Gary V arrives in South Florida with a major strike against him. He's a loud, enthusiastic (did I say loud?) New York Jets fan. He's a Jersey boy, and no shrinking violet. He calls himself the Mother Teresa of wine. Others call him its Howard Stern -- without the nudity (as far as I know).
Whatever he is, Gary V (his last name is Vaynerchuk, but nobody can pronounce it) is the most popular wine video blogger in America, with 70,000 Vayneriacs a day tuning in to winelibrarytv.com, what he calls "The Thunder Show," to hear him rant about wine.
They might catch him crying out earnestly about the quality of Arizona wines (he found four) or egging on guest Jim Cramer, CNBC's Mad Money financial ranter, to vent as passionately about a Dow's Vintage Port as he does about convertible debentures.
Gary V went on Conan O'Brien's show and got him to sniff sweaty gym socks and taste grass and dirt to demonstrate the aromas and flavors of various wines. He got Ellen DeGeneres to lick wet stones and munch cotton candy.
"Gary is a mad man," says wine collector Jacob Lipper of Weston. "I'm sure he has all the genteel wine sniffers turning in their graves."
Says Gary V: "My biggest goals in life are to have people first be intrigued with me, then obsessed with me, then to hate me."
He might succeed. In the ultimate contradiction in terms, he has a New York Jets sticker on his spit bucket.
Now you can watch him rant in person. He's just written a book: Gary Vaynerchuk's 101 Wines Guaranteed to Inspire, Delight and Bring Thunder to Your World (Rodale, $19.95). He will speak, sign books, do a tasting of Sacre Bleu wines and share snacks at Books & Books, 265 Aragon Ave., Coral Gables, at 8 p.m. Fri., Sept. 26 next week (see box).
What he won't do is instruct you on the finer points of wine. He says reading about
wine is like reading about push-ups.
"I scream and yell, and nobody should listen to a word I'm saying. Just try different things. It comes down to a person's own palate."
The 101 wines he writes about are not the best in the market, he says -- only the ones he's most excited about at the moment.
Wine No. 101 is a 2003 Mas de la Barben, Les Calices at $44 -- a blend of grenache, syrah and cinsault from France's Languedoc area (he says it tastes like strawberry fruit roll-ups).
Wine No. 50 is the 2005 Clos des Moiselles, Le Bordeaux Merlot, at $28 for a three-liter box. He compares it to dark cherries and Nestlé Nesquik powder.
His No. 1 is a sweet dessert wine, the 2005 Chateau Doisy-Vedrines Sauternes, at $39. He says it's like honey, peanuts and lemon-covered pineapple.
Also in the book, he describes an Oregon pinot noir as smelling like poop -- and he means it as a compliment. (Actually, he's right. The best pinot noirs from Burgundy have what more delicate tasters describe as a "barnyard'' aroma.)
For all this, the secret to Gary V's success is not his passion about wine. It's his expertise at social networking. He was one of the first to understand and exploit the power of the Internet with wine blogs, websites, wine videos, information on Facebook, MySpace, YouTube.
"I love that space," he says. "It will change the world."
He lectures about it to big corporations like Domino's Pizza.
The son of Russian immigrant parents who own a liquor store in Springfield, N.J., Gary V grew up stocking shelves and reading Wine Spectator magazine. An entrepreneur at heart, he established himself as a wine expert and retooled the liquor store into a respected shop called Wine Library, growing it to a $40 million business.
Gary V shamelessly plugs wines he sells in his store on his show, and artlessly sells wines in his store that he pans on his show.
"The only downside is that I pan 70 percent of the wines," he says.
Now his video blog is being picked up by Revision3, a TV network for the Web,
producing original, broadcast-quality shows.
Gary V's proud father and wine-shop partner, Sasha, says his ambition for him is to become "bigger than Oprah."
Gary V doesn't feel that fire.
"I've got my own goal. To own the New York Jets."