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Interview – Eric LeVine of CellarTracker

Back in August, I had the chance to send Eric LeVine, the creator of CellarTracker, a few questions about his cellar management software. Also, I wanted to ask him a few questions on his perspective about Spanish and Portuguese wines. For over a year now, I have been a member of CellarTracker and am constantly amazed at how much this site has changed and how I interact with my wine. Not only do I have my entire cellar cataloged on the site, but I also currently have 167 wine ratings stored. In all honesty, I get no money or benefit from publicizing CellarTracker, and say everything with no prompting from Eric, but if you haven’t already checked out the site, do so. You will be impressed.

As far as Eric’s background, the short answer is that he came later in his life to the world of wine having only really caught the bug in 1999 during a trip to Italy with his wife. But as we all know, when you catch the bug, there is no cure, and with time, Eric’s life came to focus more and more on wine. I highly suggest heading over to CellarTracker to check out the not so short Bio on Eric‘s life. It’s a good read and really shows you how a passion can become a lifestyle. So without further ado…here’s Eric!

What was the biggest surprise to you after making CellarTracker public?

Biggest, you mean I only get to answer once? That’s hard for me…

I have definitely been surprised by the growth of the site. I clearly recall when bottle 100,000 was added to the site in June of 2004. I was on vacation in Provence and checking the site every 5 minutes via my web-enabled cell phone as it neared the milestone. When it finally got to 100,000 I had to promise my wife I would turn off the phone for the next week of the vacation! However, exciting as that was, little did I believe that the site would cross 1,000,000 bottles just a year later!!!

More than the growth though, I am continually amazed by how excited and passionate people are about the functionality of the software. I guess part of that stems from the passion that people have for wine, and the site helps them to focus that a bit more. So naturally their enthusiasm carries over. Nonetheless, since CellarTracker started as a tool for my own use, it thrills me how excited people get when they find it or when I add new features or make changes on their behalf. The site is a living, breathing thing, a true web service, where the value is not just the software but the vibrancy of the whole community of users. For example, in June I created a new feature that lets people upload images of labels and bottles. And in the first 3 months people have uploaded almost 7,000 images. Extrapolating across vintages, now more than 28,000 wines have good quality images available. The whole database has 125,000 wines definitions, so people have covered almost 1/4 already! For me that is a huge WOW, that thousands of people would take time to photograph their wines or track down images on the web and upload.

Any disappointments?
My only disappointment is that I have so many ideas for things I want to add to the site and not enough time in the day to get them done as quickly as I would like. Most people are actually very contented and can’t imagine the site needing more functionality, and it has matured a lot more quickly than I originally expected. For now I am trying to keep costs pretty lean, but I may eventually hire folks to help me code. (I am already getting help on the editorial side with someone who is helping me to review and clean thousands of wine definitions.)

Why do you think there has been such a fast growth in new member registrations?
It stems from what I mentioned before, user satisfaction and excitement. This is a grassroots phenomenon. Go onto 10 wine discussion boards and post a question about wine software. I have hundreds of fans/disciples who will leap into the fray and start passionately explaining why people should try my site. It’s so gratifying!

Moving on to wine from Iberia, what do you love right now about Spanish and Portuguese wines?

Well, I should preface this by saying that I a neophyte with wines from this region. I have dabbled a bit with the obvious things like wines from Madeira and Oporto, but what I have found very exciting are dry reds from the Douro Valley as well as the wines of the Priorat. The latter especially get me very excited, as they can be very special and unique, in some cases with haunting similarities to Southern Rhone wines yet with animal and mineral flavors all their own. It is an area I hope to explore a lot more over the next decade.

Have any wines further piqued your interest in Spanish and Portuguese wines?
As mentioned before, Douro dry reds hit my radar in a big way when I enjoyed a memorable meal paired with the 2000 Niepoort Redoma and Batuta wines. The flavors and textures were so unique and new for me, deeply intriguing. And I distinctly remember my introduction to Priorat with a memorable bottle of 1999 Clos Mogador ordered off a restaurant wine list. The wine was just so loaded with minerality, rich black fruit, leather, sturdy almost chewy tannins, mmmm, it was an awesome bottle!

Name one wine from Spain and one from Portugal that you find interesting right now.
Spain: 2001 Rotllan Torra Priorat Tirant
Portugal: 2000 Niepoort Douro Batuta

Where do you find the best resources for learning more about wine?
For me the best way to learn is via tasting, especially when I can taste a dozen peer examples, blind, in a more critical setting. I like to couple that with the experience of then drinking some of the more interesting examples, very slowly, over a couple of days, with and without food, with lots of air, to see how they evolve.

Of course when it comes to seeking out information, I have found Internet bulletin boards, especially the one at eRobertParker.com to be a remarkable source of information. There are just so many knowledgeable people posting tasting notes and answering questions. I of course also rely on wine critics, particularly Parker, to help me branch out a bit.

In your personal cellar what do you wish you owned more of?
Older Bordeaux (1982, 1990) and Rhone (North and South) wines. As a young collector I just can’t roll back the hands of time, so I have to feed my urges by acquiring wines at auction. However, not knowing the provenance of the bottles can often lead to disappointing wines.

Finally, what is your favorite $10 wine and “no budget” wine?

$10: 2000 Château Cambon La Pelouse (Haut-Médoc)
-When comes down to it, Bordeaux is probably my favorite wine region, and this wine (terrific in most recent vintages) is a stunner for the $$$ in the 2000 vintage.

NO BUDGET: 1982 Château  Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande (Pauillac)
– Well, it is somewhat snooty to pick a 100 point wine, but I just love this wine. Sexy, sultry, smoky, ripe, remarkably smooth, a strong bottle is as good as it gets for me.

-Eric LeVine

I’d like to thank Eric for taking the time to talk with me and I hope all of you take the time to check out this invaluable tool. Also to hear a recent interview with Eric in Podcast format, make sure to check out Winecast by Tim Elliot.

Till soon, Ryan Opaz

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