Are you a would-be oenophile who sticks to beer or vodka tonics in an attempt to avoid the snobbery so often served up with sauvignon? Second Glass is here to bring you around to the bottle. Founded by former Bostonians Morgan First and Tyler Balliet, Second Glass aims to make wine accessible via Wine Riots, events that the company defines as two parts education and one part revolution.
After attending the Wine Riot at the Boston Park Plaza Castle earlier this month and staying at a Boston vacation rental and speaking to Balliet, I can now answer the following questions with ease: “Can you get good wine from a box?” Yep; “Can great wine come from Massachusetts?” Surprisingly, yes; “Is there such a thing as a wine event that is devoid of old boys in tweed waxing poetic about a wine’s nose and legs?” Yes. Thank you, Second Glass. Yes.
Balliet is a former wine writer who noticed a hole in the market. While wine was alive and well with older folks, younger people just weren’t drinking it. Balliet knew that his peers were interested in learning, they just didn’t have the resources to do so. Sure, they could read about it, but who wants to read when tasting is more rewarding (not to mention more fun)? In the summer of 2008, Balliet partnered with First and turned this realization into what is now Second Glass. Their goal? To present people with the opportunity to experience wine in an educational setting while allowing them to connect with people who were just as curious as they were.
The idea that wine should be about fun and curiosity isn’t as revolutionary as the reigning wine culture makes it seem. Balliet notes that he has never encountered pretension among wine makers and others that work closely with the product. Even in France, where he lived for a few years, wine was regarded as something to be enjoyed and explored. That wine should fill the glasses of erudite socialists is a strictly American idea that can be traced back to Prohibition. Rather than making us a more upright society, the ban on booze spurred a cocktail culture. As many of us know from our wayward teenage years, a handle of vodka is easier to smuggle than a case of wine. By the time wine reappeared on the American market, it was bolstered by a group of people who appreciated the fact that it could be debated and discussed as well as imbibed. Slowly but surely, wine became one of the only products whose technical language became its marketing language.
I can’t vouch for makers themselves, but there was certainly no pretension among the distributor representatives I encountered at Wine Riot. And while I’m sure they possessed a wealth of knowledge and technical jargon I couldn’t even begin to appreciate, they mercifully refrained from using it, and instead discussed their products with an enthusiasm and ease that was not only easy to understand, but easy to get excited about. After tasting the wines being offered at Mouton Noir, the rep asked if I was ready to try the “big boy wine.” It wasn’t the kind of language one would encounter in The Wine Advocate, but it definitely made me want to drink up.
Wonderfully, this fantastic wine fell within the price range of everything Mounton Noir was offering up that night (between $17 and $24). Balliet noted during our interview that “price and quality are not directly related.” Barring those wines he’s purchased as gifts, the co-founder of Second Glass reports that he rarely spends beyond $40 to $50 on a bottle. It seems wine and fashion have something in common: You buy a $150 bottle of wine for the same reason you buy a pair of Gucci sunglasses. True, you’re getting a superior level of craftsmanship, but ultimately, you’re paying for the label. And just as that dude in designer jeans, shades and (seriously?) t-shirt may prove to have less than a sparkling personality, you can’t judge a wine by its bottle.
As it turns out, good wine can also come from a box. In fact, a box lined with medical-grade plastic prevents air from getting inside and turning your yummy red wine into vinegar. Unlike bottles, which will keep wine fresh for about 48 hours, a box can be opened and then left on your counter for a month without altering the product. The reason everyone’s not doing it lies in the price. Compared to bottling, putting wine into a box is extremely expensive for producers.
Balliet also emphasized that in the same way wine isn’t bound to a bottle, it’s also not bound to traditional wine producing regions. Though he admits that the wine that got him into wine hails from France’s Loire Valley, he admits to finding delicious offerings from all sorts of unlikely places since then. He is a huge advocate of local wine and insists great wine can be made in all 50 states. Sure, terrible wine can be made in all 50 states, but France can turn out some crappy wine, too. It’s important to remember, Balliet notes, that 25 years ago, everyone thought the guys trying to grow grapes out in California were crazy.
So what’s the image of a satisfied wine rioter? Someone who leaves knowing more about both wine and themselves. “I want people to come and leave with knowledge they can apply to wine buying. My goal is to make wine buying easier and more enjoyable,” Balliet said. Given the crowd at Wine Riot and Second Glass’ ingenious integration of technology (want to give your wine two thumbs up and take a note or two? There was an app for that) it seems more and more 20-somethings will find themselves thinking outside of the beer aisle.