Leslie Sbrocco Podcast 46 MINUTES

A new podcast series from Doug Shafer about the people behind the food and wine you love.

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Doug Shafer and Leslie Sbrocco

Doug Shafer talks with TV host and “wine translator” Leslie Sbrocco, known to millions from her fast-paced wine segments with Kathy Lee and Hoda Kotb on The Today Show, her PBS show Check Please, Bay Area and her books including Wine For Women.

For more on Leslie Sbrocco visit lesliesbrocco.com


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FULL TRANSCRIPT

 

Doug Shafer:
All right. We are here today and we have a dear friend of mine, who I do not get to see enough, Leslie Sbrocco. It's so good to have you here. Thanks for coming.

Leslie Sbrocco:
Doug, I am so thrilled to be here. I can't even tell you. We figured out it has been too long since I've seen you, since I've been over here to hang out, drink a little Chardonnay with you and so I consider this playtime.

Doug Shafer:
Well, yeah, I was looking forward to this.

Leslie Sbrocco:
This is an hour of playtime, isn't it?

Doug Shafer:
Well, especially when I found out something yesterday I did not know.

Leslie Sbrocco:
What?

Doug Shafer:
We're both from Chicago.

Leslie Sbrocco:
Yes! That's right.

Doug Shafer:
So where in Chicago did you grow up?

Leslie Sbrocco:
I grew up ... I was born in Denver. Actually, I was born in Boulder at ... We lived in Broomfield and then ... We got time, right? So I can go all the way back to the beginning.

Doug Shafer:
Oh yeah. Yeah, yeah.

Leslie Sbrocco:
I was born in the Boulder hospital because Broomfield didn't have a hospital so I get to say I'm from Boulder, actually, which is a cooler place to be from. Then when we were young, my father was an airline pilot for United so we moved to Chicago. Because that was there hub.

Doug Shafer:
Hub, right.

Leslie Sbrocco:
In those days. Still is, but ... We moved out to the northwest suburbs, about 45 miles northwest of Chicago. It was basically Barrington, Crystal Lake area.

Doug Shafer:
Yeah, yeah, I know it. You were northwest. I was southwest, Hinsdale, Oakbrook, LaGrange, Western Springs.

Leslie Sbrocco:
Oh yeah. Totally. It was cold, man, growing up.

Doug Shafer:
Oh man, it was cold. It was cold.

Leslie Sbrocco:
And windy.

Doug Shafer:
Years later, I was back selling wine and it had been about 15 years since I had lived there, in Chicago, and I was like, and the guy was like ... I didn't have an overcoat and the guy says "You..." It was January. So I'm fine. I'm good with the cold. We came around a corner, downtown Chicago, some street that went right out to the lake and the wind ... It just, I felt like it cut right through me. It was pretty chilly.

Leslie Sbrocco:
So cold. It can be so cold. I remember growing up ... I think that's why we're nice people, right? I just feel like I'm a Chicagoan where we left our doors open. We grew up in the burbs. Everybody was nice. I'm a nice Midwesterner. It was just, you know, we had a lot of snow and a lot of ... I grew up ... every morning you'd go out and scrape your car. My kids have no idea what that means.

Doug Shafer:
Right. Have to warm it up, let it warm up for 20 minutes before you could drive it off.

Leslie Sbrocco:
Absolutely. And to get a snow day?

Doug Shafer:
Yeah. Snow days are great. They're the best.

Leslie Sbrocco:
Oh, it was amazing to get snow days.

Doug Shafer:
So high school was where?

Leslie Sbrocco:
Cary-Grove High School.

Doug Shafer:
Cary-Grove.

Leslie Sbrocco:
Which was ... We lived ... There was a lot of pilots that lived in this one area that we lived in, called Trout Valley, which was the old Hertz estate, of Hertz Rent-a-Car. It was this beautiful old ... we were rich so it was right along the Fox River. This beautiful old sprawling estate he had. I mean, it was massive and there were hundreds of homes in this, all spread out, big huge yards, all spread out. There was an old mansion, the actual old mansion that his kids, he got ... it was closed up, although with the pool was still working. So we all went up to, you know, it was this beautiful old 1930's mansion style pool that we all got to go to every summer but it was our thing to go into the old Hertz mansion and it was all boarded up.

Doug Shafer:
The haunted house.

Leslie Sbrocco:
Because my dad was a pilot, we grew up on a plane really. Those were the days when you could, and I grew up in a family of five kids and we were all two years apart. My parents would load us on the plane and take us to Hawaii or fly us to the Denver Broncos game for the day or something. You got to fly in first class because that's what was open, right? We always had to dress up. I never, to this day, get on a plane in a pair of jeans.

Doug Shafer:
I was going to ask you that. That's my next comment.

Leslie Sbrocco:
No. Never.

Doug Shafer:
Because I was the same way. We had to wear a coat and tie. My brothers and I.

Leslie Sbrocco:
Yep. I still, even if I'm going overseas, if I'm ... a long haul flight. I'm still, even if I'm wearing leggings or something, I still look nice. I can't get on a plane. It's just against my grain.

Doug Shafer:
I had the exact same experience. My mom and dad were like, "Nope. You put a coat and tie on." It's like, "Okay, Mom." That was the deal.

Leslie Sbrocco:
Yeah. Flying was special. I remember my dad, and I would fly a lot with him and I remember when I was seven or eight years old. He passed away when I was young, when I was 12, but he would say, "This is my Captain Hartley. My daughter Leslie is in seat 1A. Go say hello to her."

Doug Shafer:
How fun!

Leslie Sbrocco:
Here's this seven year old like, "Hi everyone! Hello!"

Doug Shafer:
Maybe that's where it started with you.

Leslie Sbrocco:
Maybe.

Doug Shafer:
Because you're one of the most personable people I've ever met in my life. Maybe that was it.

