Nerd + Wine = Great Idea
By By Myke Folger October 21, 2009
Eric LeVine’s the guy who created the error message you read when Microsoft Word and other applications go kaput. The study in his Queen Anne home is festooned with various acknowledgments from Bill Gates and co. for his creativity and devotion to the company.
Yet while LeVine was clearly wired for IT and figuring out ways to make computers go, something has come over him. It was during a wine-tasting trip to Tuscany with wife, Suzi (also a former Microsoftie), when LeVine’s passion for crushed and fermented grapes took hold. He was fascinated by how Chiantis produced in these small, neighboring villages made wonderful and completely different tasting wines. His curiosity and his wine collection began to grow exponentially.
“I got the bug and in a serious way,” he says with a smile.
He had a wine cellar built in his home. He began hosting wine parties and poured the latest by winemakers such as Bob Betz, who has even come to some of his soirees. He began reading up on wine varietals and started tracking his growing collection (his prized possession is a bottle of Chateau de Beaucastel) by designing an Excel-inspired online application he called CellarTracker, which he built and whose website he maintains from his home. The app allowed him to comment on how great a bottle was, whether the price was right, how the elements affected the vintage-and most important: how many bottles he had left in the cellar. LeVine turned a few of his fellow wine enthusiasts onto it, and by April 2004, much to his surprise and delight, CellarTracker.com went live. So excited was LeVine by the promise of his new venture that, less than a year later, he left Microsoft to pursue the business full time.
“If you can build something that gets better from user feedback and makes it better for others, then you’ve got something,” LeVine says. “I left because I was excited by CellarTracker. I never thought I’d be an entrepreneurial guy.”
Since CellarTracker’s launch, more than 82,000 visitors have registered and 16,000 have subscribed at $40 a year. Users are now posting 1,100 reviews a day on wine whose total worth is more than $1 billion.
“I am a nerd at heart,” LeVine notes, “and I love having people use something I’ve built.”