Thursday, October 1, 2009

wino rhino interview - jesse porter, the young winos

I haven't been able to drink wine this week because I've been very sick (darned sprained ankle made me a walking disease receptor). So instead I had the pleasure of interview Young Winos ( founder Jesse Porter, 26. For those of you who don't know, the Young Winos is a social networking group of young 20-something wine drinkers with branches all across California (and one in NY too). Jesse was kind enough to let me pester him with questions about wine, his group and how he feels young 20-somethings are treated in the wine industry. 

p.s. this interview was conducted for my article, out next week. this is the entire, unabridged interview.

1. Name - Jesse Porter
2. Age - 26
3. Location - Los Angeles
4. Occupation - director's assistant

5. How long have you been drinking wine for? - Since age 20... my first summer bartending at a German restaurant in Upstate New York, when I learned the meanings of unpronounceable words like "Gewurztraminer" and "Liebfraumilch."

6. Describe your first wine tasting experience. - On a trip to the Bay Area, I stopped off in Sonoma to check out the cheese factory that I'd remembered visiting with my family when I was six.  The place has since been remodeled, but at that time, there was a tiny little wine tasting booth tucked into the corner.  I tried a lineup of Dry Creek wines, and wound leaving with an $18 Sangiovese that I absolutely loved (at age 21, eighteen dollars was by far the most I'd ever spent on a bottle of wine).

7. Does your career involve wine at all? If so, how? - No.

8. Are you one of the original founders of Young Winos? If so, what were the origins of the group? If not, when did you join and why? - I am actually the (only!) original founder of the Young Winos.  I started a beginners' wine tasting group at college that was very similar to the Young Winos: we'd meet once a week, I'd pick a specific theme and send out some reading material, and everyone would bring a bottle.  When I graduated in 2005 and moved to LA, I figured that a weekly wine tasting group would be a great way to educate myself more about wine and meet cool people in the process.

9. Tell me about your club and what it represents. - The Young Winos is a wine education organization for 20-somethings that aims to give our members a more thoughtful and informed drinking experience.  Our basic philosophy is this: while we're definitely experts at consuming alcohol to excess, we reject the wanton indifference often endemic of yesterday’s twenty-something wine consumer. Meanwhile, we simultaneously reject the exclusionary attitudes espoused by some of the more closed-minded veterans of the wine world. We’re drunks, but we’re not philistines; we’re enthusiasts, but we’re not elitists; we’re discriminating, but we’re not prejudiced.

10. As a young wine drinker, do you feel respected? Have you ever felt looked down upon because of your age? Please explain. - In a way, people almost respect you more once they realize that you know your stuff.  There's this expectation that 20-somethings are inherently less serious about wine, so when you start talking about Brix and malolactic fermentation, they kind of do a double take, and then they get really excited and want to talk to you.

11. Have you ever had any negative tasting room experiences where you feel the staff treated you differently because of your age? If so, please describe. If not, why do you feel this hasn't happened to you? - There have been times when a group of us Young Winos will walk into a tasting room, and this disapproving pallor suddenly falls over the whole place, like, "oh great, here comes the party bus."  As 20-something wine drinkers continue to educate themselves, however, the prejudices that exist in the industry will hopefully begin to breeze off... like a bad funk on a glass of Syrah.

12. How "developed" is your palate? How often do you drink wines less than $20 verses wines more than $20? - After more than four years of careful, deliberate "edutoxication," I'd say that my palate is extremely developed.  As for the $20 over/under split, I drink a lot of $20-and-over wines when I'm at tasting events and such things.  When I'm purchasing wine for my own consumption, however, probably 90% of the bottles I buy are $12 or less.  The nice thing about drinking with other 20-somethings is that there's a great urgency and desire to find the excellent bottles in the budget range, because that's all that most of us can afford to drink on a regular basis.  There's obviously a correlation between price and quality in the very broadest sense, but I also think there are many more excellent bottles in the $6-$12 range than people realize.  You just have to know where to look.

13. How does modern social networking (i.e. networking groups, Facebook, Twitter, etc) help your online club expand? What are 'Young Winos' plans for the future? - Social networking has become a huge part of the Winos experience.  Our dedicated social network,, is the platform upon which we plan events, start new chapters, and allow our 1200+ members nationwide to interact with one another.

14. How do you feel about people claiming that young people "only drink to get drunk"? What would be your response to that? - I applaud the younger generation for not yet having forgotten that wine is an inebriant, something meant to provide us with pleasure -- a fact that seems to have been lost on much of the older crowd.  Drinking wine is a layered, multi-sensual experience, and while we definitely don't condone indifference to (or detachment from) the liquid in the glass, we also don't approve of the rather puritanical practice of spitting.  Wine is not just supposed to taste great, it's also supposed to inebriate you... that's part of the experience.  Gourmands don't spit out their food to avoid getting "full," and wine lovers shouldn't spit out their wine to avoid getting drunk.  It misses the point.

15. What advice would you have for new young wine drinkers? - Try new things.  Every time you have the opportunity to taste a new grape, or to drink wine from a region with which you're not familiar, do it.  Take notes -- keep track of which wines you like, and why, and what the environment was like when you drank it (with food, without food, your location, whether or not you were already drunk... all these things are important).  Introduce your friends to wines that you don't think they've had before.  Drink wine more often.  And most of all, never be scared of wine.  There's a lot to know, for sure, but that just makes it more interesting.  At the end of the day, wine is meant to give us pleasure, and the more we know about what we're drinking, the richer and more satisfying our enjoyment becomes.

16. What advice would you have for older "wine experts" who may look down on 20-something wine consumers? - As you might imagine, I'd encourage members of the older wine tasting crowd to take this younger generation seriously.  No doubt they may well have quite fairly been jaded by the indifferent 20-something boozers of years past, but I think it's clear to anyone paying attention that this generation is serious about wine in a way that previous ones don't seem to have been.  Everything I've read leads me to believe that never before has there been a demographic of young wine consumers who are as dedicated to the pursuit of thoughtful, deliberate wine consumption as ours.  I'd also encourage them not to be put off by the idea that young people are drinking both to enjoy wines complexities and to get drunk; indeed, there might be something in our bacchanalian approach worth taking to heart.  It's never too late, I'm inclined to believe, to embrace the full extent of the pleasure that wine can offer us.

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