Adam Knoerzer of ‘Burghundy is Changing Pittsburgh’s Perception Around Wine

Knoerzer’s virtual wine classes and approachable outlook on wine invites Pittsburghers to embrace the typically perceived haughty drink.

by Jessa Gibboney
September 28, 2020

This story is part of our Back to School series. To see more stories like this, check out our Home Ec curriculum.

My husband Ben and I venture out for date night… to our porch, computer screen positioned to equally house both our faces, and most importantly, our glasses of wine. We are attending the online wine class, One Grape, Two Regions: Pinot Noir in Oregon and Burgundy, France, from ‘Burghundy, a wine education platform, and about to enjoy a Jacques Girardin Bourgogne Pinot Noir 2017 and a Cristom Vineyards Pinot Noir 2017 from Willamette Valley, Oregon. We know nothing about these wines. We are nervous. Wine – it’s history, flavors, pairings – is not our forte. Like many Pittsburghers, we consider ourselves to fall into the whiskey and craft beer column.

Adam Knoerzer, wine educator, consultant and owner of ‘Burghundy, enters the screen, mask and all, and our nerves dissipate almost immediately. He makes note how important mask-wearing is, but since the class is virtual, he cheekily tosses it aside. Knoerzer has a chummy presence about him; he talks succinctly with a slight edge of humor. It’s as if we’ve already shared a laugh and a drink. The computer screen fades away and for an hour we are invited to interact with his accessible knowledge of wine.

“A lot of people feel like they have to know something about wine in order to like it, enjoy it, appreciate it, talk about it,” said Knoerzer. “It’s not true. It’s a drink just like everything else.”

Knoerzer launched ‘Burghundy in the fall of 2019 as a way to “make wine more fun and accessible locally and beyond.” Through Instagram posts, articles (Knoerzer’s work can be found in TABLE magazine, JanisRobinson.com and Wine Folly), his monthly newsletter, and his increasingly popular online classes, Kroerzer seeks to break down the stereotypes of wine as this out-of-reach, pompous drink.

“What I’ve been able to do is bridge that gap a little bit by showing that, you can be a local or middle-class kid from Northwest Indiana who has zero familial background in wine, who doesn’t come from the traditional milieu [French word for “social background”] that would appreciate this and showcase that there’s still good stuff to be found at whatever price point you’re comfortable spending,” said Knoerzer.

Since the launch of his ‘Burghundy virtual wine classes in March, Knoerzer has conducted over 75 classes with an average attendance of 30 people per class. Classes start at $10 per person. Topics range from highlighting Black-owned wineries to defining natural wine to showcasing international women winemakers to the regional differences across particular wine types. In the class description, Knoerzer shares what wine he will be tasting. You can purchase that exact wine for the class, but there is no pressure. Knoerzer shares other recommendations at various price points, all of which pair beautifully with the class topic.

Knoerzer with Berene Sauls of Tesselaarsdal Wines via @burghundy_wine

“What I love about wine, is that I get to nerd out on so many subjects simultaneously,” said Knoerzer, “I get to satisfy my curiosity around language, geography, geology, culinary traditions, history, botany – they are so many things that factor into this one subject.”

Knoerzer understands we all learn differently and uses his curiosity and assorted knowledge to optimize the virtual medium. During class, expect maps, because “wine before all else is the story of place” says Knoerzer, interactive message boards, graphs and photos which enhance the connection between student and wine.

Like wine, Knoerzer’s background is a coalescence of many experiences.

Knoerzer is originally from a small post-industrial town (much like Pittsburgh) in northwest Indiana. His background and strength lies in language. He graduated from Vassar College with a degree in French and speaks Portesguese and Spanish. Knoerzer is a Certified Sommelier with the Court of Master Sommeliers, which roughly translates to a Bachelor’s degree in wine. He is set to receive his WSET (Wine & Spirit Education Trust) Diploma in 2022, which would be on par with a Ph.D. in all areas of wine trade.