Leslie Sbrocco:
I think so. I think he knew he could plop me in seat 1A and have the ...

Doug Shafer:
So, big family ... five total?

Leslie Sbrocco:
Five kids. Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Doug Shafer:
All boys? All girls?

Leslie Sbrocco:
All girls except for my brother. One brother.

Doug Shafer:
Was he oldest or youngest?

Leslie Sbrocco:
He is second oldest and my oldest sister lives in France and she has five kids herself. My middle sister, unfortunately, passed away of cancer a couple years ago. My younger sister is in San Francisco. We're a very close family.

Doug Shafer:
Wow. Okay. That's neat. After high school, college?

Leslie Sbrocco:
College. College. Well, we really are ... we do have time ... Folks, we are

Doug Shafer:
Oh, we got all sorts of times.

Leslie Sbrocco:
We got all sorts of times.

Doug Shafer:
But Boston University, yeah?

Leslie Sbrocco:
I did. I went to Boston University my first year. I though I was a big city girl and I was ... I grew up in the burbs, let's face it, but I traveled my whole life. I got a couple scholarship offers and one of them was Boston University. I actually was going to be a politician. I was going to be a lawyer and then I was going to be a senator and then I was certain that I would be at least a senator if not in higher office than that. I was always in ... I know, your face. It's like, "What?! Who is that girl?"

Doug Shafer:
No, actually no. No. I got this. With what I know of you I could see that.

Leslie Sbrocco:
No. Oh my God, no. I could never, ever in a million years now, be in politics.

Doug Shafer:
We won't go into politics, yeah.

Leslie Sbrocco:
We can have that discussion. So, I went to BU in their Poli-Sci department and then I realized that ... and it was a very urban setting and it wasn't particularly for me, I didn't think, so I transferred, my sophomore year, to Washington University in St. Louis. Great school. We call Harvard the Wash U of the east.

Doug Shafer:
There you go. There you go. Now I do know Boston U because Annette went there for a couple years. In fact, my son just applied there. It was one of our visits. We were doing the college visits last spring.

Leslie Sbrocco:
Great school.

Doug Shafer:
It's definitely a city campus.

Leslie Sbrocco:
Yeah. Great school. I loved it but it was not, I guess, what I envisioned as my college experience so I transferred to Washington University in St. Louis and then spent my junior year overseas in London and in Bath.

Doug Shafer:
What did you study over ... just was general education ...

Leslie Sbrocco:
Just political science, yeah. Then back to Wash U. That's what I thought, for sure, I was going to move out to California, go to law school, boom.

Doug Shafer:
So, what happened? So, no law school.

Leslie Sbrocco:
No. Never went.

Doug Shafer:
But you moved to California?

Leslie Sbrocco:
I did. I did.

Doug Shafer:
To L.A. or San Francisco?

Leslie Sbrocco:
I moved to San Francisco. That's really where I got into wine, was starting to get into wine and TV and all of that. I just, I panicked when I moved out here. I thought, "Oh my God, I don't want to be a lawyer." That was the wisest decision I think I ever made.

Doug Shafer:
What was the revelation of that? What clicked on.

Leslie Sbrocco:
Excuse all the lawyers out there. I apologize.

Doug Shafer:
No, that's okay. [inaudible 00:10:14]

Leslie Sbrocco:
Isn't your dad a lawyer?

Doug Shafer:
No. No. My brother. My brother is.

Leslie Sbrocco:
Your brother is a lawyer. I just didn't think it was for me. I didn't think that the kind of combative nature of the law was really for me.

Doug Shafer:
I'm with you. But that must have been ... I mean ... Because you told me from a little girl you were going to be a lawyer and a politician, I think. Was that ... Was a panic ...

Leslie Sbrocco:
Yeah, it was a panic moment, for sure. It was a, "Oh my God, who am I? What am I going to do, that I'm not...". I just, in my mind, I thought, "But okay, I can go back to law school at any time. So let me figure out what I want to do.". That's when I, I just started ... I had always been in theater. I had always been the comedic lead in all of the school plays and all the, you know, that kind of thing.

Doug Shafer:
We didn't talk about that but that makes sense. Okay.

Leslie Sbrocco:
No, we didn't. So, I started ... You probably don't know this part about me. This is actually funny. This is funny.

Doug Shafer:
Favorite, well, okay, favorite, well, favorite high school production.

Leslie Sbrocco:
Oh, I was in Oliver. I was in South Pacific. I was in Oklahoma. I was Carrie Pipperidge.

Doug Shafer:
I was in Flower Drum Song. Annie, Get Your Gun.

Leslie Sbrocco:
No way. Oh, who were you in Annie, Get Your Gun?

Doug Shafer:
Well, no, no, no. This was in Chicago. We moved out halfway through Chicago so my time in the choral/drama department, along with being in sports ... those two didn't mix really well because the coaches are like, "You have to go to choral practice? What are you talking about? You can't...". The lady who did the choral program was like, "You can't go to basketball. You've got to be at this." It was my first two years in high school so I was not a lead. I was just in the chorus. I would be part of the singing chorus. They actually had a guys' dance chorus. Check that out. You're with seven or eight guys ...

Leslie Sbrocco:
I was in Swing Choir. Oh, we had Swing Choir, that was huge.

Doug Shafer:
Yeah, yeah, yeah, but I'm a freshman or sophomore guy with all my buddies, who are jocks, coming to the show and I'm up there doing the little Annie, Get Your Gun jig. [crosstalk 00:12:21]

Leslie Sbrocco:
Now that's cool. Now that's like, with Glee.

Doug Shafer:
I don't think I've ever told anybody about this.

Leslie Sbrocco:
No, I didn't ... I, I can hear, I can feel a song coming up.

Doug Shafer:
No. No, no, no, no.

Leslie Sbrocco:
I still sing actually. I do still sing.

Doug Shafer:
Good. Me too, in the shower only. Alone. Right.

