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Gavin Newsom on wine, politics, his PlumpJack portfolio, San Francisco, Oakland, hair, and much more



Part 1

Gavin Newsom is a two-term Mayor of San Francisco and is currently serving his second term as California’s Lieutenant-Governor. He is seeking the Democratic nomination for Governor in the 2018 election and is widely perceived as the prohibitive front-runner to succeed current Governor Jerry Brown. Beyond that, of course, there is a Presidential election in 2020, and Newsom has shown up on some short lists as a possible candidate. Even in 2024, he will only be 55 years old.

I met Gavin back in the early 1990s, when he and his partners, who included Gordon Getty, were forming what has now become their PlumpJack Group, a collection of wine stores, bars, clubs, resorts and hotels that has made 47-year old Newsom a wealthy man. (By the way, I don’t call him “Gavin,” as I used to, I call him “Governor,” which is the proper honorific for a Lieutenant-Governor.) We met in his office, in a sort of incubator, the Founders Den, near AT&T Park, where he chooses to work, rather than in the more traditional office of the Lieutenant-Governor, the California State Building in Civic Center.

I began by asking Gov. Newsom about his alcoholic beverage consumption, problems concerning which were widely reported in 2006-2007, when he was Mayor.

SH: When you were Mayor and had the problem with drinking, how’s that going? Do you imbibe alcohol these days?

GN: Yes, I absolutely do. I have for years. I stopped drinking because I wanted to stop drinking and I needed to stop drinking, and it was a good point of clarity. So I just stopped. Stopped. And a couple years later, I started trying a little wine again, and I have continued to this day. Which is a healthy thing, from my perspective.

SH: So are you in any sort of—

GN: I was never in anything.

SH: Never in rehab?

GN: No.

SH: You were in counseling with Mimi—

GN: Silber. Well, Mimi I’ve known since my birth, and she told me to stop drinking one day, and I stopped. And when she said it’s okay to drink, I went, Thank you, and waited a couple of months, and then thought, OK, I’ll start again. So it was important to me, in that moment, to reset, more than anything else.


SH: How are the PlumpJack companies doing?

GN: Everything’s great. We’ve got, I think—boy, I don’t know how many businesses we’ve got now. We just opened two new ones, Forgery, a bar down the road, and then a club right behind it called Verso.

SH: That’s the new Mid-Market [project]–?

GN: Yeah, Mid-Market, and then interestingly my sister is down, as we speak, at a new small property we just purchased, a hotel in Carmel. And we’ve got another bar we’re opening, in the Mission, by the end of the year. So the businesses have grown. I think there’s seventeen or so operating businesses.

SH: I have to ask, Mid-Market forever had this reputation as a sleazy, dirty, dangerous—

GN: Yeah, of course.

SH: My town, Oakland, is very hot.

GN: Yup.

SH: Oakland is arguably—

GN: The new San Francisco! That’s what everyone is saying.

SH: So would PlumpJack do something—

GN: In Oakland? Of course. I love Oakland. I love the culture there, the neighborhood character, I like everything about Oakland. I appreciate the new Mayor over there [Libby Schaaf].

SH: She seems to be doing a good job.

GN: She’s a solid person, and so she’s getting that city—of course, Oakland, in the past, has been the beneficiary of San Francisco’s success in many ways, in the 1990s, late Nineties. We’re seeing that now in a more sustainable way. The question is, How does Oakland deal with the challenges San Francisco’s had to deal with, as it relates to gentrification and being the tip of the spear of this new economy, at this hinge moment in history, as we move from something old to something new.

SH: Well, would you encourage your companies to do something in Oakland?

GN: Yeah. I’d love to. We have such a San Francisco centricity, because we’re all here, we live here, the businesses are spread out and established here. But absolutely. We’re now in Carmel, we’re in Lake Tahoe, we’re obviously in Napa, and so, yeah, absolutely.

SH: Uber announced they’re moving to Oakland.

GN: I think that’s great. Oakland, for me, is a member of the family. As a fifth-generation San Franciscan and former Mayor, I’ll express my subjectivity and say I like to think we’re the spoke of the wheel, the center of it, but in so many ways [the Bay Area] is just one large community that needs to focus more regionally to address the respective needs of each community…When I think of the politics of San Francisco, the politics of Oakland, the politics within cities in the Bay Area, it’s clear to me and self-evident: none of these cities’ isolation can solve all of their problems. We have to think more regionally.

SH: Okay, well, Oakland people will be gratified that you are at least open to the possibility of—

GN: Open? I love it!

SH: But nothing now?

GN: No, but we’re always—you know, I was just in the East Bay. You know what was my favorite, great sandwich place?–

SH: Ike’s?

GN: No, it’s not that, I’ve heard about it, but what the heck? I’ve forgotten. Anyway, there was a business we were going to invest in partnership out there, so…my only point is, that’s evidence of sincerity. I’m not just saying it.

SH: Okay, I’ll give you a personal tour of Uptown and show you how exciting it is!

GN: By the way, my wife [Jennifer Siebel Newsom] is doing a new documentary, and her city is Oakland. It’s the backdrop, and she’s deep in the issue of social mobility and income inequality, and she’s been spending the last year filming three families in Oakland in a very granular, very nuanced and textured way, and it’s just reinforced my appreciation for the city and, more importantly, the entire region, the place we call home.

Tune in this week for more on Gov. Newsom on alcohol levels, screwtops and Napa prices, and the Republican race for President.

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