On this episode of the “VinePair Podcast,” hosts Adam Teeter and Zach Geballe discuss why Burgundy continues to see strong sales and a sterling reputation, while Bordeaux is struggling to remain as popular or relevant in modern wine circles. Tune in for more.
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Adam Teeter: From the lovely Napa Valley, America’s premier wine-growing region, I’m Adam Teeter.
Zach Geballe: In Seattle, Washington, I’m not going to append anything there, I’m Zach Geballe.
A: This is the “VinePair Podcast.” I think that is the tagline, right? Napa Valley, America’s premier wine-growing region, or something?
Z: I think you’ve got it right. There’s a big old sign, a couple of them if you get confused.
A: Welcome to America’s fine-wine region. I’m out here for work, doing a bunch of meetings.
Z: No drinking, I’m sure, right? No wine?
A: Oh, yes, but I’ll talk about it on the next podcast. I feel like I’ve just gotten here, gotten settled, so there’s a lot to do. That will not be my update for this Monday. Before we talk about me, Zach, let’s talk about you. What have you been up to? What have you been drinking?
Z: Good question. A couple of things. I have returned from Hawaii. Gotten back here, settled, done all that stuff. I think the two things that I had really missed on this trip, which was great in a lot of ways, definitely drank some interesting things, but just naturally for a variety of reasons, my drinking was more, not circumscribed, I certainly drank plenty, but it was just more oriented around different priorities than it might be back home. The two things that I’ve really been enjoying since being back, one is obviously being back with my full bar at home.
A: Yes, that’s always nice.
Z: I definitely packed some stuff that we took to Hawaii. I packed bar tools, I packed some bottles because I can’t really live for 10 days without at least being able to make a few cocktails. Being able to come home and really get into it in the way I wanted to is really nice. A couple of things that I’ve made at home recently that I’ve been really enjoying, been really on, I guess you would call it a Manhattan kick, because I feel like sometimes when I make drinks at home, I make a thing that’s, I think you could make an argument. It’s like, is this a Manhattan? Arguably almost more of an Old Fashioned, because in most of these cases, I’m thinking of, yes, I’m using some amount of vermouth, so the natural argument would be, that’s definitely a Manhattan. Or it’s more of a Manhattan than it is an Old Fashioned. On the flip side, I think I’ve been using a lot when my, whatever the whiskey drink I’m making, we choose to call it, is I’ve made a fair bit before I left, some grenadine, actually from pomegranates.
A: Oh, wow, fancy.
Z: It’s actually really simple, but so good. Talk about something that takes any cocktail that you might put it in just up a level without a whole lot of work because you can buy nice grenadine, and it’s true. Although I find it to be just, it’s really expensive, and if you can get a pomegranate that’s not that expensive. I also don’t use that much, so do I need an eight-ounce bottle of grenadine? Probably not. I need three ounces to get me through the entire winter. It does just add such a nice note to cocktails, in particular, I find whiskey cocktails, although it goes great with other spirits too. The thing that I love about it is it adds the — even though it’s a sugar syrup and so it’s sweet, you do get a lot of tart and bitter characteristics from the pomegranate pips when you boil them in sugar water. It just lends like another note to whatever the cocktail I’m making, whatever we’re going to call it, which is usually a good amount of either bourbon or rye, a little bit of sweet vermouth, a little bit of grenadine, and then usually some bitters. Sometimes I get a little wild and throw like a little splash of something else in there. Maybe it’s a little splash of blended Scotch, or maybe it’s a little splash of amaro. Done a little bit of different things. That cocktail basic configuration has been an almost nightly thing for me over the last week. The other thing is I didn’t drink a lot of beer on the trip. Despite what you would think and despite the staggering popularity of, in particular, beers from Kona Brewing and stuff, we did go to a brewery a couple times, which was fun, a local brewery in Hilo, but I didn’t drink a lot of beer. It was just more wine and spirits because of a variety of things, or wine and cocktails. I’ve been drinking a lot of beer. Again, it feels like a mid-winter thing for me, including a really delicious bottle from my small beer collection of — there’s a Fremont Brew here makes every year they make their B-Bomb, which is their like, big, super-rich imperial stout type thing. That’s like bourbon barrel age, blah, blah, blah. I say blah, blah. It’s good. We had a bottle of it the other night. It’s just like coffee and rich and coffee and chocolaty and like a good beer to have when it’s like 34 degrees out. That’s been me. How about you, Adam?