Leslie Sbrocco:
In the shower, no. No, I sing, I actually sing out there. People have heard me.

Doug Shafer:
Good for you. All right, so you were ... "I'm not going to do the law.". Meanwhile, you're still kind of acting ...

Leslie Sbrocco:
Yeah. And you know what ... Well, no, I decided okay, I'm going to go study ... Maybe I should give this a shot. I wasn't willing to move to L.A. I knew I didn't want to be an actress, quote, unquote. That wasn't my goal. I just was comfortable on stage and it's always interesting. These things in your life come back full circle, right? Because, I'm onstage a lot now. All of the things I learned in high school and all of the things I learned in college about ... Even though I didn't pursue political science, I could write. You know, you're a writer if you are a Poli-Sci major. That's the most important thing I took away from college is that I'm a good writer. That has served me well in my chosen career. I just sort of went out on a limb and said, "I don't want to do that", which was brave when you're young and early twenties and going, "What do I do?". I said, "I'm just going to pursue this a little bit and see if I like it.".
So I went to American Conservatory Theater for their summer program and I was the talent, on air, for commercials, local commercials. I got sick of waiting for people to give me a job so I started doing my own thing, producing small things. I actually, for many ... Not many years, let's say five years, I as a hand model.

Doug Shafer:
I heard about this.

Leslie Sbrocco:
Yes, I was a hand model.

Doug Shafer:
What is a hand model?

Leslie Sbrocco:
I was doing some on camera work and a woman shook my hand at one point and said, "You have gorgeous hands. Have you ever thought about being a hand model?". I went, "I'm not a model. That's not my thing.". And she said, "No, but you have really pretty hands. You could be a hand model." Being a 22 year old, you're going, "Do they pay my whole body? What do I get paid?"

Doug Shafer:
There you go. There you go.

Leslie Sbrocco:
I actually poked the Pillsbury Doughboy.

Doug Shafer:
I didn't know if that was a rumor. That was my ... Something I had to ask you.

Leslie Sbrocco:
No, it is true. It is true. It is hashtag true.

Doug Shafer:
You poked the Pillsbury Doughboy.

Leslie Sbrocco:
Before all the ... this was when stop frame animation ... This was before, you know ... now everything's CG and computer generated blah blah. They actually put a little, there was a little headless man, about, let's say, four inches, since we're on a podcast and can't see my hands. Four inches tall and he was headless. I would be positioned underneath the table and I would have to ... Now, my hands are looking like a mess today, but, I would have to poke the doughboy. Do you see that move?

Doug Shafer:
Yeah, I see the move. You've got the ...

Leslie Sbrocco:
Isn't that gorgeous? Look at that. I can still do it. I can still do the ...

Doug Shafer:
You can't ... This is ... Unfortunately we're just audio, not visual, because she's got this great move with the hand, which I remember seeing as a little boy.

Leslie Sbrocco:
And he would giggle, right?

Doug Shafer:
He giggled. He'd do a little ...

Leslie Sbrocco:
So, I would be kind of positioned under the table. They'd cue me and I'd poke the Pillsbury Doughboy and then they would change his head. They opened up a case of fifty different heads. One head was ...

Doug Shafer:
Oh, different expressions.

Leslie Sbrocco:
All the different expressions of the doughboy. They would put the different heads on him and I would have to poke him continuously during the day. I remember one time I had to do a ... and they paid very well to do this. I thought I'd struck gold. I had to frost a cake. They sent me a hundred packets. I was living with a roommate at the time and she and I were just hysterical because I had to basically, on pieces of paper, practice frosting a cake for the Pillsbury Doughboy. I can still do it. I can still do the ....

Doug Shafer:
Do the swirl? Swirl with them, right?

Leslie Sbrocco:
Do the little swirl things with my hands and the cakes. Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
That was fantastic. Multiple careers.

Leslie Sbrocco:
I was like George ... Did you ever see, did you ever watch Seinfeld? George, when he was a hand model, he wore the gloves.

Doug Shafer:
That's right. That's right.

Leslie Sbrocco:
I would always have gloves on. Anyway, so I gave that up but that was hilarious. Like who would ever imagine?

Doug Shafer:
So, you're dabbling, you're making your own moves, you're getting your own jobs. How's, how's ...

Leslie Sbrocco:
Yeah, and then I started falling in love with one.

Doug Shafer:
How did that happen?

Leslie Sbrocco:
This was in San Francisco before ... people are now, everybody's in their WSET program and there's, "somms" are the hottest thing. It really wasn't like that. I just started drinking it and enjoying it and, being the studious, knowledge based, person that I am I just wanted to read about it and learn about it and go to wineries and visit and it was just a real hobby for a number of years. I just absolutely was passionate and loved it.

Doug Shafer:
Did you have any mentor or did you have a tasting group for ...

Leslie Sbrocco:
I did, a little bit later, I had a tasting group and that's how I professionally got into it from basically a wine lover into the profession of it. I was pursuing it as a love, as a passion. At one point I thought, how do I make what I'm doing, right now, which is, I was producing small videos for companies. I was still doing on camera work. I was doing some writing. But people weren't wine writers. You didn't think, in your head, "Oh, I can be a wine writer.".

Doug Shafer:
Yeah, it's tough to make a living.

Leslie Sbrocco:
You can't really, you don't really think that. Today you might but I didn't think about it 20 years ago. So, I just made a list, I really did. I do speaking now on how to turn your passion into your career because I did it, right? I said, "Here's what I know how to do. I know how to film things, I know how to write. Here's what I love doing. Wine. What can I do? How can I cross?". So, I started shooting some ... I shot a training video for Chandon, with Bill Newlands, when Bill Newlands was there and made my little connections, my little forays. I shot a small harvest special for a small PBS station, KCSM, on the peninsula. I met Marco, actually Marco Capelli.

