Thursday, February 17, 2011

Wine Guys TV

I didn’t drink alcohol for the first 37 years of my life, for first spiritual, and then personal, reasons. Once I decided alcohol was no longer the enemy, wine became my libation of choice. I dabbled with it in 2008, cooked with it, joined a wine discussion group, and just kind of dangled my toes in fermented waters. By early 2009, wine was a quasi hobby, but I didn’t really know much about it. Wanting to know more about wine, and the wine culture, I did what and good American would do. I consulted that there internet.

I searched for a few weeks and, except for sales sites, I wasn’t finding very much objective information about wine. One day, I was dinking around YouTube when I came across a video of two guys, at a kitchen table, reviewing and rating a bottle of wine. I watched it, clicked around a bit more, and discovered they hosted a regular online show called “The Denver Wine Guys,” which began on YouTube on February 25th, 2009.

In those days, Keith Miller, co-owner of Mile High Wine and Spirits, and Bryan Criswell, owner, at the time, of Park Avenue Wine & Spirits, would sit at Keith’s kitchen table, taste & discuss a bottle of wine, and rank it according to Robert Parker’s hundred point scale. The hosts’ goal was to promote good wines, and stimulate an interest in drinking quality vintages. Thus, not wanting to discourage viewers from buying specific labels, when they scored a wine below an 80 point value, their policy was to leave the episode on the proverbial cutting room floor.

Now, if the show had just been a series of single vintage reviews, I’d have lost interest within a few days. Fortunately, they peppered their reviews with educational tidbits about the world of wine. In one show they explained proper etiquette for people at wine shows, on both sides of the booth. Another show exhibited a flavor wheel, which drinkers can use to clearly define what they’re tasting; apparently, they had a peeve about people comparing wines to green Jolly Ranchers. Among my favorite tidbits were the spiral funnel drinkers can use to oxygenate & mellow harsh wines, and the “green rinse,” which involves multiple drinkers rinsing their glasses with the same ounce of wine before tasting.

A few months into the show’s run, they changed the name to “Wine Guys TV,” perhaps to appeal to a broader online audience. Around this time, they began their initial experiments with doing episodes on location at restaurants and vineyards. Their first few attempts at roving reporting hit some bumps as far as background noise and audio quality. However, it wasn’t long before such hurdles were ironed out, and the quality of the segments improved.

The next step in the show’s evolution occurred in September of 2009, when they moved the show from YouTube to Unfortunately, if they had announced the move to viewers, I missed it and thought the show had ceased production. It was only when I stumbled across Keith on Facebook, that I learned WGTV had moved to Viddler because Keith favored the site’s features over those of YouTube’s. I was happy to have access to the show again, and things were pretty much status quo until about March of 2010, when Bryan Criswell made a sudden, and unexplained, departure from Wine Guys TV.

In retrospect, there may have been hints of a schism between Bryan and Keith. During his final few months on the show, Bryan repeatedly stated the idea that people shouldn’t drink the same wine twice. He compared previously tasted wines to movies you know the end of. The frequent proposal of this idea, left Keith to defend the concept that favorite wines, and movies, could be enjoyed more than once. There was another brief on-air tiff, when Bryan scolded Keith for making a negative remark about ,“his girl,” Sarah Palin. Whether these on-air disagreements lead to Bryan’s eventual exit from the show, or not, is pure speculation on my part though.

Regardless of the reason, Bryan’s departure ignited a two to three month rocky patch for WGTV. Keith tried to keep the table side reviews alive with different co-hosts. His first attempt was with Jake, who spoke well but didn’t really understand the hundred point scoring system, and gave good wines 7 & 8 points rather than 85 & 90 points. Next, Keith tried teleconferencing with a co-host from Alaska, via a laptop on the table. However, due to the vast distance between them, they were rarely able to drink the same wine, making the segments severely problematic.

While the table side reviews were suffering, Keith was doing a weekly on location segment, at Mondo Vino Wine & Spirits, called “What’s In William’s Bag?” Fine Wine Specialist, William Davis proved to be marvelously articulate and knowledgeable as he talked about the history and characteristics of a different wine each week. In my opinion, these segments saved the show.

Eventually, the kitchen table segments were abandoned, and WGTV reinvented itself as a solely on location show. Once this change took effect, things really began to click for the web series. Suddenly, Keith Miller was interviewing wholesale distributors, restaurateurs, and representatives (sometimes the owners) of wineries, both foreign and domestic. He even had an Italian professor do a multi-part series, explaining which regions of Italy produced which wines, and why. In addition to these guests, William Davis began to take a bigger role in the series, and has practically become a co-host, rather than a guest.

Today, Wine Guys TV is polished informative show about the world of wine. Producing three to five shows a week, I don’t see many people producing the same volume of wine information that Keith does, except for commercial magazines. Napa Valley Wine Radio produces a half hour podcast every three weeks, and The Thirsty Traveler touches on wine from time to time, but I can’t think of another show that is produced as often, or is as broad in scope as WGTV.

Finally, I feel a need to point out that the show could easily have been a series of web commercials for Keith’s business, Mile High Wine and Spirits. It’s never been that. Out of the many on location shoots the show has done at vineyards, restaurants, and wine shops, I can’t recall a single episode being shot from Mile High.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks James... Thank you, Thank you, Thank you....Great article and great explanation of our brief history. We work very hard at it and like everything "Change is good we say" and we look forward to the future and of Building relationships on all levels. Thanks so much for the write up ... We appreciate it !!!
    Keith Miller / Wineguys TV