Hurricane Vaynerchuk: Cat 4 and strengthening
Disclosure: Gary Vaynerchuk is a nominee for Wine Enthusiast’s “Innovator of the Year” Wine Star Award. I hope he wins. If he does, I look forward to meeting him next Jan. 25 at our awards ceremony in New York.
If he is “a new media pioneer, showing how things can and will be done,” which is how Jancis Robinson described him in yesterday’s Pour blog in the New York Times, I wish him luck. I will be retired and living off fond memories when Gary takes over the world. So it’s not as if I feel threatened by his rise, or anointment, as the case may be.
I had lunch today (yesterday as you read this) with a Californian who was recently on Gary’s Wine Library TV show, and he told me that Gary told him he’s getting bored with WLTV, desperately longs to be as famous as Parker and is thinking of moving beyond wine into other areas. The winemaker added that he was a bit put off by Gary’s obvious ambition, but went along with it anyway. Hey, a chance to be on Gary’s hit show is not to be missed! The man moves product (although not nearly as much as a good review in Wine Enthusiast). I told the winemaker that I can understand the desire to be famous, but when it’s so obvious, it’s unseemly. (I have a problem with Gavin Newsom for the same reason.) Maybe it’s because I was raised in a different generation, where naked ambition was not flaunted, but hidden behind a veil of propriety. Perhaps my generation was hypocritical. I like to think it was tasteful.
A few weeks ago I blogged “Move over Perez Hilton, here comes Gary V.” in which I inferred, and implied, that Gary — now a certified celebrity himself — was moving closer to becoming a chronicler of other celebrities, a sort of Ryan Seacrest (who makes, what? $20 million a year). There’s a lot of cash to be earned, and Wine Library TV is probably too small a platform to really make the bigtime.
I found the most interesting part of Asimov’s Pour blog when he reported that Jancis “grimaced” at Gary’s wine descriptions when she tasted with him, which perhaps provides some insight into what she thought of his wine knowledge and understanding. Nonetheless, here Jancis is, overcoming her horror to praise him as the coming thing.
My problem with Gary, Wine Enthusiast’s nomination notwithstanding, is that he seems to be a pure product of our celebrity culture. Although he’s not particularly young and, as I understand it, losing his hairline (who am I to talk?), he could be the host of an MTV entertainment show, which is what I alluded to in my blog. His personality is perfectly suited to television and the video Internet: raucous, irreverent, hyper, funny, quick-witted, a little coarse, able to take a punch and come back with a stronger one. He’s not hard on the eyes. Think Seacrest, Craig Ferguson or even Conan O’Brien. These are celebrities who are famous because it pleases us to watch them, not because of anything they “know” or have to teach us. Gary V. is the Conan O’Brien of wine media these days.
“His persona is as much about marketing as it is about wine,” Asimov wrote, insightfully. Gary’s marketing blitz — so naked, so lustful — worries me a great deal, but I also admire it. Anybody who can come so far, so fast, basically on his own merits, has got to be deemed a great success, in the way we define success, American-style, as entrepreneurial skill, and a corresponding penchant for making money — in Gary’s case, a lot.
What causes me worry is the implication Gary’s meteoric rise has for the future of wine writing. In Jancis’s description — “showing how things can and will be done” — the operative word is can. Things can happen the way Gary has made them happen because our media culture increasingly is about entertainment, not content; about sizzle, not steak; about eccentricity, amusement, shock, bread and circuses. The media culture is endlessly manipulatable by those who understand how it works. That’s wino-tainment, folks! Just because something can be done doesn’t mean it should be done. But for me to complain about that is tinkling into the wind, meaningless, and it just blows back on me.
As a lover of fine wine writing and education, I really hope the high-end version of our craft doesn’t go away. I don’t think it will. I suspect Gary will go on to an amazing career in which wine is only tangential. I also suspect that fine wine writing will always attract people who get into it, not because they expect to earn a lot, but because of their passion, and the way wine writing lets you live a wine lifestyle without lots of money.