Doug Shafer:
Marco, yeah. Good friend of Elias.

Leslie Sbrocco:
If I had to say a sort of a mentor, getting into the business, Marco on the wine making side. Actually, my husband and I have made some wine using Marco's grapes. I just opened a bottle of it, 2009 or ten. It was unmarked so we couldn't remember which one it was. It was delicious, I have to say. We didn't screw it up. We didn't screw up his great grapes.

Doug Shafer:
I've got to ask you something. You say you're making a video. We've done videos here at the winery and there's usually someone we hire who's, that's their profession. Are you actually getting someone to be the camera person or are you ... you hire someone. Okay.

Leslie Sbrocco:
Yeah, I hire a crew. I hire a crew.

Doug Shafer:
Got it.

Leslie Sbrocco:
I write and produce and then hire the crew. I do a variety of all that. It all comes full circle again. To me it's all sort of, you know ...

Doug Shafer:
You're doing the whole thing.

Leslie Sbrocco:
I get to do what I love. I get to, again, put all those writing and quote, unquote, theatrical skills to work as a speaker and as a television personality. That's how I made the transition to wine and then I got hired by ... and I just had this question because I'm doing an event up in Calistoga. Somebody was interviewing me from the paper and they asked me about mentors in the business and I said, "Actually, my mentors were all men.". Interesting, even though I focus a lot on the female side of wine.
A gentleman by the name of Peter Hirschfeld hired me. He was in a wine loving group that I was in. We were both consumers and he was a music magazine publisher. Microsoft was starting these city guides online. He said, "Leslie, I want you to come and do the wine stuff." and I went, "On the internet. What? What's that?". I went and worked with him at Microsoft and created some of their first content online about wine. Then I got hired by the Press Democrat, the Wall Street, I mean the New York Times. We created WineToday.com, which was a fabulous, if I must say ...

Doug Shafer:
What year was this?

Leslie Sbrocco:
This was... Nine

Doug Shafer:
Early 2000's?

Leslie Sbrocco:
Yeah. Early 2000's. Ninety eight. Ninety nine, two thousand.

Doug Shafer:
So Microsoft ... So, you were doing wine content for Microsoft. This was just on their website or just for ...

Leslie Sbrocco:
Yeah. And website people though, "My God, you're crazy. What are you talking about, website?". I would go and ... I think on one of those early times I must have been working for either Sidewalk, Microsoft, that I first met you or I had to be working for WineToday.com because I created that with the Press Democrat for the New York Times company.

Doug Shafer:
Yeah, because I remember you came by and we tasted wine and we chit chatted and all that.

Leslie Sbrocco:
Yeah and that was all internet based and again, we had the New York Times moniker behind us. Unfortunately, they ended up int he internet implosion. That was when Wine.com and Wine Shopper were all happening and when all that imploded the first time.

Doug Shafer:
By the way, I remember that first visit vividly because you had press people come by.

Leslie Sbrocco:
I do too, I have to say.

Doug Shafer:
We've had press people come by and it's very nice and it's friendly and we sit and we chit chat and we talk about wine and I tell the stories and the origins and we taste the wine and we swirl and sniff and all that. But we didn't do that, at all.

Leslie Sbrocco:
No, we didn't.

Doug Shafer:
It was just like rock and roll. Like, you know, "Where do you guys go out here in Napa Valley on a Friday night?" [crosstalk 00:22:25]

Leslie Sbrocco:
I was with my friend Sarah. Sarah, if you're listening ...

Doug Shafer:
"And where do you eat? Do you do margaritas once in a while?" "Yeah, yeah, we do that. And how's this Cab, right? It's good stuff." It was a good time. A lot of fun.

Leslie Sbrocco:
I went back and took courses at UC Davis to make wine and I do make a little bit of wine. It just became a passion that I was somehow able to weave into a career.

Doug Shafer:
And then 2003, the first book.

Leslie Sbrocco:
The first book came out. Yes. New York Times had just closed WineToday.com, sadly. It was, again, that first internet wave that, if we had toughed it out, man, it would have been amazing. We had built it up. We had Oz Clarke working with us in London.

Doug Shafer:
Right. From London.

Leslie Sbrocco:
We had Bob Campbell in MW, down in New Zealand. We had Burton Anderson in Italy.

Doug Shafer:
So, it was just it was before it's time.

Leslie Sbrocco:
It was before it's time. We had a camera of, a web cam, at Silverado Vineyards, in the cellar for the 2000 harvest and at [inaudible 00:23:22] in Bordeaux. Nobody could watch it because nobody's ... I went, in 2000 I conceived of this brilliant idea, in 2000, imagine. To get the 2000 harvest documented because it was going to be a great harvest in Europe and it was going to be ... So, I brought a camera crew to Bordeaux, Burgundy, Piedmont, and Tuscany, all with the New York Times. We brought Frank Prial, who was writing for the paper at the time. He was at the end of his career, I was at the beginning of mine. We went everywhere from Chateau Margaux and [inaudible 00:23:59] to meet with Angelo Gaja. We met with Dr. Franco Biondi Santi in Tuscany and Brunello di Montalcino.

Doug Shafer:
You're filming, you're interviewing, it's ... Okay.

Leslie Sbrocco:
We're filming all of this amazing footage and we had to actually put it on a, basically a CD and FedEx it back because we couldn't upload things like that then. So nobody could watch it. It's great. I still have the footage. It's awesome. It's amazing. Anyway, way ahead of my time is the story of my life.

Doug Shafer:
Way ahead of the time.

Leslie Sbrocco:
Then in 2003 I started with my first book I had just given birth to my son, who is 16 now. I started writing it ... It came out in 2003, so I started writing it when he was little. I said, "Giving birth to a kid or a book, which one is harder? The book.". The book.

Doug Shafer:
I can believe it.

Leslie Sbrocco:
So I had conceived of this crazy idea, at that point, of writing a book geared towards women.

