Gary Vaynerchuk gives some wine lovers hives. On his now-famous series of hyper-adrenalized Web videos, Wine Library TV, nicknamed "the Thunder Show," on tv.winelibrary.com, he brings a sports-talk sensibility to the ritual of swirl-and-sip. He howls at the camera. He gives each glass a "sniffy-sniff" and deposits his mouthfuls into a spit bucket in the shape of a New York Jets helmet. (He's a huge fan.) Winning wines "bring the thunder." Over-oaked wines prompt references to the "Oak Monster."
Yet, as outlandish as he is, his Thanksgivings are a surprisingly traditional affair. Around 20 members of the extended clan gather at Gary's parents' house in central New Jersey for football on the tube (of course) and his mother's roast turkey, stuffing, chunky cranberry sauce and sweet-potato pie crowned with marshmallowsand lots of it. (Those recipes inspired the F&W ones here for sausage-and-bread stuffing, cranberry sauce and twice-baked sweet potatoes.) "Classic Russian-immigrant mentality," says Gary, 34, the family's eldest son. "We have, minimum, seven times more food than needed." Yet his rise is not the classic Russian-immigrant success story.
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The Vaynerchuks came to the US in 1978 from what is now Belarus. Gary's father, Sasha, took a job as a stock boy at an unremarkable liquor store called Shopper's Discount Liquors. He taught himself English, Gary recalls, reading the boxes he hefted. Sasha worked endless hours and eventually wound up co-owning the store. Gary started helping out there, filling bags of ice, at age 14. He despised this job. But it all turned out OKin fact, substantially better than OK. Gary took over the store in 1998, changing its focus to wine and its name to Wine Library. In 2006, he launched Wine Library TV, which has made him the most visible wine pundit on the Web and brought renown sufficient to place him on that fulcrum point between "famous in wine" and "actually famous."