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
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
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
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!
Thank you for all of your support, cheers and please enjoy the site!
Enjoying some 2001 Cabernet Sauvignon during a
trip to Pride Mountain Vineyards in August, 2004 (this is just a display