Doug Shafer:
Which was needed because it was a man's world. It was.

Leslie Sbrocco:
It was needed. Thank you. I felt like it was needed and I have to say, I always had, again, great mentors, Bruce Kyse, who was the head of the Press Democrat and really gave Wine Today it's wings. He was a strong supporter of mine. I always was in a position where I had great male mentors. But I noticed, when I was out speaking ... Even early in my career I was a speaker. Now that's what I do for the vast majority of my time but I realized that women would ask me different questions than men. It wasn't that they would drink differently. It wasn't that they were drinking pink and sweet and blah, blah, blah. It was that their interest and questions to me were different. "I'm serving this with something." It was more of a ... They're great tasters. I noticed, "Wow, these women are really great tasters.". It was just all this anecdotal evidence that I said, "Well, I'm just going to write something, my thoughts down, about what I think this book should focus on.". Again, it wasn't about what's in your glass. It's about how we approach what's in your glass.
I took the lifestyle, quote, unquote, focus, which was kind of a new term at that point and I didn't pussy foot around, calling it wine for women. I got a publisher right away, Harper Collins, and they said, "We love it. It's about time for this. Let's do it.".

Doug Shafer:
Best seller. Bunch of awards.

Leslie Sbrocco:
Yeah. We did. I won the George Book Best Wine Book of the Year award.

Doug Shafer:
I mean ...

Leslie Sbrocco:
It's a great book still. I love it still. I have to say I'm really proud of the book. You're in the book.

Doug Shafer:
Well, that's not why it's a great book.

Leslie Sbrocco:
It's great. I actually ... I still ... I built the essential wine wardrobe, I called it, because I connected place and I did the name game where I connected grape and place. I talked about designing dinners and what foods go with wine. I did a very, very in depth ... You learn a lot so even if you knew a lot about wine, you could learn something, but I also ... Which has become my signature, I make things relevant, understandable, and I consider myself a translator. I understand the technical piece of things because I have to, if I'm judging wine, or making wine. Then I strip down and say, "Okay, how do I translate this and make this interesting to someone who doesn't do this all day?". I hate the words, "dumbing down". That means nothing. It's stupid. Of course, "dumbing down" is a stupid term.

Doug Shafer:
I'm with you. I like that, translate. That's a really great way to describe it. You're translating.

Leslie Sbrocco:
Yeah, it's translating, right? I want somebody to do that for me if I've got an electrician at my house. I don't need to know the technical piece of what he's doing. I need him to translate it for me and tell me what needs to be done.

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Leslie Sbrocco:
Right? Same with a car. I don't need to understand everything that's going on to fix my car.

Doug Shafer:
The catalytic converter.

Leslie Sbrocco:
Would you please just explain to me in understandable terms, what you have to do. That, to me, is what I always have done with wine.

Doug Shafer:
Sometimes, at dinners and stuff, people will ask me the questions and I don't want to go there about why this one's better or not. Talk about translating. I say, "Like what you like.". It's either, I like it or I don't like it and that's fine. There's no "nothing's right and nothing's wrong".

Leslie Sbrocco:
No, that's what I always say. One thing ... Here's the reasons why we do what we do or describe what we describe. If you like it, that's great. If you want steak and Chardonnay, go for it. That's fabulous. Enjoy it. I've done it and my glass is empty.

Doug Shafer:
Ice cubes. Ice cubes are big.

Leslie Sbrocco:
Ice cubes. I tell people all the time, if they're going to do ice cubes, there's no harm in it. If you like ice cubes in this beautiful Red Shoulder Ranch, that's okay. Just make sure to take a bottle of Red Shoulder Ranch, put it in ice cube trays, pour it in ice cube trays and put the ice cube made from Red Shoulder Ranch, in your glass.

Doug Shafer:
No, I like it with water because I like to cut it. I like to cut a little bit. I can drink more. Or you could use Cabernet ice cubes, throw it in your Chardonnay and you've got a Rose.

Leslie Sbrocco:
There you go.

Doug Shafer:
There you go.

Leslie Sbrocco:
I like it. No, there's no right or wrong. And I assume, with your wines, because they are coveted and high end, that you do get a lot of wine geeks coming to see and talk to you, don't you.

Doug Shafer:
Sure, we do but we have mixed groups every day. You've got ten people round a table and some were told that they should come to Shafer and some are long time fans and really into it so you've got a ... Well, it's a small enough crowd that sometimes you can move around and talk to people individually. Which is like a wine maker dinner. I go table to table ...

Leslie Sbrocco:
Sure. And that's what I do when I'm speaking to corporate groups or educating to large groups. I speak to, sometimes, rooms of two, three hundred people, when I'm keynoting a wine event or something. You really have to ... I always say wine knowledge is like a brick wall. Each time you go somewhere, taste something, attend a class, go to a winery, you're putting bricks in that wall. A lot of those bricks fall down because you don't remember the stuff, right? "Shit, I don't remember what I just had. What was that?" Now it's great, because you can take a picture of everything but you build that wall and it's an ever grow ... I mean, I'm not done learning, are you?

Doug Shafer:
It's never done. No.

Leslie Sbrocco:
It's never done.

Doug Shafer:
Never. It's never done.

Leslie Sbrocco:
It's never done. So, there's no harm. They're just adding a brick. If, at the end of spending an hour with me in a wine session, or two hours with me in a corporate event, or whatever, you remember two things from that night, I have done my job.

Doug Shafer:
You've succeeded.

Leslie Sbrocco:
I've given you two bricks in that wall of knowledge and I've done my job.

Doug Shafer:
There you go.

Leslie Sbrocco:
And you had a great time. That's the key. Have a great time.

Doug Shafer:
Well, that's your motto.

Leslie Sbrocco:
That's my motto.

Doug Shafer:
And I like it. So, writing a book is tough but you kept doing it. You wrote two or three more?

