Variety Showmen of the Year: Family finds wine divine
Top entertainment executives have plenty of ways they can unwind after a long work week, be it golf, attending parties or even just reading a book.
Gary Newman, 20th Century Fox TV chairman, and his wife, Jeanne Newman, a partner at law firm Hansen Jacobson, stumbled upon a unique way to relax: taking care of their own vineyard.
Jorian Hill is a 20-acre vineyard in Solvang they purchased in 2005, boasting 7.5 acres of grapes. Its specialty wines can be purchased online, in restaurants or at high-end wine stores. The Newmans employ organic and sustainable methods, using only their own grapes.
Becoming vintners was really an accident, according to Jeanne. The two had set off to find a retreat for their family when she saw an ad online for a vineyard that was for sale by the owner. From there, it was love at first sight.
“We drove up the road, and it was just beautiful and felt like home,” she recalls. “The fact that it was a vineyard was sort of secondary. We were so taken by the place that we just figured we could do it.”
Being amateur vintners, they needed help. With the property came a winemaker, grapes, chickens and fruit trees, but neither Jeanne nor Gary had the experience to do it alone.
“We’ve hired a village of people to help us,” Gary says. “The only thing we really knew about wine is opening up a bottle.”
Aside from their demanding jobs, the Newmans also have three children to keep them busy. In fact, the “Jorian” in Jorian Hill comes from a mixture of their children’s names: Jordan, Reed and Hillary.
Initially, the purchase didn’t win the approval of the two older siblings. Jeanne says the twins, who at that time were in their freshman year of college, questioned their parents’ sanity. However, it was a dream come true for their youngest, Reed, who was then 11. Thanks to the influence of the vineyard, he’s now attending Cornell’s agriculture school with a minor in viniculture.
Jeanne gives the vineyard credit for bringing the whole family closer.
“It might just be them loving being with us, or it might just be all the free wine, but whatever it is, we’ve had really great times up there,” she says. “We started off looking for a retreat, and it’s been that.”
Still, there have been plenty of challenges, such as when a yellowjacket infestation wiped out a quarter of their crop, making their mascot — a bee — seem a bit ironic, or when their winemaker got into a fight with the winery and was barred from it. They also don’t have as much time as Jeanne would like to keep up with the business side, which she says is much more difficult than growing.
Still, the tradeoff is small for what the vineyard has become for the Newmans.
“When we have a dinner party and we’re able to pour our own wine — I love that,” Gary says. “You take pride in what you make.”