In 2005, Tyler Balliet, founder and CEO of Second Glass, which sponsors wine tasting events like the touring Wine Riot, moved to Boston “randomly” after a period living in France and traveling around Europe. He landed a job as a delivery driver at Bauer Wine & Spirits on Newbury Street and quickly came to a realization. “I noticed that there were a lot of young people in the Boston area that bought wine regularly but they didn’t know a whole lot about it. Working at a wine shop, I was trying to learn about wine and I realized how difficult it was just to get small amounts of information,” says Balliet, 32. “So there just weren’t resources out there. I started meeting wine producers and I realized they had all the answers to all these questions and there just wasn’t a good place we could interact.”
Along with partner Morgan First, Balliet has seen Wine Riot grow from 30 people to more than 3,000 for each tasting, with stops in Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, New York, and more. This year’s tour kicks off with a sold out event April 5-6 at the Park Plaza Castle.
Q. What can first-time attendees to Wine Riot expect?
A. We’re working with about 40 producers representing wines from all over the world. It’s a walk-around tasting. You walk in and get a glass that will be your glass for the afternoon or evening. We lay out the floor plan geographically so you can literally walk through Europe, go to California, and hit up the different regions. So you can hop booth to booth, trying different wines, and our mobile app guides you, so we preload and list every single wine that’s there and organize it by booth. It’s really more of a mobile guide that helps you remember. We also have these cool crash-course seminars that are about 20 to 25 minutes, where you can taste three to four different wines and you can learn all about really cool different regions.
Q. Wine can be intimidating. Are you trying to demystify it?
A. The big thing is just making people feel comfortable. Somehow wine became an elite beverage, but at the end of the day, it’s booze. So, yes, we’re demystifying it, but beer’s really complicated, spirits are really complicated, too, but people are very comfortable with those things. I think what we’re trying to do is just create an environment where people can come, ask any question no matter how simple or how complex, and be able to get answers. I think that not just talking about but actually tasting the different styles as you discuss it is super, super important. And most people can’t buy 200 or 300 different bottles of wine and try them, so we wanted to do that and just really create a place where people could come and learn.
Q. A major part of your operation involves using technology to assist the learning process.
A. There’s a lot of issues if you want to learn a lot about wine. One is that there’s almost half a million different wines on the shelf in the US right now and that’s really difficult, because you’re, like, “Oh, I just want one of those half a million different bottles.” Another big issue is that the wine industry is written and spoken about in a dozen different languages, so you can try this really amazing German wine but not remember the names of any of the German wineries. So we wanted to make it so people could really easily remember what they tried. We’re trying to take this information, put it online and on mobile phones, and really help people make buying decisions and make it easier for people to buy and drink wine.
Q. What’s the reaction to these events?
A. The hardest thing is that we throw a wine tasting and I think a lot of people have been to that wine tasting where it was expensive, boring, barely lit, people were talking to them about notes of blueberries and raspberries, kind of talking over their heads, and they left with a bad or not great experience. So when we’re like, “We’re throwing this wine tasting but it’s actually cool,” people are like, “All right, uh, I don’t know.” And then they come and they’re like, “That was actually awesome,” and we’re like, “We’ve been telling you that.” But it makes sense because we took a formula that’s existed for over 100 years, a buy-a-ticket, walk-around wine tasting, and just tweaked it to reach a new audience. I essentially just made the wine event of my dreams and made it really engaging, fun, and educational. People are just really stoked and come out having learned a lot and with a list of wines that they can go and buy.