In 2011, Knoerzer moved to Pittsburgh with husband Mike Marsico. His career at the time primarily focused on public speaking. Then, wine officially took hold. Knoerzer worked for Palate Partners, School of Wine & Spirits and Dreadnought Wines in Lawrenceville (3401 Liberty Ave.) for almost two years directly prior to starting ‘Burghundy. He spearheaded the wine education element of the business. When he began his tenure, in-person classes would host approximately 10 students. By the time Knoerzer left to venture out on his own, he pre-sold an entire year’s worth of classes on Italian wines (capping at 20 people / class) and maintained a waiting list.

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Adam teaching a class in June of 2019 at Palate Partners.

Even with the popularity of Knoerzer’s wine classes, both in-person at Palate Partners and his later online courses, wine struggles to gain the gusto of our craft beer or spirits scene. Knoerzer believes it is a convergence of many things, such as the perception of wine and the fact that wine cannot be produced locally.

“The language of wine and the way it’s presented is not necessarily mutually intelligible among all segments of society – whether its race-base, class-base, gender-base, orientation-base,” said Knoerzer,

“What I’ve been able to do is make it much more palatable and switch into the type of register that’s necessary to speak to people where they are [Pittsburgh] rather than force them to be at a place where they might not be or might not be comfortable.”

Pittsburgh’s blue-collar identity continues to see wine as “the other” – whether it is out of our reach price-pointwise or palatewise or the fact that we cannot produce this drink ourselves.

“That’s where it coalesces with Pittsburgh’s pride in what it can do and what it can produce itself,” said Knoerzer. “We can’t make wine here the same way we can make beer, the same way we can make spirits. Because we can’t naturally create that and rally behind it as a local population, it [wine] is always going to be something from something else, which inherently struggles to find the same traction in Pittsburgh that something locally produced would.”

This is where Knoerzer’s accessible and entertaining approach to wine and his extensive knowledge comes in. He doesn’t make Pittsburgh fit wine; he makes wine to fit Pittsburgh.

“I see myself more as a wine translator than anything else,” said Knoerzer.

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Photo via @queerwino

In one hour with Knoerzer, my husband and I cheers the virtual company of local and out-of-state attendees and enjoy some damn good wine. We learned that the Cristom family, makers of the Oregon wine, was originally from Pittsburgh, the speed of the wine “legs” (the droplets on the side of the glass after swirling) indicates the alcohol content and that we preferred the oaky taste of the Oregon Pinot Noir over the berry taste of the French Pinot Noir.

Thanks to Adam Knoerzer, we can confidently check off the wine drinkers column after all.

Follow Adam Knoerzer

Upcoming ‘Burghundy Online Wine Classes

Click here for the latest list of online wine classes. ‘Burghundy offers several virtual classes each week.

Knoerzer’s Recommended Local State Liquor Stores:

  • Fine Wine & Good Spirits Premium Collection in East Liberty Shopping Center (5956 Centre Ave, #201)
  • Fine Wine & Good Spirits Premium Collection in The Waterworks, Fox Chapel (974 Freeport Rd) 
  • Fine Wine & Good Spirits in North Hills (3080 McIntyre Square Dr)
  • Fine Wine & Good Spirits in South Hills (5000 Oxford Dr #100)

Knoerzer’s pro tip: If you don’t see a wine you want at your local state liquor store, call your local state store and place a Special Liquor Order or “SOL.” They will ship the desired wine to your local store for you to pick up!

Wine Lists Curated by Knoerzer

📸 Header photo credit:  @BigDodzy via Unsplash.

Jessa is a writer and poet, but above all, a storyteller. Her blog houses poetry and essays on sustainable style, freelance and motherhood. Through her writing endeavors, she has worked with local and global brands such as Carnegie Museum of Art, TRYP Pittsburgh | Lawrenceville, Pittsburgh Opera, Cartier, Earth Brands and George Dickel Tennessee Whisky. Jessa lives in Pittsburgh with her husband, Ben, daughter, Louise and their pup, Opal. She wears the same rings every day, believes anything secondhand has a good story to tell and likes her whiskey straight up.

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