Ten years ago, Todd French launched WineBerserkers.com, an online forum to talk, learn, and discover wine across the globe, purely on a whim.
In the decade since, this San Clemente resident and professional cellist has made an indelible mark in the conversation of wine through Wine Berserkers. Berserkers is now the world’s largest online wine community, offering a free location to talk, gather, grow, and even buy. Jan. 27 is the annual Berserkers Day, an anniversary celebration during which wine lovers can purchase wine and wine-related products online from incredible wineries, some of which may be too small for marketing but create exquisite wine.
It reminds me of Etsy with artisan wares, but with the beautiful benefit of conversation! Outside of the forum, French connects regularly with OC “Berserkers” at area events like dinners, blind tastings, and fundraisers. I have known of French for years but was thrilled to have a recent personal exchange with him learning of his Berserker beginnings and of his preferred wine haunts in Orange County.
Your initial background is in music. How did you land in a wine career as well?
“I was a professional cellist for over 20 years, with 17 years as a member of Los Angeles Opera. I’ve lived in Orange County for that entire time, commuting up to LA almost daily. The traffic got worse, and I got older, and the traffic bothered me more. I got into wine about 20 years ago after going to Napa Rose at Disneyland (where all the servers have their Sommelier certifications!) and having a wine-pairing dinner. That was my a-ha moment, and I decided to start learning about wine. I did so via the largest online wine forum at the time, the Mark Squires’ forum on eRobertParker.com. However, I was banned for life … so I decided to start my own – Wine Berserkers.”
As the founder of Wine Berserkers, did you have a goal in mind for this wine community? What has contributed to its longevity?
“My plan was just to have a wine forum where I could continue to learn about wine. A small group of 20-30 followed me from the other forum, and then others. People liked what they found, we grew ridiculously fast, and now it’s the biggest in the world and has been for over five years. My intent wasn’t to make it what it was; it was purely to have a place where I could continue to learn about wine and have some fun doing it. As for its longevity, I think because I designed Wine Berserkers as the ‘anti-Squires’ wine forum. We are very lax on rules, self-policing for the most part (other than the most egregious issues), and fully welcome to those (in the business). … Every wine consumer wants to talk to the (industry) folks, the producers, distributors, retailers. It should be a community made up of everybody interested in wine or involved in wine: beginners, experienced collectors, those in between, and everybody (in the business).”
What are some of your favorite events with the Berserkers community in Orange County?
“The best event each year is always Falltacular, and while it didn’t get its start on Wine Berserkers, now everything posted about it, and the sign ups and FAQ and info sheets are posted on WB (and echoed on Facebook for those non-geeks who need to attend as well). It’s a massive event, given it’s at a home, and raises tens of thousands of dollars each year for Laura’s House in Ladera Ranch. “
What are your favorite locales in Orange County to buy and experience a great meal?
“By far my favorite wine shop is Hi-Time, as their selection is fantastic, and the staff is infinitely knowledgeable about whatever their specialty is. Great finds, good deals now and again, but just the level of knowledge is extraordinary. Spectrum is really coming up fast as well, as they have expertise at a whole new level, based on the knowledge gained from being experts at auctions. They’ve setup a retail biz as well and the bottles they get are unique and harder to find in (Orange County). As for restaurants, I favor my locals in San Clemente, and one of my favorite outside San Clemente is Two Left Forks because 1) free corkage for first bottle, and that’s huge for we wine geeks, 2) when you run out of that wine, their list is fairly priced, so it’s easy to top it off by ordering another and 3) the food is great.”
Berserkers Day No. 10 starts at 7:30 a.m. Jan. 27.