A: I went to Washington D.C., our nation’s capital, last weekend with Naomi to do like a fun little weekend away. I had not been to D.C. in a really long time. I have to say it’s gotten pretty cool.
Z: Oh, good.
A: The food and drink scene has just really leveled up. There are a lot of people in the scene now making really great drinks. Just really great food. I had one of the best meals I’ve had in a really long time at Bresca, which is in D.C. on 14th Street. It’s dope. It was just such an awesome experience. Will Patton is the beverage director there. He and Sara, who’s his — we sat at the bar. I love sitting at the bar, by the way. Sorry, who’s his head bartender, just were so awesome to talk to all night. They made incredible cocktails for us. Well, for me. They made a pretty good non-alcoholic one for Naomi. It was like they do a tasting menu, but it’s not insanely foofy, if that makes sense. It’s very chill, down to earth. I had probably the best duck I’ve had in a really long time. That was just, that was super cool to see. I also had these really incredible cocktails at Allegory, which is a cocktail bar inside of the hotel I was staying at, the Eaton Hotel, which is also really fun. Felt like a weird blend between the Ace and, I don’t know, maybe the Hoxton for people who know those kinds of brands, but very accessible. It was a speakeasy but not a speakeasy. You had to wait and go into a door that was in the lobby and then they had these really cool paintings all on the walls. It is interesting, though, how trends go from one city and then come to another city. The cocktail bar, the menu definitely had a lot of clarified cocktails, which were definitely all the rage in New York five years ago, where everyone was clarifying everything. That was happening at Allegory. I remembered how much I love clarified cocktails. When you make a milk punchy-type thing, it just gives the drink this roundness to it that you wouldn’t get in its original form. There was this one cocktail on the menu that literally tasted like — did you ever have, when you were a little kid, Flintstones Push-Up Pops?
Z: Oh, did I ever.
A: That’s what this cocktail tasted like. They carbonated it and served it in a soda bottle. They brought it to you in the soda bottle. They had a branded Allegory bottle opener, and you pop the cap. I drank it and I was just like, “Holy sh*t.” I’m sitting outside in the heat after running through the sprinklers or something, drinking a Flintstones Push-Up Pops. It was so cool. I just think there’s just a ton of stuff happening there. We got to go to this cool place called Imperfecto. There’s a cool Latin scene happening in D.C. as well. There’s this whole new Latin market that opened, or South American market that opened in the same area as Union Market. We went to this tequila-focused place, or agave-focused bar for lunch called Destino. That was really special. Everything was really cool. I had this crazy whole roasted fish at Amazonia. I was very very, very impressed by everything. I was saying Naomi had the best non-alcoholic cocktail she’s had since she’s been pregnant.
Z: There you go.
A: This amazing woman, she’s the bar director of this place called Michele’s in D.C.. Her name was Judy. She made Naomi a Martini, but she used like olive brine and caper juice and like all this stuff that tasted like a dirty Martini and then she was-
A: Zach, it was awesome. She said to us, she’s like, “Most bartenders’ sort of thought process when they go to non-alcoholic is like make it sweet. That’s why a lot of people don’t like non-alcoholic cocktails. If I’m going to drink lemonade, I’ll just order lemonade.”
