this point to Vaynerchuk, he heaved a dramatic sigh and said, "Thank you—you get it." Here, too, I suspect he was probably telling me what he thought I wanted to hear (he's nothing if not eager to please); he certainly gave no indication that he plans to drop the revolutionary rhetoric. And that's OK, too: WLTV is a great advertisement for Vaynerchuk, but it is an even better one for wine.
Illustration by Mark Alan Stamaty.