Monday, September 22, 2008
Wine Blogger Nikitas Magel (whose beautiful website can be enjoyed at www.vinikitas.com ) attended my September wine class at Reaves Gallery in San Francisco. In preparing his post about the event, we held an email interview that is copied here.
NM: Dave, what's your background in wine? How long have you been in the industry? And what led you to where you are today?
DC: I remember two things from 1979. First, I graduated from college, and second, I knew I hated wine. I had reached this conclusion scientifically, through repeated tastings. The wine I tastes was an unpleasant combination of Cribari jug wine and 7-Up. This frightful concoction was served at our college parties, it's lack of quality more than offset by its tasteful service - usually a small wading pool complete with rubber ducks. If it was served at a high-class event, and if we had a few extra bucks in the kitty, the ducks competed with sliced fruit for clear passage. Each of my samplings resulted in the same unfavorable judgment, and my dislike for "wine" was confirmed as solidly as my belief in gravity.
I was finally introduced to good wine in 1981 during an alumni event at Callaway Vineyards. At that time, Callaway was an emerging producer of quality white wines from their estate vineyards in Temecula. I was shocked! I actually enjoyed them! I became convinced that my repetitive, scientific tastings during my college years had led me astray because they were limited to RED wines, while I was a natural white wine drinker.
That early epiphany launched an exciting period of experimentation. My roommates and I bought the best white wine our meager budgets allowed, and we learned to cook specifically to see what paired best with each wine. We held various sorts of wine-themed parties primarily as an excuse to meet women, and were rather pleased with the results. I remember that we mastered fondue, having bought a fondue pot for a buck at a garage sale. It was a fun period of exploration and discovery. On many levels.
But it took me another year to come to red wines. It happened at a steak restaurant while visiting friends in San Jose. “Shall we have wine with dinner?” they asked.
“As long as it’s white!” I replied.
“You can’t drink white wine with steak!” they said “Let's order a bottle of red and if you don’t like it, you can order a glass of white wine.” That was the night I tasted my first high-quality red wine – a Heitz Cellars Cabernet. I was stunned. Literally stopped in my tracks. I had no idea a wine could be so pleasurable and thought-provoking.
That launched a frenzied decade of wine classes and wine events. I was single at the time, so my evenings and weekends were largely my own, and I filled them with wine events.
I began teaching classes in the early 90’s out of necessity. After following a job in a small Michigan town with virtually no wine culture, I decided to create my own by teaching wine appreciation classes. I know of at least one major wine fan who can be traced back to those classes, as he and his family are still friends and customers of mine.
I kept taking and hosting classes for another decade after moving to San Francisco (wine Mecca!), and I still enjoy few aspects of the business more than sharing my love and enthusiasm for food and wine. I'd wanted to get into the industry throughout much of my corporate career, but never wanted to take the pay cut! I'd even worked in tasting rooms on weekends, assisted with a harvest or two, and tried to develop winery marketing programs in my off hours. But could never cross the Rubicon of corporate security.
But when the dot-com meltdown occurred in 2001, I found myself out of work and with few companies hiring. That was all the impetus I needed!
DC: I’d been working in corporate America for two decades, growing increasingly disenchanted but unable to tear away from the lucrative cash flow. I began working in tasting rooms on the weekends, just to keep learning about wine, and began traveling to France, Italy and other wine-producing regions to learn in situ. But it wasn’t until the dot-com meltdown of 2001 that my cash flow was severed and I decided to launch my wine career.
At first I leveraged my professional background by offering online marketing services to wineries. For one client - Bonny Doon Vineyard - a six-week project expanded into 2 ½ years. It was more fun than most people ever get to have at work (or with their clothes on, for that matter!) but it also made me realize I couldn’t reach my financial goals while consulting for wineries.
Coincidentally, about the same time I was winding down my consulting arrangement with Bonny Doon, the movie “Sideways” was released in October, and was a well-established surprise hit and likely Oscar nominee by December. As I was casting about to see what was next for me, I began making inquiries about launching my own wine club under the Sideways license, and finally launched the entity on April 1st of 2005. To commemorate each anniversary, I write an April Fool's day posting for this blog.
How does it differ from other retail enterprises? It may sound trite, but the real difference is the people involved, more than simply its unique brand. Very few enterprises have a face behind the brand these days. I mean, who can you contact at Wine.com? Wine Commune? BevMo?? Even some of the great wine retailers are completely anonymous, especially online, and some of the best local merchants are nearly invisible online. We still have humans on the front lines, my name on every email, and a personal reply to each inquiry. More than our unique brand, that’s what differentiates us.
NM: What prompted you to begin teaching classes now? What do you hope to accomplish with your classes? What's your favorite aspect of teaching them?
DC: I hosted wine classes and tasting groups throughout the 90's, but by 1999 my work load became oppressive and eclipsed my wine classes (each of which required 20-30 hours in preparation). But when I got involved with the wine shop “Tastes of the Valleys” in Solvang, I began teaching again, and remembered how enjoyable it was to share my enthusiasm with others.
It was a casual meeting with an old friend that resulted in the monthly “Third Tuesday” classes at Reaves Gallery in San Francisco. The gallery space limitations mandate small, intimate classes of 10 - 15 people. The classes have developed a nice group of regulars who look forward to catching up and sharing new wine discoveries each month. I love it!
NM: Future plans or changes for the club? For the classes?
DC: There are so many things to talk about! I am always looking for ways to break the model and re-invent what I’m doing. That assures that I remain both enthusiastic and prepared for whatever comes next in our industry.
My top predictions for the wine industry in ten years? I will be very different. Look specifically for a new wave of opinion leaders as well as a vastly different distribution landscape. Watch for mobile computing and other forms of electronic communities to have increasingly significant roles. Moderate consumption of wine will be increasingly recognized as a healthy part of a daily diet, so watch for wine to grow ever more common on our dinner tables at home.
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