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(sorry for the sheer length of this, but I got on a roll...)

I grew up outside of Boston, Massachusetts. Early life included a stiff preparatory school regimen at The Fessenden School and then Belmont Hill School. My first true computer was an original Macintosh purchased in 1984 with my Bar Mitzvah money. (Sometimes I wish I had the foresight to ask my father to purchase 1982 Bordeaux futures even if I was only 15 at the time.) From there I traveled a few miles upstream on the Charles River to Harvard College where I received a degree in History in 1991. My father, Robert William LeVine, may his memory be a blessing, always enjoyed wine, and it was part of our life, both day to day and at special occasions. I still fondly remember my first small pour of Sauternes or the White Burgundy that dad opened on my 21st birthday.

 

My first job was a brief stint at Lotus Development Corp. where I did contract marketing leading up to the launch of Freelance Graphics for Windows, version 1.0. Alas, less than 8 months out of school I found myself laid off and gathering unemployment after Lotus 'downsized.' In April of 1992, I made the fateful move to Seattle to join Microsoft as a Product Manager on Word for Windows 2.0. I spent the next 7 years on the Word team moving from marketing to product planning to my true calling, Program Management. (This is a unique position that Microsoft invented that involves a mixture of project management, feature and technical design and customer research.) I spent 10 years doing this on a variety of products and features within Office. In March, 1999, after 5 major versions of Word, I nearly left Microsoft altogether to join Amazon.com for the lure of the web. However, the folks at Microsoft were able to convince me to stay and help launch a new 'Fundamentals' team within Office to work on improving software reliability. Our first invention was the Microsoft Error Reporting feature (which I hope people are seeing less and less; people REALLY do listen to those reports). I spent the next 5+ years as a Group Program Manager in Office and a Product Unit Manager in Windows, preaching the religion of how we could systematically use customer feedback to drive massive reliability improvements in our products.

 

In September, 1999 I took a vacation with my wife in Italy. We spent a memorable week biking in Tuscany, and on our second day I distinctly remember a wine tasting that would forever change my life. To this point, wine was something I enjoyed but of which I was largely ignorant. I had always wanted to take the time to learn, but I found the topic to be hopelessly intimidating. Anyway, the tasting featured four Tuscan wines representing different DOCG's: Chianti Classico, Chianti Classico Riserva, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, and Brunello di Montalcino. I was blown away by the wines, most of all because they were made from essentially the same grapes (or clones of them) within a fairly small region. However, each wine had a thoroughly different personality due to varying environmental factors (terroir) and winemaking differences. I was officially intrigued, and from this point onward I devoted myself to learning more about wine and collecting with fervor.

 

In March, 2003 I took an 8-week sabbatical from Microsoft, a standard perk for senior employees. In typical Microsoft fashion, I had a long to-do list of technical things I wanted to play with: ripping our whole CD collection and installing a digital audio player; learning about Linux/Apache/PHP/mySQL; and most importantly, I wanted to build a simple, web-based cellar management application so that I could retire the spreadsheet I had been using for the same task. I spent a week getting RedHat8 up and running and then looking at phpWIMS. Alas, the tool was nice but not fundamentally different from my existing Excel spreadsheet. So I decided to build something myself using SQL Server and some hand-coded ASP pages, tools I was very familiar with. And thus, on 3/7/2003 after a few days of intensive coding, CellarTracker was born in very rudimentary form. I thought I was largely done, but on a whim I showed it to two friends who were very big wine aficionados. Their immediate, reaction was that they too wanted to use the system. Oh great I thought, I never anticipated that. "OK, OK", I grudgingly told them, "give me a couple of weeks and I'll figure out how we can share it." After a week I had something working, and within a few weeks we had 3 of us tracking a collective 3,000 bottles. The big surprise of the system was how exciting it was to see each other's collections and more importantly to see each others' tasting notes. After three months I decided that I wanted to open the system up to the world, but I also knew that I had a lot of work ahead to make this feasible and robust. Meanwhile, my day job at Microsoft also kept me extremely busy, so I slowly chipped away into the late hours over the next ten months. Finally, on 4/25/2004 I was ready, and I officially opened the site so that any user could surf on up and register.

 

At the beginning of February, 2005 I formally retired from Microsoft (I actually physically left in August, 2004 on unpaid leave) just two months shy of my 13th anniversary. I loved it there. I loved the work. I loved the people I worked with and for. It is a remarkable corporation with a massive number of passionate and gifted employees. However, after spending nearly 40% of my lifetime there, I wanted to do something different. I didn't leave because of CellarTracker, but I did leave knowing that I could pour a nearly endless amount of energy into the site and had a ton to learn along the way. For the first time in my life I am my own boss, an entrepreneur. Before that point, I don't think I truly knew the meaning of the word.

 

Over the past 20 years I have designed and built a great deal of software. What motivates me now is that, in my time working on CellarTracker, I have never seen more people have a stronger and more visceral reaction to any piece of software, let alone something I created from scratch of my own volition. Of course this stems from the passion that collectors have for wine, but it is clear to me that many people find that CellarTracker can help them to get even more pleasure out of their wine passion. I built CellarTracker for myself for this reason, and I am so pleased to literally see hundreds of thousands of other collectors taking such pleasure in the software. This is a work in progress, still very young and in some respects immature and raw. However, with the constant feedback and support from users I am able to marshal ever more resources to grow the site and the CellarTracker! community.
 

Thank you for all of your support, cheers and please enjoy the site!
-Eric LeVine

 

Enjoying some 2001 Cabernet Sauvignon during a trip to Pride Mountain Vineyards in August, 2004 (this is just a display bottle...)


 
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