When he's not studying the mating rituals of alligators or joining a pack of chimpanzees on a hunt, Jeff Corwin loves to pluck a bottle from his cellar and reminisce about the faraway place it came from. The globetrotting host of two Animal Planet shows--The Jeff Corwin Experience and the new Corwin's Quest, which premieres in June--often eschews luggage so he can bring home more wine from his favorite wineries in South Africa, Australia, South America and elsewhere. Corwin, 37, also dreams of making his own wine, but one with an international spin: a blend made from all corners of the globe.
When did you become interested in wine?
Jeff Corwin: I became infatuated with wine as a young adult. I started collecting when I was in my early 20s. My dad has a great collection. I remember him giving me a card--it's a picture of a father showing his son his wine cellar--and it says, "Son, someday none of this will be yours."
WS: Have your tastes evolved since you began collecting?
JC: My tastes have changed since then. One part of it is that you become pickier. But you also become more open-minded. I used to be a Champagne snob, but I've come to appreciate all kinds of sparkling wines. When I went to Australia, I learned that a screw top isn't necessarily a bad thing. I've also come to look for more balance in wine. I used to like the typical roundhouse, in-your-face Chardonnay or a rich, chocolaty Zinfandel. I've really come to appreciate a great old Cab or Bordeaux.
But I think collecting is something one can get carried away with. It's not like when you get the Hope Diamond, you have the Hope Diamond. With wine, there's always something new you need to have.
WS: How has your itinerant line of work influenced your taste in wine?
JC: One of the nice things about my job is that not only do I have access to wine, I also visit places where they make wine, like South America, South Africa, Australia and Europe. I've really come to enjoy the pleasure of learning about the terroir that supports the wine and meeting the people behind it. In my wine cellar, I have everything arranged by region. I can grab a bottle, and there's a story behind it, and I love that.
WS: Any favorite regions to visit?
JC: South Africa produces an incredible amount of fantastic wine. When people go there, I tell them to pack lightly so they can bring a case or two home. When my wife and I travel, we do everything in carry-on and bring back a case or two [of wine] instead of luggage. I've brought back like 10 cases at a time from South Africa. No problem. But anything can happen at customs. Most of the time they say, "Hey, you're the animal guy--OK." Other times they charge a dollar a bottle or whatever.
WS: Have you encountered wine in unexpected places?
JC: Just about anything can ferment, so you learn to keep an open mind when somebody offers you "wine." Like in this little village in Ecuador they gave me chicha, a barrel-aged drink made from fermented yuca and saliva. But somebody's sharing something with you, and you're drinking a piece of their culture and history.
WS: Having visited vineyards and tasted wine all over the world, do you think wine is becoming too globalized?
JC: I actually think people need to be more global in the way they look at wine. Not only should they partake of wines that are delicious and wonderful and appeal to their specific tastes, they should also buy wines that are environmentally sensitive and sustainable in regards to the land they grow the grapes on and the people who work the land.
I'm actually exploring ways of looking at what I call the "Virtual Vineyard." I want to make a "Fusion Cuvée," a blend of various wines from all over the world. You could have a wine that includes juice from someone in Chile married to juice from Africa and the U.S. I'm excited about the idea of producing a world in a bottle.