A world of wine

UGA alumnus has found his niche in educating people about wine

A world of wine

Michael Bryan

Photo by: Paul Efland

Michael Bryan stands at the front of the room, glass in hand, several opened wine bottles on a shelf behind him.

“I put this in the decanter at 10:30 a.m.,” he says, swirling the red liquid in the bowl of his glass. He takes a deep sip of the wine, a 2005 Camus Pere et Fils Le Chambertin from Burgundy, France.

Chambertin, he tells the group, tonight’s students at the Atlanta Wine School, is considered the best single vineyard for pinot noir in the world. The Camus family, he says, has been making wine since the 18th century.

He fields questions about the wine, such as when is a particular vintage ready to drink.

“The perfect time is dictated by where we are and whom we’re with,” he says.

Bryan (BBA ’89) left UGA with a degree in marketing but no real idea of what he wanted to do in his career. His father had been a successful business man, so he decided to follow his path. His first job was in sales for MCI, then an upstart long distance carrier looking for customers.

“I thought, ‘If I can sell long distance, I can sell anything,’” he says.

He left that after five years and went to work for a small marketing company, with clients like Delta Airlines and the Cartoon Network. In 1996, on his 30th birthday, he bought his first business, a small staffing company that was bringing in $1.8 million a year. Three years later, the company was making $5 million a year. Bryan sold the business. “I was technically a millionaire,” he says.

By the late ’90s, however, his fortune had turned. A series of bad investments, poor luck at day trading and a large investment in an Internet golf business stripped him of his wealth. In the summer of 2000 he found himself in a big house in Brookhaven with a wife, two kids, a live-in nanny and no money. Soon his wife was gone as well.

“It takes adversity to finally find yourself,” Bryan says, recalling those days, “I realized I was not on the right path. My heart wasn’t in it.”

He returned to corporate America to survive but kept his eye out for a passion to follow. That’s when he discovered wine.

His girlfriend, now wife, took him to Napa Valley for a vacation. They visited 13 wineries in a day, and he realized how much he already knew about wine compared to other visitors. When he returned to Atlanta he began offering classes to friends.

In the past eight years he has made over 1,000 presentations, as a special guest of businesses in town for conventions, for groups of university alumni, for want-to-be sommeliers and for the groups of regular people who sign up for classes at Atlanta Wine School just to learn a little more about wine.

“I had no interest in selling wine, I wanted to be an evangelist,” he says of his decision to open a school. “I wanted to sell wine as a symbol of good living.”

The school now offers classes for novice wine tasters as well as more advanced and a certification program for people who want to become sommeliers. Bryan also has been scheduling group trips to tour some of the best-known regions of the world for wine, such as Sonoma and Napa valleys, Tuscany and Bordeaux.

On this night in Roswell, his guests are tasting reserve wines, which retail for $60 to $225 a bottle. After the Camus ($180) Bryan has the group try a 2007 Patz and Hall Pinot Noir from the Pisoni Vineyard in the Santa Lucia Highlands, about 20 miles south of Monterey Bay in California. This pinot noir ($80) has a “yummy factor,” Bryan says as he sips from his glass.

After the pinots, he heads into the heavier wines, starting with a 2005 Gamble Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon ($60) from the Family Home Vineyard in Oakville (Napa Valley), Calif. As with the previous wines, Bryan offers a little history of the vineyard and the winemaker.

The Gamble family, he says, are “farmer producers. They don’t have Gucci loafers.”

People come to his classes, some again and again, to be entertained as well as to learn about wine, Bryan explains.

“If you leave them laughing, you leave them learning,” he says. “The people who come here like to suck the marrow out of life.”

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For more on the Atlanta Wine School, go to www.AtlantaWineSchool.com or call (770) 668-0435.