Eric Asimov is a great wine writer, but he missed the point with his interesting New York Times article about Gary Vaynerchuk.
And it's a point that the wine industry would do well to consider more deeply.
Asimov, and the headline writer, call Vaynerchuk a critic. It's not an unfair use of the word, as Vaynerchuk does criticize wine and does have a 10-book contract.
But that's like calling Carlos Zambrano a hitter, or Keanu Reeves a musician. It's not wrong, but it's not his main gig.
Vaynerchuk inherited a wine shop in New Jersey. He sells wine, both there and on the Internet. He's really good at it. But the sales story is more complex than that, and this is the part Asimov missed entirely.
The US wine sales industry has difficulty now moving wines over about $15 that aren't rated highly by Robert Parker or Wine Spectator. Having become dependent on the scores for point-of-sale (POS) signs, the industry has lost the ability to tell its own stories.
Vaynerchuk's shtick is brilliant because he can sell a wine that tastes weird, by turning its weirdness into a virtue. He might say a red wine tastes of pickle juice, but he likes it that way. And people will buy it.
In other words, anybody can sell a good wine. Vaynerchuk can sell a bad one; he can describe it accurately and people will buy it to see if they get that pickle juice note.
You can't classify him with Jancis Robinson or Robert Parker, as Asimov does, because those two aren't actually trying to sell wine. It's a huge difference.
A good salesman is always energetic and enthusiastic, and turns everything into a positive. Brett's a good thing, it adds complexity! I love that green bean note, it makes me feel like I'm drinking a balanced meal!
The wine industry is still so fragile that all of us even loosely connected to it should root for anybody who can sell wine in any way. And a fact everyone knows, but nobody wants to say, is that there's far more mediocre wine than good wine.
If all that mediocre wine goes unsold, people lose their jobs, vineyards get uprooted, wineries get foreclosed.
Wines sold by Vaynerchuk benefit grape growers, enologists, forklift drivers, you name it. That's the main reason you won't find wine writers ripping the man, even if we disagree with his taste. Keep on doing what you're doing, Gary.
It's up to the industry to find or create more Garys. This is what Murphy Goode was up to in hiring a blogger for 6 months. But they looked in the wrong places.
Great Internet sales people like Gary won't come from the world of bloggers and critics -- he didn't. They will already be sales people who just haven't had a big enough stage yet.