I have not been drinking wine for long, but I understand why people get so excited over a bottle of vino. My cousin was actually married at a winery in the Napa Valley and while I sat there sipping on a Diet Coke, I could see the reaction from people who knew what they were being poured. I have since become obsessed with wines having visited numerous tastings and having read several books on what makes a good glass of wine, why certain years are better than others, and what goes into the process of producing a bottle of wine. Another man that has learned how to appreciate a good bottle of wine is certified sommelier Rick Bakas. Don’t ask me where we met, but we connect all the time on the popular social networking site Facebook.
I compare Rick to the likes of Gary Vaynerchuk, a guy that is obsessed with wine and is doing something about his passion for the grape. So as I sat here on Facebook watching Rick work, I knew that nothing short of an interview would do his education and experience justice. So I reached out to Rick and he happily obliged. So below take some time to get to know Rick as we talk about wine and his career as a certified sommelier. Grab a glass, pour your favorite vino, and let’s learn more about Rick Bakas.
Your name is Rick Bakas. I would like to start with a few questions about your name before we move on. One, are you a Ricky originally, or a Richard? Also, how do you pronounce your last name? I want to make sure I have it right when I tell people about the interview!
My name is actually Fredrick Bakas, but since Fred is a dumb name, I go by Rick. My last name is pronounced either way.
Your current position is Director of Social Media for St. Supéry Winery. That is in the Napa Valley. With all the wineries in Napa, how did you pick this one?
When you sent these questions, it was my position. Now I’m on my own starting Bakas Media so I can do the same thing I was doing, but for the entire wine industry. I was the first person hired into the industry as a Director of Social Media.
My cousin was actually married in Napa Valley over at Calistoga Ranch. Have you heard of that winery before?
I have not, even though I lived in Calistoga for six months. How was it? I hope it was great!
Do you also live in the Napa Valley or do you have a long commute into work each morning? Or better yet do they allow you to work from home?
After living in Calistoga for the first six months, my wife and I moved to Marin so she could be closer to the city. We’re currently in the process of buying a house in Sonoma.
I bet you drink a lot of wine. Is it possible to pick a favorite?
I’ve been asked this question before, and each time I think about it, it’s actually WHO I had the wine with that’s more memorable (or a favorite). Not which bottle. I’ve had some favorite $10 bottles because I liked who I was having it with. I’ve had some $700 bottles that were okay because the person I was with was not my favorite.
How has social media changed the wine world?
Social media is changing the world currently (present tense). At the heart of it, it’s people talking to each other. We just have new tools to talk to each other, and better ways to track it.
It’s working out the way it’s supposed, which is nice. I’ve met so many more people and made so many more new true friends because of social media. It’s also given people like me more confidence to come out of my shell from the comfort of my home.
Which tools are you active on? Which is your favorite?
My new favorites are Plancast and GetGlue. Past favorites besides the obvious ones are Posterous, Evernote, Eventbrite. I also want to give a shout out to languages like AJAX, Rails and Python. Those programming languages, and the developers who use them are why social media is happening.
You wrote a book titled 75 Tips for Social Media Success. Care to share a few of those tips with us here today?
Be consistent is my favorite. Use the same avatar across all social sites and use the same screen name. Also, be consistent with your voice. Also, know when to turn it off. All these emerging tools and growing social graphs suck you in. Having balance is not overrated.
You have worked with a lot of major sports teams in your career. Is there a reason you focus so much on that industry?
That’s mostly because I worked at NIKE for eight years.
It’s football season! Who is your favorite football team?
I’m an Oregon Duck (and I designed the Oregon ‘O’). Really happy they made it to #1 in College football. Also, the other team I did the identity for was the Denver Broncos (on the design team), and since I’m from Denver they’re my NFL team even though they look mediocre.
I might be a snob when it comes to this, but I love having a cork in my bottles of wine. I just can’t get used to the screw cap. Am I crazy for refusing to buy a bottle of wine that is missing the cork?
Is the a reason you feel that strongly? Have you had any bad experiences with screw cap? It could just be a personal choice which is fine. If you haven’t had a bad experience with screw cap, maybe you’ll come around some day to being okay with it. There’s quite a bit of tradition with cork, which is part of the traditional wine experience. Sadly, about 10% of the world’s wine is bad from being “corked” which is a waste.
Tell me a little bit more about being a Certified Sommelier from the Court of Master Sommeliers. What does it take to become a certified sommelier?
You have to know a bit about grape variety, soil, climate, location. Each level of the Court requires you to drill deeper into all those areas. Also, being a sommelier also means you operate as a professional and always provide a high level of service.