A: She created this cocktail that was savory and Martini-esque while having none of that in it. Just a little bit of like a non-alcoholic spirit, but not a lot, actually. It was more like all the things that she played with. She played a lot with juices and extractions and stuff that was able to create this cocktail that really felt like a cocktail. Didn’t feel like we were drinking — I tried it. I was like, “Was it just like Naomi’s drinking olive brine now?” That’s not what it was. It was super cool. I’m super high on D.C., man. People should go. I think that there are even more fun places happening there that I didn’t get to check out. Apparently, Death & Co is about to open in D.C., too, which is kind of crazy. I think it’s a much more exciting city than it has been in the past. I also was really blown away by how much of a community feel it is. Everyone I talked to, because like I said, I sat at the bar a lot, it was all about propping up other places. Everyone had a list for me. “Oh, you should go here. You should go here. You should go here. These places make this awesome. These places do this great.” I just don’t feel like you see that as much in New York anymore. People are much more competitive. This was like, “No, we all rise together” type of mood. The other thing I saw in D.C. that was really cool is a lot of, especially at the bars, right? These are restaurants, but at the restaurant bars, a lot of the menus would not only list the entire team on the menu, but also what member of the team created what drink. I thought that was really amazing. It was like giving credit to everyone on the team, not just the famous bar director. It’s not just their program. It was like everyone’s program and it’s about everyone having their own menu and their own drink. I really love that. It just felt very warm and fuzzy, and it was very nice. I really enjoyed D.C. Now I’m out here in Napa.
A: You want to kick us off for today’s topic?
Z: I do. It’s funny because I know last week we talked a little bit about how there’s a way in which when it’s just you and me doing the pod, it has like a little bit of a throwback feel for you and me, I think. I was thinking about this question, which was prompted by a reader and listener who emailed it in, Joel Velasquez. Thank you, Joel, so much for sending in this question. He basically asked, why is it that even as Burgundy, as a region, they continue to struggle with climate change-related issues, but in the marketplace sense, Burgundy is still super hot? People want it. It’s not even just like the grand crus. Burgundy has really well-known wines, but you’re seeing because maybe as those have gotten more and more expensive, you’re seeing more and more demand for premier cru and village wines and wines from lesser-known villages or places that might not have been thought of as well. Bordeaux is struggling. The winemakers there are basically agitating towards the French government to basically either provide them with more financial support, or basically talking about destroying some amount of existing stock, or ripping out vineyards, et cetera because basically, the price for their wines has dropped. He kind of wanted us to go into like, why is there this huge dichotomy between these two iconic French regions? This is giving me the warm fuzzies because we used to talk about Bordeaux and Burgundy on the podcast, and then those other podcasts on the VinePair Podcast Network, “Wine 101” came on. Keith does such a great job talking about these things that in some ways we don’t get to sort of dive into. This is kind of a newsy story, so we get to talk about it. I was like, “Oh, man, I remember when we would just like talk about Bordeaux back in 2019.” Anyhow, a little throwback for us. Do you have thoughts on the basic question as posed here?
A: I think that the problem is that, so first of all, Burgundy has just become — all the things have worked for Burgundy at the same time. You had the rising natural wine movement. Natural wine decided to scoop up Burgundy and say that all the wines from Burgundy were natural. A lot of them are made sustainably, native yeast fermentation, all that stuff, but they’re clean, so let’s not call them natural. Let’s call them good. Anyways, so that got scooped up. You have on top of that, the just general consumer and trend in wine going towards acid, so fresh fruit acidity which Pinot Noir has in spades. You also have people looking for wines that are able to drink young, which Burgundy can also do, which a lot of — we’ve talked about this as well with Napa Cab, like some of these wines they can’t. They just can’t. They’re just not as delicious. The tannins are way too aggressive. They’re too big. They just don’t work. Burgundy is able to even at a higher price point be really delicious when almost every list I look at now, I know talk about this on the podcast a lot, I see tons of Burgundy on the list across the country. It’s always like the vintages, I don’t think I see a vintage older on most lists than like 2018. Everyone’s drinking young Burgundies. If you saw 2018, 2019 Bordeaux, you’d just be like, “No, no, no. That’s not ready,” not unless you want to have the enamel ripped off your teeth. I think that’s also what’s happening here. I do think that Burgundy has reemerged in people’s minds as that status line. Burgundy is like the ultimate status line. Bordeaux isn’t. That’s also because a lot of the wine professionals of the last decade or so have not been that interested in Bordeaux because, we’ve talked about this on previous podcasts, it’s the same thing. You don’t want to drink what your parents drank. Bordeaux is Bob’s wine, man. Bob Parker loved Bordeaux. Bordeaux is what made him famous. He correctly or, however you want to believe it, people think the mysticism behind the rise of Robert Parker is that he picked a vintage as excellent before anyone else did.
Z: Yes. Everyone thought ‘82 would suck. He said it would be good. He was presumably proven to be right.
