Oct. 25, 2012
Wine social network Big Red Vine launches in NYC
The Big Red has launched The Big Red Vine, a new social network of Cornellians in the wine industry.
The blending of Cornell and wine goes back many years, and higher education and wine also tend to go together, because it's the highly educated who tend to consume wine, said Hank Zona, ILR '82, who helped host the launch of the network with a panel discussion. That event was followed by a dinner paired with the panelists' respective wines at the Cornell Club, Oct. 23 in New York City.
The wine market comprises anyone with "affluent aspirations," the panelists agreed, who are all Cornell alumni in the wine business.
"It's serious, but it's serious fun," said Zona, who also hosts the YouTube series "The Grapes Unwrapped."
There's currently a "wine glut," Zona said, noting that 165,000 wines were released into the U.S. market last year. Of that, panelist Mark Censits '83, a wine retailer featured in The New York Times and founder of CoolVines, sells 450 of them online and in his two New Jersey shops. Panelist Birk O'Halloran '06 distributes 800 to 900 wines, and panelist Mike Beneduce '10 produces eight wines.
In this competitive market, the power of a wine's brand is "a tough thing to overcome," Zona said.
An engineer-turned-wine-retailer with several sommelier certification schools in between, Censits had found himself disappointed with his engineering career. Wine, on the other hand, "took me to places where I could wear a cool, red velour jacket," said the self-styled oenophile.
With a Cornell B.S. in mechanical engineering and a Wharton MBA, Censits still applies his education broadly whether it's the "systematic organization" of his stores -- his bread-and-butter $15 bottles are positioned at eye-level -- or the expansion of his business with two openings in Brooklyn and Jersey City under way.
As a retail middleman, he looks for importers and domestic distributors who are able to present a collection of six to eight wines with a "consistent taste profile" and "price-value ratio."
That's where distributor O'Halloran steps in. "I find myself slowly moving up the supply chain" as he sheds more of his winemaking responsibilities.
O'Halloran, who majored in construction management, followed his taste buds down an untraditional path to an untraditional business model.
On a rented half-acre of land at a Napa Valley winery, O'Halloran grows eight rows of grapes that yield 200 cases of wine. "It's a small yield, but that's what makes a vineyard special," he said.
In 2011, O'Halloran, a self-admitted "comic book nerd," released his $35 bottle of "Heroine," its superhero label designed by another Cornell alumnus at Comic-Con.
Beneduce, who has a dual degree in plant sciences and viticulture/enology, is a fourth-generation farmer, who opened Beneduce Vineyards in July 2012.
His harvest includes Chardonnay, riesling and pinot noir, the grapes of the wine-growing regions of Austria, Germany and northern France, which boast a similar climate to his New Jersey farm.
Straight from his vineyard, Beneduce brought a riesling, which was paired with warm riesling-poached pear topped with melted tallegio and laid on a bed of arugula and fried shallots.
The Big Red Vine can be found on Facebook and LinkedIn.
Caroline Shin is a freelance writer in New York City.