Leslie Sbrocco:
Yeah, it is. "Wine for Women", I was so proud of and it really did establish another phase of my career and I really got more speaking from that and then television came back in the picture. It was a great catalyst for me. It took me a few years to write another book called "The Simple and Savvy Wine Guide", which was a great book as well. I'm proud of that book too. I still haven't written my third yet. I'm still working on it, but it's coming.

Doug Shafer:
I didn't realize you do as much appearances and public speaking.

Leslie Sbrocco:
Yes, I do. I do a tremendous amount.

Doug Shafer:
That's fantastic. So, you ...

Leslie Sbrocco:
Actually, I'm going up to emcee the wine writers symposium.

Doug Shafer:
Right now.

Leslie Sbrocco:
Right after this. I am giving a speech on honing public speaking skills. I do media training for people. It's an interesting phase.

Doug Shafer:
So, you're on the ... Not to ... I don't mean anything wrong by saying that. You're on the circuit, because you ... or you think about former presidents who are on the circuit and go speaking and they make, you know, they make ...

Leslie Sbrocco:
I wish I made what they made. Yeah, Right. No.

Doug Shafer:
Yeah, they make a lot of money. I'm thinking so, when these, I don't track these folks or follow them. Do they have the same speech, the same gig they give every time. Do they mix it up? How do you handle that?

Leslie Sbrocco:
Yeah, I'm sure that those kind of speakers do. I do, I would say, on average, 60 plus appearances a year. That's just, it can be local appearances, it can be auctions, it can be charity auctions, it can be ... I do quite a bit of charity work. I'm sure we all do. It can be wine events from the Aspen Food and Wine Classic to the Boston Wind Expo to Pinot Noir New Zealand events. I do a lot of speaking in those sort of venues. I do a lot of corporate events, a lot of wine ... dinners for ...

Doug Shafer:
Do they, do the folks that hire you, do they give you direction or do you need to come up on your own?

Leslie Sbrocco:
They just say, "Leslie, here's your budget. Here's the group size. Where do you want to do it? Let's have a great time." I typically get ... I love spending other people's money. Awesome. It's fantastic. I've bought many Shafer wines in that scenario. Again, this is really like, if a corporate group is going to go out to the ball game, or go to play golf, or do something special, that's what they hire me to do. I create a special experience for them. Experiences are big now. But for me, every time I get in front of a group, it's different. I never say the same thing ever. There might be elements that are similar but every group is completely different. I do education for groups like the wines from Spain. I do quite a bit of education for the wines [inaudible 00:33:39]. I've educated for Portugal, Chile. I do a tremendous amount of trade education as well, which is a different beast than consumer education.

Doug Shafer:
That's neat. Boy, good for you.

Leslie Sbrocco:
Boy, your brain hurts some days. My brain hurts some days.

Doug Shafer:
I tell you. To keep ... In knowing you and you're just, you're going. You're going, like you've got one speed.

Leslie Sbrocco:
I have one speed, right? I have one speed, go.

Doug Shafer:
So the ideas are probably popping in and out of your head all the time. So the TV thing happened. I've seen you on Check Please. You should talk about that. It's 13 seasons.

Leslie Sbrocco:
Oh my God, 13 seasons. We're going into 13 seasons of Check Please, which again, makes you feel really old like, "Oh my God."

Doug Shafer:
It's a local bay area production but there's different cities too, right?

Leslie Sbrocco:
It is. It's on PBS. It started ... Correct ... It started in Chicago at the public television station there. Actually, I think it's 15 or 16 years ago, it started in Chicago. One of the first guests, I think he might have been on the first show, was Barack Obama when he was a state senator. And I said, "Okay, he's going on to run the free world. Look at me, I'm still doing the show.". But I didn't get to interview him. He was in Chicago.
It's now 12 years because we're now in our thirteenth season. The producer, David Manilow, approached a number of different PBS stations around the country and San Francisco said, "We like the concept. Let's do one here.". At that point, I was doing ... I had just shot, doing wine tips. I had been on CBS TV before that, doing some wine tips and then I was hired to do a wine tip series in a cooking show on PBS. So, the producers saw me and said, "Can you come in and read? We've read a lot of people on this because you have to be really good at handling a group of people and be experienced in getting people to talk.". And I went, "Well, I'm good at that.". So, I auditioned and they offered me the job, right then and there, so it's been 13 years and it's still going in Chicago. They had one in Seattle for a bit. I think Miami is still going. Doug Frost, my buddy Doug Frost, master sommelier, master of wine, did one for a while in Kansas City. Mark Tarbell, do you know Mark Tarbell?

Doug Shafer:
Tarbell?

Leslie Sbrocco:
Mark was doing it. Tarbell was doing ... he's a great restaurateur, of Tarbell's in Scottsdale.

Doug Shafer:
Yeah, in Phoenix, in Scottsdale.

Leslie Sbrocco:
Great guy. I judge wine competitions with him and I heard that he. I think he took over the Arizona one.

Doug Shafer:
I didn't know he ... no, I've known him forever. He's a great guy.

Leslie Sbrocco:
He's great. I love him. I think we should have a Check Please, you know ...

Doug Shafer:
We know all the same people. It's a small world. Love it.

Leslie Sbrocco:
I know, we know all the same. It's a small world. It's a small business, right? Anyway, so Check Please is... for those folks who aren't from the bay area, or don't watch it, it's basically, the concept is, you get three regular people from all walks of life. We can have CEO's, Uber drivers, taxi drivers, college students, whatever, who apply to be on the show. We've had thousands and thousands of people apply to be on the show, recommending their favorite restaurant. We anonymously send the other two folks out to eat at each other's restaurants and then we get in the studio and we get them drinking wine and we just talk, like you do with your friends. "You call that clam chowder? That wasn't clam chowder. What are you ... What are you...". We have this discussion.

