John Layne, 44, is president of a Baltimore-area company you probably never heard of: WineDocs. He and his employees put together wine tastings for professional meetings, retreats, conventions and other private functions. After working as an electronic security salesman, Layne turned a hobby into this unique business in 1996. That business now takes him and his crew all over the country, as well as to Canada, the Caribbean and Europe. Layne lives in Seven Valleys, Pa., with wife Barbara and two children, Ryan, 7, and Madison, 4.
How do you describe what you do?
I call myself a wine entertainer. ... Our company is there to entertain clients, [often] attendees at [professional] meetings or conventions. ... These meetings are usually in nice places, resorts. ... Basically, people arrive on Friday night and they have meetings over the weekend. ... [The host company] usually wants their people to be entertained. They could take them to a play, bring in musicians, a comedian. They've got to feed them. Our whole thing is, why not feed them really well, pour them great wine? That's entertainment, in and of itself. We don't want to be pretentious. Our typical audience is physicians; some of whom will have been in their careers a long time and many have fabulous cellars already. Some of them are just out of their residency and are looking for mentors. What you want to do is level the playing field for everyone. You do that by pouring great wines, but pouring great wines no one in the room has ever had before. How did you come up with this business?
I wanted to be in the wine business but I didn't want the hours a restaurant had. I didn't want the overhead and the employees that having a retail store or wholesale business might have. I was trying to find something to use my talents -- getting in front of people and speaking, teaching, entertaining. I think if you have those talents and you can use them with something you're passionate about, then you're going to be successful. There's nothing I'm more passionate about than great wine from small artisan wine producers. So, I take it, what we're having today is one of those?
Yes, it is. ... There are only about 200 cases of it made. In my opinion, it's one of the top 10 zinfandels out there. It's everything a great zinfandel should be. It's got loads of black and red berry, black pepper, anise, orange peel. And it all comes together in your mouth in this juicy, spicy, just gorgeous wine. It makes your mouth water. How do people react to your wine tastings and presentations?
We get unbelievable reaction. When we do this in a room at a meeting, we're told they've never seen a buzz in the room like that. We pour a whole variety of wine that no has ever heard of. Everyone is discovering something. Meanwhile, they're putting down three to four glasses of wine, which totally relaxes everyone. The next morning when they ... go to their meeting, the ice is already broken and the client gets what they want, which is a free exchange of ideas. No barriers. When people find out what you do, what questions do they ask you?
"Can I work for you?" Invariably. And you say ...
It's not as glamorous as it sounds. ... The other question I get is, "What's your favorite wine?" The complicated answer is I do what I do and I love what I do [because] I love all good wines. So you made one hobby into a career. Do you have other hobbies?
I love to read. But most of my reading these days happens in airplanes and hotel rooms. I love historical fiction. My favorite writers are John Updike, John Irving, John Barth. ... I'm a huge Orioles fan and Maryland basketball and football fan. Do you ever get to a point where you don't want to look at another glass, another bottle, of wine?
The middle of June every year, I don't want to see an airplane. I don't get tired of wine. But, I get tired of tasting wine. I just want to drink wine.