Z: Not that I’ve tried a lot of ‘82 Bordeaux.
A: No, but that made his career. That made people of his generation, because again we listened to people of our generation, wine, pay attention, and Bordeaux became a wine that people’s parents drank, and Bordeaux became everywhere. For that reason, there’s a rejection. Now there’s one other thing, though, which I think no one likes to talk about, but which is true. There are over 7,000 wineries in Bordeaux. 7,000. I think the last that I saw in the U.S. was like, or maybe around 8,000 or 9,000 in the entire country. 7,000 in Bordeaux. What does that mean? That means there’s a lot of sh*t Bordeaux on the market. There was a lot of sh*t Bordeaux pumped into the United States and other places in the ‘80s and ‘90s when Bordeaux was becoming super popular when all Robert Parker was writing about was the classified growths, of which there are not, there’s less than a hundred, but everyone was like — there was this craze. I’ve seen Bordeaux served on planes out of plastic bottles. There was just a lot of bad stuff. I think all of that combined, and there’s just not a lot of Burgundy. There are not a lot of Burgundy producers. The land is very expensive in Burgundy. A constrained supply means demand, it means status, it means all those things. Bordeaux can equal demand at all times. If you really start looking into Bordeaux, it’s all a bit shady. We talked about this before as well. The fact that if you’re a classified first growth and you buy a new vineyard, that vineyard just also becomes first-growth vineyard. You can keep your supply as a classified first growth. Also, because the classification system, which we don’t even have to get into now, is also bullsh*t. It was for a world’s fair that no one cared about. I’m sure you have lots of thoughts, which I can’t wait to hear. That’s why it’s all those things.
Z: I think actually the biggest explanation for this is that there’s just a sh*t ton of Bordeaux on the market. That’s true both across all quality classification levels. Just as you said, Bordeaux is a much, much, much larger growing region than Burgundy. Also, even the high-end wines, there can be a lot of it produced because, as you pointed out, the production is less constrained by a single plot of land and is tied to the domain, frankly the brand that makes it. Those things can be, as you said, grown by vineyard acquisitions. They can be eliminated by or they can be split. They can be eliminated if one classified growth is purchased by another, et cetera. There’s just a lot of finessing of it. As you said, the origins of it are frankly antiquated. The real dirty secret of all this is that the thing that this was based on, which was the selling price for these wines in 1855, which itself would be, you’d argue what possible relevance could that have now, it was also a pre-phylloxera Bordeaux, where the plantings were completely different. It was mostly Malbec at the time. It’s like any adherence to that system, it’s an anachronism or it would be a cute anachronism if it wasn’t also a huge determinant of price. The other thing is the first-growth Bordeaux wines are just available, man. They’re out there. You can go to Total Wine and you can buy them.
A: You can buy them, and they put them on special sometimes.
Z: It’s just like people still buy them. Honestly, I’ve tried some of them. Some of them are really f*cking good. This is not meant to throw shade at some of the great wines from Bordeaux. For my own personal consumption and collection, I buy more Bordeaux than I do Burgundy. Some of that’s because Caitlin is not a big fan of Burgundy, so it makes it easier for me to not go that route, although I do like it from time to time. It is also just the truth that there isn’t the cachet of like, this wine came from this tiny delimited plot of land with this few numbers of vines on it. You can just know that there’s only so much of it in the world, like there are only 2,000 bottles of this wine made, not an unknown number that, sure, the producer probably knows just how much first growth X they’ve made. Do you as the consumer? Probably not. It’s harder to understand or know what is driving the prices to where they are. I think you make a great point that Bordeaux is a previous generation’s wine. It’s now, unfortunately, stuck not just as a previous generation’s wine in some way, but in this unfortunate stylistic middle ground wherein it’s never going to give you the — well, not never, but most cases, it’s not going to give you the power fruit concentration and depth of flavor that’s, say, like Napa Cab will give you. It’s not as much, in my eyes at least. Obviously, some Bordeaux lovers and other people would argue with this contention, it’s not as terroir-driven, or it doesn’t evoke a sense of place quite to the extent that you would argue that the great Burgundy does. It is a little bit like, “Who is this wine for?” in the American market. I think that is reflected more broadly in the French market, in the global market. Obviously, the French wine market is not something that either of us have a lot of expertise in, so it’s based just on things I’ve read. Obviously, the growers and producers in Bordeaux are having these issues and their biggest market is, presumably it’s still France.