Doug Shafer:
Do you go all three places too?

Leslie Sbrocco:
I go to a lot of the restaurants. I don't go to all of them. The hardest part on the show for me is that I don't get to give my opinion. You know me, Doug, I'm opinionated, so that would be tough for me.

Doug Shafer:
That would be really tough for you. How do you do that. Do they have to like gag ... Do they ... Are you gagged? Are you tied up and gagged? Okay.

Leslie Sbrocco:
I'm telling you, it takes every ... If you watch my face closely, I have horrified looks on my face that they cut out, when I think people are crazy. I do, I joke when I ... Sometimes I do three restaurants in a night when I'm researching shows because I can go and eat some Chinese food and then I'll go and eat some Polish kielbasa or do ... and you just kind of check out the restaurant and the vibe and the food and talk to the chef. I always joke that I don't work my ass off, I work it on. It takes lot of work to get this ass.

Doug Shafer:
God, I don't know how you do it time wise because then, now, tell me about the Today Show.

Leslie Sbrocco:
Yeah, I've been doing the Today Show for a good ten years.

Doug Shafer:
That's been ten years.

Leslie Sbrocco:
I remember, I think it was one of Katie Couric's last times that she was on, I got interviewed by Katie and Ann Curry and Matt Lauer and ...

Doug Shafer:
The whole thing.

Leslie Sbrocco:
The whole thing. I love the guys at NBC. I love them all. They're wonderful people. I've been on for a number of years with Kathie and Hoda, Kathie Lee and Hoda. They have done more for wine in this country ...

Doug Shafer:
I've seen the three of you. Boy, I tell you what.

Leslie Sbrocco:
We're hilarious.

Doug Shafer:
How do you get ... You're on a time clock, I can tell because ...

Leslie Sbrocco:
Oh, I am on a time clock.

Doug Shafer:
I'm not paying attention, I'm watching you.

Leslie Sbrocco:
Yeah, I have my tricks. My whole ...

Doug Shafer:
Oh, I know what you're doing because you're trying to get this info ...

Leslie Sbrocco:
I'm trying to get through wine. I'm trying to get through big swathes of wine.

Doug Shafer:
They're like, going sideways, yeah.

Leslie Sbrocco:
They do, and I'm trying to just get some nuggets out, you know, the right temperature to serve wine, these wine, you know, this great producer, I'm trying to get it all out because, again, these are national shows. Typically, the wines are under 25 dollars, nationally available. Try to pick the most interesting wines I can for the themes. I have a couple tricks and I love these ladies. I love Kathie Lee and Hoda so much and I'm so happy for Hoda. I get them eating then you just get to say something.

Doug Shafer:
Right. Oh, that's smart. I'll remember that. Get them to eat.

Leslie Sbrocco:
Smart. And sipping. My whole career, I'm good at keeping things on time because I'm a speaker. I'm used to one minute wine tips. My show, we shoot three shows, live to tape every day that we're shooting, so that's nine guests, nine restaurants. It's a lot to get three half hour shows. Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
I was wondering how ... Okay, that's how you do it.

Leslie Sbrocco:
That's how we do it. Because you want the spontaneity of being live to tape. Then we can trim out a little bit here and there. Trim a little fat out. They've actually built me a, if you go on my website you can see it, they've built me a little addition, a little bump to my Check Please table on set because I talk with my hands so much. You've seen it. I talk with my hands so much.

Doug Shafer:
Yeah, that's why I'm sitting on the other side of the table.

Leslie Sbrocco:
Yeah, that's why you're sitting on the other side. The first season, I would knock the wine into guests because they're drinking real wine. So they built me this little bump so that I'm pushed away from folks and I don't have to hit them. You can't see it on TV but ...

Doug Shafer:
Next time I'll try to check that out. That would be pretty funny.

Leslie Sbrocco:
Try to take a peek on that. Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
So, on the Today Show, they fly, you go back a certain number of times a year.

Leslie Sbrocco:
Yeah, I've been doing a lot. I'm off and on with my buddy, Ray Isle, who's the wine editor for Food and Wine.

Doug Shafer:
Ray, from Food and Wine.

Leslie Sbrocco:
I did a really fun one at Christmas. I did all sparkling wines with Carson Daly and the crew there, so it was really fun. We had a great time. I did eight wines in four minutes.

Doug Shafer:
Oh, man.

Leslie Sbrocco:
So I did six sparkling wines under twenty dollars, great sparkling wines from around the world.

Doug Shafer:
Four minutes?

Leslie Sbrocco:
In four minutes. And then I did a couple high end champagnes and high end California bubbles. Yeah. And food. And I have food and party tips and all sort of things.

Doug Shafer:
I know. I've seen it.

Leslie Sbrocco:
You've got to just move.

Doug Shafer:
Well, I'm really enjoying this because you're not rushed.

Leslie Sbrocco:
I know, I'm not rushed.

Doug Shafer:
Because man, you do a fantastic job. But it's like, wow.

Leslie Sbrocco:
Yeah. Thank you. It's fast. It's fast.

Doug Shafer:
Did you script that and remember it. No, you're just going for it.

Leslie Sbrocco:
No, you just go. You just go.

Doug Shafer:
I mean, you got your bullet points.

Leslie Sbrocco:
And I have my bullet points and you have to be succinct and you have to be ...

Doug Shafer:
Boom, boom, boom.

Leslie Sbrocco:
Yeah, and get out what you want to get out quickly. I think that the neat thing about that, when we're doing the Today Show, we don't have a culture in this country of talking about wine on a national level, right? In that kind of venue when you're reaching tens of millions of viewers.

Doug Shafer:
That's true.

Leslie Sbrocco:
That size? That's why Kathie and Hoda have done such a great job of getting wine into the dialogue because ABC is owned by Disney so they're not going to do wine. CBS is starting to talk a little bit more but NBC is really the trailblazer in allowing us to have a discussion about wine in an integrated lifestyle with wine. They've been fantastic. In other countries you're able to talk about it more but here, these guys have really been the leaders. So, it's fun to have been part of that.

