Daddy Cork: Eric Orange
One dude changed how America thinks about wine, and changed it for good. Eric V. Orange didn’t mean to, but that’s how history often works.
In 2000, Eric started an online bulletin board to post local wine events. Not surprisingly, he named it www.localwineevents.com. As it caught on with the public, it also caught the attention of the wine trade. A handful of sommeliers (and at least one winemaker) who had the passion for teaching suddenly had a way to reach wine enthusiasts. Within a few years, there was a wine school in almost every major city. Of course, there was a great range, from informal operations to full-fledged academic institutions. As the schools established themselves and grew, so did their influence on wine consumers.
Eric was featured at a recent Sommelier Smackdown in Philadelphia, and we got a chance to ask him a few questions. Sadly, he lost the Smackdown to Zach Morris by a single lousy point. There will be a re-match, we are told.
When did you start LWE, and why?
I used to organize wine dinners on behalf of Paterno Imports (now Terlato Wines). One night in Denver I did a dinner where 6 people showed up and three of those were my wholesale reps. Conversely, I would be at big tastings where folks would say to me, “How can I find out about events like this? I only knew of this today because someone told me”.
It occurred to me that if we all (suppliers and wholesalers) had ONE place to post them where consumers could find them all in ONE place, we would all benefit. Along came the internet.
What was the oddest (or most controversial) posting on the site?
We recently had several postings in NJ where Ron Jeremy, a 70’s or 80’s pudgy porn star was signing bottles of his “Ron de Jeremy” spiced rum in some NJ wine shops. I heard from a couple of people appalled that we would allow such postings, but I left them. Frankly, the association of drinking something from a porn star would seem a tough marketing hurdle to (ahem) overcome, but what do I know?
What was the funniest/weirdest moment in running the site?
Waking up one April’s Fools day and having an email from Marvin Shanken complimenting me on my site and asking me to drop by his office in NYC someday (which I did, but that is a whole ‘nother story). Considering that it was April first, it was a while before I believed that it was legit and not just someone jacking with me.
What was a cool experience you’d like to share about running LWE?
I got an email one day telling me about an event in China, asking me to post it and inviting me to attend. I wrote back and told them how/where to post the event and (half-jokingly) said that I would come if they would pay my way. A couple of weeks later, they replied that they would pay for me and two others to come over. An expense paid trip to Hong Kong and China was way cool.
How has the wine event scene changed from when you started?
I think some of the major events have gotten too big and crowded. It’s a quandary for wineries because they want to be where they get the biggest bang for their buck, so if they are to contribute wine and resources to attend an event, they lean towards the bigger ones. But BIG events are not really conducive to wine discovery as much as just drinking and eating.
Over the years, I have seen many wine schools grow to success. Almost every major city has at least one thriving wine school. I saw in the earliest days of LocalWineEvents.com that consumers really wanted to learn more about wine. If my website idea hadn’t of worked, I would have began a course somewhere.
Also, in the past year also, more than one event has been “Groupwnd”, meaning they used Groupon to sell tickets and way oversold the event to disastrous effect. I was at one event where half the crowd had paid full price of $50 and the other half got in for $25. They ran out of wine glasses and went to paper cups. The participating restaurants ran out of food. It wasn’t pretty. You can bet that many of those folks won’t be returning.
Anything else should we know about LWE?
We just partnered with Google Offers that has some big potential.