A: France and then China. I think when you just think about all of the trends, like Bordeaux also was a steakhouse wine and yes, steakhouses are coming back, but they’re not, the big night out anymore is not always the steakhouse. That leaves less places for Bordeaux to own the conversation. On the West Coast, the steakhouse wine is for sure Napa Cab. You cross the Mississippi River and you come over to the East and where we pay a little bit less of a markup because it’s quicker to get the wine over, steakhouses are dominated a lot by Bordeaux. They used to be, and now they’re not as much. I think one of the really great examples of this in New York City is Hawksmoor. If you go into Hawksmoor, which is this British steakhouse that came over, and they have a beverage director who used to be at Rebel and Pearl and Ash in — there were these very trendy wine bars in New York City that were owned by Patrick Capitello. Her list is all high-acid stuff because she knows what people actually want to drink. They don’t care if it goes perfectly with the steak anymore. They’d rather drink wines they want to drink and also have a steak. I think Bordeaux is suffering in terms of the way that cuisine is just moving and personal preferences, et cetera. I really don’t think that people understand why it should cost what it is, as you said. It’s not for everything. It’s too confusing to consumers. Also, when everyone celebrates Bordeaux, just going back to this one point, when you see these wine professionals and even call them influencers who are talking about Bordeaux, where what they’re always posting are old f*cking bottles. Let’s think about this. Eric Asimov had this article he wrote in The New York Times recently about how he went to this dinner and they had all these amazing Bordeaux and they had Petrus, I don’t know, some other just crazy sh*t. What was it all from? They were World War II bottles. That was what was so amazing because he was drinking Bordeaux from World War II. Also, when does Eric Asimov from The New York Times write about just current vintages of Bordeaux? Never. Never. He’s interested in the really old stuff. That’s the thing. That is what has been prized in Bordeaux. None of us have time for that sh*t. I don’t have time to hold a bottle of Bordeaux for 20 or 30 years until it’s delicious. This is just continual themes. I think that’s one of the biggest reasons why it’s just going to continue to fall out of favor. Then you just can’t discount that there’s just so much on the market and no one really understands it. Also, do you have any classification systems? This is also how Bordeaux screwed itself. I think some people who listen to the podcast know that I actually, like, one of the first things in wine professional achievements I had was I won the national competition for blind tasting of Bordeaux, which is stupid, but I won the Bordeaux Cup. I got to know Bordeaux very well. The problem with Bordeaux is what a lot of the wineries decided is, OK, we didn’t make it into the 1855 classification, so we’re going to create other classifications. There’s so many other classifications. A consumer sees Cru *Bourgeois. What the f*ck does that mean? Another consumer sees first-growth — what does this mean? No one understands. Bordeaux’s like, “Well, we’re not allowed to be in this classification, so we need to have something of our own.” It’s like, no man, maybe you don’t.