Doug Shafer:
Well, I'm glad you're part of it. Thank you, because you're helping all of us out. All of us ...

Leslie Sbrocco:
When my first book came out, when "Wine for Women" came out, you don't know how many doors I knocked on, of magazines, of female focus magazines, to say ... Well they said, "Well, we can't really write about wine. It's alcohol.". I said, "Yeah, but it's part ... It's ... Women are the wine drinkers. Here's the stats. Here's what we need. Here's my book.". And I got Good Housekeeping. I got Woman's Day. Woman's Day actually did an eight page spread of my book.

Doug Shafer:
Nice.

Leslie Sbrocco:
All these magazines to start talking about wine. It just takes people knocking on doors and now we see a lot of it so ... Yeah. It's amazing that we did it.

Doug Shafer:
Way to go. Thank you.

Leslie Sbrocco:
You're welcome.

Doug Shafer:
The industry owes you. Big time.

Leslie Sbrocco:
No. I don't think so. It's just, it's been a passion to get more people talking about it. And having fun with it.

Doug Shafer:
I don't know how you do it. You've got plenty on your plate but now you've got new things. You've got Thirsty Girl.

Leslie Sbrocco:
Yeah. Taste This.

Doug Shafer:
You've got Taste This. What are ... Tell us about the new stuff. What's going on?

Leslie Sbrocco:
Well, Thirsty Girl, I started a number of years ago as kind of an event group. I did event series all around the country. I got tired of traveling all around so I kind of put that event series on hold with Thirsty Girl.

Doug Shafer:
Because you were hosting them?

Leslie Sbrocco:
Because I was hosting them. I do enough events, as is. But ThirstyGirl.com is there and I still do lots of stuff on social media with them and have some products on Thirsty Girl. Taste This is a new digital series with KQED, with PBS. That gets me out of the studio and into wine cellars, into distilleries, into ... I've made Chinese noodles with Martin Yan and did the noodle limbo. I made vodka with this wonderful distiller, Caley, at Hangar One.

Doug Shafer:
Got it.

Leslie Sbrocco:
Shoemaker. She makes great, great vodkas.

Doug Shafer:
So you're going out on site. You're going to the ... on site.

Leslie Sbrocco:
I'm going on site. To places. To learn about ... To get my hands dirty, my former hand modeling hands dirty and do something.

Doug Shafer:
So, we're expanding. We're getting beyond wine, taste.

Leslie Sbrocco:
Yeah, because to me, wine is my anchor, it's my ... Seventy percent of what I do. Sixty percent of what I do is wine and I'm a wine geek and I'm a wine lover and I'm a ... and that's my passion. But it's all part of something. It's all part of a bigger picture so I don't have wine without food. Well, I do. I drink champagne every moment I possibly can but, you know, wine is with food, wine is with travel, wine is with people. Wine is with other drinks, from tea, to coffee, to spirits, to beer, to ... To me, it's all part of the puzzle and I really couldn't talk about wine without that. I've always believed that. I've always believed in that lifestyle focus on wine and not putting it in a vacuum.

Doug Shafer:
You can't. This is what we do.

Leslie Sbrocco:
So, I learned how to cup coffee, is the newest taste that's just really fun ...

Doug Shafer:
Yeah, what does "cup" actually mean? Oh, it's because it's a cup of coffee?

Leslie Sbrocco:
It actually ... the way that you taste the coffee and smell the coffee in these cup ... the people who cup ... It's really fascinating. I had such a hard time because you have to slurp the coffee in and you have to zip, they call it zip your mouth. But I choked and it was coming out of my nose and ...

Doug Shafer:
So this was on, this was on ... How did people see this? This is a webcast. Can they see it online?

Leslie Sbrocco:
It's really hard. Yeah. It's all online. KQED.org/tastethis. Anybody can watch it, anywhere in the world and they're great. As with anything on PBS and I think as with anything I do, I want you to have a great time, laugh, learn and walk away understanding something a little bit more. So this coffee one is really funny because she get me ... This is a certified, one of the top certified cuppers and she has Wrecking Ball Coffee, fantastic coffee roaster in San Francisco and so she taught me how to cup coffee. It's tough.

Doug Shafer:
I've got to thank you. I'm going to steal your words. You are a wonderful translator.

Leslie Sbrocco:
Aw, thank you.

Doug Shafer:
Yes, we're talking about wine but here we are talking about coffee and on this episode of Taste This. You're translating this hilariously kind of weird, what cupping, sipping, slurping. It's like, "What is she doing?". Then you go on and it's like, then you put it in layman's terms and you translate, so now it's like, "Gee, I'm not a coffee pro but I get that some people, like my wine maker, is sweating bullets over coming up with the best blend. They're doing that at the roaster.

Leslie Sbrocco:
Exactly, it's the same thing.

Doug Shafer:
It's pretty cool

Leslie Sbrocco:
And that's why I'm working on a new book and hopefully a new TV show to go with it, called "100 Days, 100 Drinks, Dishes, and Destinations".

Doug Shafer:
Geez, Leslie ...

Leslie Sbrocco:
Because it all ties together. Come with, Doug. We'll go, go to Italy and ...

Doug Shafer:
All right. I'm just going to have to learn how to live with fewer hours of sleep [inaudible 00:47:36] You are a busy woman. I know you've got another gig right now. Thanks for taking the time to join us. It's so good to catch up with you. So good to see you again.

Leslie Sbrocco:
I know.

Doug Shafer:
And catch up and find out ...

Leslie Sbrocco:
We haven't aged a day since the last time we saw each other.

Doug Shafer:
I know we haven't. Find out all these things about you. So, thanks for joining us.

Leslie Sbrocco:
Thank you, Doug.