A FEW MOMENTS WITH...MARK OLDMAN   (The Madman of Manhattan) - Part 1

A FEW MOMENTS WITH…MARK OLDMAN (The Madman of Manhattan) – Part 1

Mark Oldman, is a bit of a renaissance man in the wine industry. Having penned 3 books on wine, Oldman takes a rather humorous, yet straight forward approach to educating others about wine. Mark grew up in New Jersey and went to school in California at Stanford. I’m sure that wasn’t a culture shock…haha. It was during his time at Stanford that he began his wine journey, which continues today, but with a much larger group of folks tagging along for the ride. Recently I was able to sit down with Mark for a few moments and find out what makes this Madman of Manhattan tick. As we really covered a lot, I’ve separated our chat into 2 parts

BP: Welcome to Booze Press Mark, glad we were able to get our schedules to sync…even if it is for just a “few moments”

MO: Glad to be with you and glad we were able to connect

BP: Been looking forward to this. So from reading background on you, it seems like you really maximized your time in college. Tell me a little about that time and how you got into wine

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MO: Well, ok. Actually, I was just pursuing what I was passionate about and was fortunate to be able to do it early on. I know from reading your stuff, you like to take the pomposity out of wine…and for me it was all about that too. I had done an oversees program at Oxford, where they took wine way too seriously. Because I knew nothing, it was actually a great club that I was in. But when I got back to California, I had the idea of making learning less competitive and more applicable to all people, because 99% of all people feel anxious about wine.

BP: So when you got back from England, is that when you stepped up your game as it were?

MO: Yea, I started a wine club, called the Stanford Wine Circle, which actually still lives on at the business school. When I was doing it though, it was at the undergrad level. We would bring the top winemakers down from Napa and Sonoma or up from Santa Barbara and Monterrey…you name it. We were very fortunate and they would love to talk about their wine. I learned so much that way. So this is what really got me into the love of wine and that thirst for learning more and more about it.

BP: I understand you still teach a class there, remotely I assume?

MO: Yes, My class though is on entrepreneurship. Stanford has a program in New York and hopefully soon, we’ll be going back to live classrooms. I know you’re an entrepreneur as well. So you know, if you can combine a career in wine and entrepreneurship all the better

BP: I’ve read the 3 books you’ve written on wine, but I also see that you have a couple of books on internships and some history in that area as well. Were you ever an intern?

MO: Wow, nice digging, that must be the newspaper side of you coming out . And yes I was an intern, absolutely. MTV, back in the crazy days, US Supreme Court, a couple of record companies. It’s amazing, that by being an intern, you get the ability to figure out what you don’t want to do…I think that’s almost as important as finding your passion. Internships were very valuable for me.

BP: So I’ve also seen something called “Vault”, is that tied in with the internship interest?

MO: Yes, So when my good buddy and I were graduating from college, and this is how the internship books came about, I said “let’s write a book” and the only thing we knew about was internships. So without really knowing what we were doing, we wrote those two books on internships and luckily they were both quite successful. Then he went on to a consulting career and I went to law school, but soon after we both became disenchanted with the idea of spending our lives in a cubicle. So instead, we decided to take the germ of an idea that we had applied to the internship books, and create on online resource. We wanted to take what was really an insiders approach, taking a deep dive into what you can expect from a job, so candidates could be completely informed

BP: So really give them the lay of the land?

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MO: Exactly, How much will you make in your first year compared to third, how are women treated? So we started by applying this to Fortune 1000 or Fortune 500 companies and then we applied it across the board. We started Vault to apply that same internship method to a larger world of jobs. We wanted to create an insider tool for job seekers. We had some ups and downs with it, it actually still exists today and is used by a lot of college students to prep for job interviews. If you look at Glass Door, you’ll see a lot of what we pioneered with Vault. This is where I see the correlation with wine. I like to peel away seemingly complex systems, that may confuse people or be clouded in mystery, and give people the inside scoop. To demystify things that are shrouded from the public

BP: Then in 2004 or so, you put together the Guide to Outsmarting Wine

MO: After I left Stanford and California, I moved back to New York. I had arranged around 45 or 50 tastings with top wine makers before I had left so I thought to myself, somewhat precociously, I can teach a beginning wine seminar. This was probably in 1991 or 92. I can teach a wine 101 class if you will. So I started by going down the list of restaurants with award wining wine lists, and I visited each of the these restaurants to see if they would allow me to hold my seminars there. Most of them said “It’s a nice idea kid, but we make much more money selling wines to diners…so no thanks”. But I eventually hit on a place, that’s actually no longer there, called the Soho Kitchen and Bar. The owner was very cool but very intimidating. He said “This idea is pure and your intentions are pure. I have an empty cabaret room upstairs, you market it, you teach it. I’ll supply the wine, so long as you don’t pick really expensive stuff.” He had a lot of wine and his servers helped me out and we split the revenue. From the very first class it was packed. I called it The Soho Anti Wine Seminar.

BP: How did that go over with the elite wine folks in New York?

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MO: I’m not sure, but it definitely struck a chord with the public. My marketing consisted of word of mouth and literally taping flyers to poles in Manhattan. Staying just one step ahead of the “Sanitation Law” Bottom line, I really enjoyed teaching about wine, but when I started Vault, I had to put it all on hold. Then a number of years later, 911 happened and there was this pall over New York and to preserve my sanity, I revived the Anti-Wine Snob Seminars and I found a new place to do them. I really loved doing them. It was not only rewarding teaching people, but even more so to teach demanding New Yorkers, cause you really need to be on your toes. It really made me learn wines in ways that I’m really grateful for, even now. So during this second go around, my students told me “You should put all of this in a book” Much like we did with Vault, it would be insiders information. So I put it all together, along with a “book” plan and shopped it around and a few publishers said yes.

BP: That sounds easy. So you were off and running at that point?

MO: Haha, Everyone thinks once you get a publisher everything is set. That’s until you look behind the curtain and there’s no there…there. They assign a summer intern to you, and he or she’s mind is not really there, so it’s sort of up to you to market it. Luckily I have some skill in that area and the media loved the book so much, my publisher couldn’t ignore it. Because of it’s success, it offered me the opportunity to write a second and then a third book. There was a lot of time and experience behind them at that point. So the success is truly based on Malcolm Gladwell’s theory of 10,000 hours, which started with the Stanford Wine Club, then teaching New Yorkers and finally the books.

BP: 10,000 hours? I assume that means it takes working at something 10,000 hours before you’re proficient?

MO: Exactly, It’s building that base. Then when you start thinking you know a lot, you need to reverse gears and say wait a second. I’m teaching for my mom and my sister, not wine snobs. As you know, most wine drinkers are so anxious and terrified of making the wrong wine decision, that you really need to empathize with them and put yourself in their place. Ask yourself, if I really wanted a great red for $20, where would I go…what would I get? I think that type of discussion boars some wine experts, they’d rather throw around 6 syllable words, which I can do, but that isn’t what the novice enthusiast wants or needs

We’ll continue our discussion with the “Madman of Manhattan” next week. Be sure to return right here *(well, not exactly here…to the website though) to hear…the rest of the story. Also, be sure to follow @boozepress so you’ll be up to date on all of the happenings with Booze Press and boozepress.com