What has been your biggest challenge getting to where you are today in both the wine industry and the social media realm?
Haters. There’s so many positive, supportive people who have helped me get to where I am and it’s humbling. On the other hand, there’s haters. There are a handful of people in the industry, and I guess they are competitors who continually send negative vibes my way. Gary Vaynerchuk seems to have the same challenges from what I can tell. Every now and then you see him responding to someone who was critical or negative.
What are some great wines that are not getting enough attention right now? I hear stuff coming from Oregon is pretty hot as well as a few select wines from Australia. What is making these regions flourish?
When you say “not getting enough attention,” what do you mean — attention from critics or attention from consumers? Regions like Oregon are getting mad love from critics, but maybe not from consumers, partially because of the average price point.
I drink a lot of wine, but I base my selection on how much money I have in my wallet. Is there a correlation to the price of a bottle and the quality of the wine inside?
Yes and no. Depends on the grape variety and the region. With Pinot Noir, it’s hard to find a really good pinot for less than $25 from anywhere. Luckily for wine lovers, there’s pretty much always great QPR’s from different regions.
The correlation of price to quality is all over the place. In some cases the higher price really does reflect the cost of land, handling, farming, oak, etc. In other cases, wines are just overpriced because of slick marketing and branding.
I have not been drinking wine for long, but have always been a big beer drinker. Is there a common transition from one into the other or is it different for everyone?
When you get certified as a sommelier, you learn to pay attention to your palate. Your tongue is an amazing part of the body. No matter what you eat or drink, your tongue does the same thing, which is detect sweet, sour, bitter, salt and umami.
Adult beverages like beer and wine have similarities in fermentation and food pairing. Both get their sweet, sour, bitter, salt from organic material like hops or grapes. As a sommelier, I enjoy both equally depending on the mood or food.
I am about to enjoy a steak dinner (cooked medium rare) with a side of fresh garden vegetables and a baked potato. What wine should I order?
Oh man. The list of choices would have about 5,000 wines on it. Just about anything red besides Pinot. Steak and red wine is one of the main pairings no matter which red wine. If it were at my house right now, tonight I’d probably open a Quinta do Crasto Douro Red from Portugal. Tomorrow, maybe a 1998 Shiraz from Tahbilk in Victoria, Australia. You pretty much can’t go wrong.
That’s a pretty cool story about your last name. Tell me a little bit more about where you come from and how well you knew your grandparents growing up.
I didn’t really know my grandparents on my father’s side that well. I did not know my great grandparents at all. As the story goes, my great grandparents came to the United States in 1912 and their last name was Bacchus. They decided to americanize the spelling when they got here. I’ve considered changing it back.
I can’t wait to see The Social Network. Are you excited to see it when it comes out?
What sort of music do you listen to?
Just about anything that isn’t popular. Today is was the classic jazz station on SIRIUS. Yesterday it was a bluegrass version of Jack Johnson’s songs. Depends on the day and the mood.
Based on what I know about you, I would venture to say you are a wine expert. “They” say it takes 10,000 to become an expert. Would you consider yourself a wine expert?
No. I’d consider myself an intermediate. You could spend your whole life studying wine and not learn it all. Master Sommeliers are the closest to doing that, but there’s always something new to learn. I’m just fifteen years into my learning process.
Is there such a thing as the perfect brand?
There’s no such thing as a perfect anything.
I recently had the chance to speak in Dallas and in Las Vegas. Any advice you can give me on public speaking and how to handle myself in front of a room full of people?
I like to give the audience a lot of credit and do something, or say something they don’t expect. Also, I like my speaking gigs to be 50% audience interaction.
You designed a shoe for Jason Kidd. Have you had the chance to meet Jason?
No, but I did meet plenty of other famous athletes while working at the big swoosh.
I see him everywhere I go. How talented is Brian Solis?
That dude is smart! More than that, Brian doesn’t just talk the talk, he is a cool, engaging person in real life. Really fun to hang out with.
Do you watch Wine Library TV?
If you could live anywhere in the world, where would you go?
Tell me a little bit more about your series, Back to Bakas.
I haven’t really gotten it to where I want it yet. It’s meant to chronicle my pursuit of the perfect wine and food pairing, knowing I’ll never find it. But it’ll be fun to take the journey, and maybe get close.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
With kids. Maybe an Advanced Sommelier. Still doing what I’m doing because I love it.
What do you want to be remembered for when this is all said and done?
That I lived interesting stories.
I always let the bands that I work with get the last word. Why not you? Go.
Cross pollination is the secret.