Z: Well, it’s one of these things where it’s like, yes, you have the classified growths in the Medoc on like the left side of the Garonne that date back to 1855. Then as you said, some of the other well-known appellations on the Right Bank, like St.-Emilion have their own classification system. Now some of the highly classified wines or the top classified wines that have pulled out of it. It’s a mess. It’s a mess in a very French way. I kind of appreciate it from a distance just for its inherent messiness. You would think that it’s true that Burgundy, to come back to this point of comparison, benefits from something of a unified classification system, if nothing else. You have your Bordeaux appellation. You have your individual villages, which you can appellate as, then, of course, your premier, your grand cru vineyards. Look, there are lots of problems with the Burgundian classification system. It’s also very old. It does not respond to current ideas about a lot of these vineyards. It’s based on sh*t that monks did hundreds of years ago. It’s unclear why it should be relevant, but from the lens of a consumer and even from professionals, it’s cohesive and comprehensive in a way that just Bordeaux is not. It’s an impossible thing, so I’m not even going to waste much time on it. If it were possible to start over from scratch and come up with some classification system that truly assessed the quality of these wines and applied to them across the entire appellation, or the entire region I should say, maybe that would be a way to change the conversation around Bordeaux. Again, as you mentioned with the many thousands of producers there, that’s just never going to happen. The last thing I will say about this, though, which is I think one positive note for Bordeaux or two positive notes. One is that they do seem to be a little bit more willing to innovate and adapt. There was news in the last couple years about at least trying out some non-traditional varieties in Bordeaux with a recognition that some of the classic varieties of the region may not be suitable for cultivation, certainly, in some areas as climate change continues to take hold. At least they’re thinking forward in a way that Burgundy is not discussing planting Syrah instead of Pinot Noir and some of these vineyards, not yet at least. The other is that as just a pure consumer of wine, as a person who enjoys drinking it, what Bordeaux does have is maybe because of this confusion, maybe because the market has gotten softer, is actually a really remarkable opportunity to drink quality Bordeaux that’s not super old, I don’t think, but that you can find bottles from the mid-2010s pretty easily in a lot of places. They’re not always hard to get your hands on. They’re often relatively affordable. They’re not like, we’re not talking about just junky $15 Bordeaux that is also out there, but we’re talking about sometimes even classified growth. Not first growth, maybe not second growth. Those differences are in the eye of the beholder in the first place. You can get really delicious bottles with a decent amount of age on them for like $40, $50 retail if you look around. Obviously, that’s not easy to do in some places and you have to know where to look. I was always astonished as a buyer what I could find for reasonable prices in Bordeaux, and enjoyed putting one or two of them on my list for the person who came in and dined, who just was a Bordeaux lover for whatever reason and enjoyed having an interesting bottle that maybe was eight to 10 years old that was $80 or $90 on a restaurant list, which is a cool trick that Bordeaux can do because of its size.
A: I think that’s true. Look, I think that Bordeaux wines are beautiful. You just have to look around. You have to trust your wine merchants, et cetera, because there is just so much. There are, as you said, values. I remember one of the things that we used to love to do is go into — we talked about this before in the podcast, I think — Keith taught me this, going into these liquor stores in New York City that used to always have Bordeaux because it would sell. You could just find these incredible bottles sitting on their shelves with lots of age because people had stopped buying them that were still very affordable. As you said, you have to know where to look because Bordeaux’s so large, there’s a lot of it out there. I think, too, if you’re interested in getting into collecting or tasting all the wine and you’re willing to like play around on some of these online sites where people are selling, are auctioning stuff off, you can find Bordeaux that is still very affordable, even on the secondary market that you can buy and try older wine and understand what happens to Cabernet when it ages, et cetera. I think as an everyday high-end wine that people are going gaga for, it’s not it anymore. It’s fallen out of favor and it got high on its own supply. It rode the Parker wave and got way too big. Now I think a lot of consumers just don’t look to it anymore. Burgundy has the opposite problem. They can’t make enough of it. People want Burgundy like crazy right now. I think that that will continue to grow as well. I think that also what you’re going to see is that the regions that will benefit from Burgundy’s rise will be regions that are not necessarily in France. They’ll be regions that create fine wines that also have that high-acid profile. We’ve talked about it, but Barolo, Barbaresco, I think Etna, we’re seeing stuff happening in Mencia. These wines are what people want. They just-
Z: Pinot Noir here domestically in certain places, et cetera.
A: Twice performing so well. You’re like stuff happening in Sonoma, in Oregon. That’s what people really want to drink right now. Now the next generation, I don’t know what my future child and your two kids are going to want to drink. They’re probably not going to want to drink these wines because we drank them. This is how it works. I just can’t wait till they’re all like, “Cocktails suck.” I’m like, who knows what they drink? No, they’re all just going to inject something into their, like-
Z: I think they’re going to just vape alcohol.
A: Totally. Something like you’ll be able to take a pill and feel drunk. That’s going to be what it is.
Z: Then another pill and stop feeling drunk. That actually doesn’t sound too bad.
A: Exactly. And no hangover. It makes you social and then you take the pill when you’re done and it just stops.
A: Anyway, on that note, everyone, have a great week. I will be back in the office soon. Zach, I’ll talk to you on Friday.
Z: Sounds great.
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