For the record, this was originally titled “Wine Pro on Tap: Jonathan Newman” because, well, it’s our latest wine personality profile. But we just couldn’t resist.
To some, Jonathan Newman will always be The Chairman. Yes, that Chairman, originator of the Selection program and a determined leader who ushered in a much-needed image overhaul for the Pennsylvania LCB. His brand of change was sold – and widely accepted – as a boon for consumers: Upgraded retail outlets, temperature-controlled warehouses, reefer trucks and a general lift to quality and savings for the end-buyer. In the early to mid-aughts, it wasn’t uncommon to hear people speak glowingly of Newman in mixed company, and some went so far as to imagine his ascension to higher office in Harrisburg. I recall mentioning the notion to Newman a few years ago in his Conshohocken office. He waved it off, saying his years at the PLCB were purely about taking the agency to a new level.
He toes the same line today. “I would say that I enjoyed seven and a half years of government service and now enjoy having my own company so much and doing something I’m passionate about that I haven’t given any consideration to running for Governor.”
His company, Newman Wine & Spirits, started up in 2008 and today works with about 100 wineries – primarily in Napa, Sonoma and France – serving a retail network of 200 wine stores in seven states (as well as D.C and restaurants in Pennsylvania). Newman says business is up over 40% in the past two years and he’ll sell more than 150,000 cases of wine in 2014.
Recently back from a tasting tour in the Golden State, Newman shared his enthusiasm for pending 2013 and 2014 California releases and also took some time to answer a few questions from PAVC.
Tell us about your wine epiphany – the moment when your appreciation for wine crossed over to love or obsession.
I’m not sure I really had an epiphany, per se. Wine was a part of the family dinner table growing up. I always enjoyed cooking and wine became a part of my family. Wine is part of the fabric of my life and helps bring out the enjoyment of food and is part of celebrations with friends and family. When I became chairman of the PLCB and started the Chairman’s Selection program I felt an incredible sense of accomplishment bringing value to consumers. Sharing my love of wine with Pennsylvanians and seeing them respond so favorably was rewarding.
What is your favorite wine region/style and why?
The great Pinot Noirs of Burgundy. While I enjoy big Napa Cabs, there is nothing like the elegance and terroir of a great Burgundy from Vosne-Romanée.
What noteworthy region do consumers overlook?
Southern Burgundy. There are some incredible Chardonnays from the Macon that should be selling for much more than they do, but the region does not have as much prestige.
Is there a piece of wine wisdom that you’re passionate about?
Never let anybody tell you what you should drink. Rely on your own palate and what you enjoy. Wine is like food in that each individual has his or her own preferred tastes. Not everybody likes rabbit, venison or lamb. Drink what you please, but be open to experimenting and trying many different wines because you may find something new that you love.
Do you have a particularly good palate? If so, how did you develop it?
I think we all like to think we have a good palate. I do believe I have a good sense of smell and have since I was a child. Extensive reading, research and tasting many different wines have also enhanced my enjoyment.
What’s the most common question you get?
What’s your favorite wine? And there really is no answer because it depends about my mood and what I’m eating. There are so many great producers and growing regions. I like to experiment and always want to try a wine I’ve never had before.
What do you love most about your job?
Bringing enjoyment to consumers. I hear from people all the time and when they tell me that they’ve purchased a wine I recommended and loved it, well, that makes me feel like a million bucks and makes my day.
Have you learned any memorable lessons from consumers?
Every day I learn something new and enjoy interacting with them. Wine is about family, food and friends and it’s a very personal experience. People work hard and they don’t want to be disappointed opening that bottle of wine at the end of a long day.
How do you manage to stay on top of so many wines in your portfolio?
When I ran the PLCB, I hand selected hundreds of Chairman’s Selection wines and I remember how each of those wines tasted. Since I started my business, I’ve selected many more wines from all over the world but I focus primarily on those from Napa Valley, Sonoma Valley and Burgundy. I am passionate about each of the wines I select because you can never disappoint the consumer.
What bottle do you have open at home right now?
I wish I could say there were a bottle open but my girlfriend and I polished it off with a great meal.