As the new manager of County Wine and Spirits, Jamie Webb curates the shop’s wine and beer collection with variety, style, and value for its loyal, experienced clientele.
Jamie Webb is not just the new guy at County Wine and Spirits in New Preston, he’s taking over after the ten-year run of the trusted and well-known previous owner. Like a Broadway play when the original cast retires, new actors have to make the roles their own. And it can be challenging to assert your style while you’re inevitably compared to the dearly departed.
Happily, for the many devoted fans of County Wine, Jamie Webb is more than up to the task. A gentle soul with an easy smile, a sly sense of humor, and a penchant for poetry (he earned a degree in literature and worked in books prior to his 25 years in the wine business), Jamie is a worldly wine guy. He credits Hans Bauer, the long-ago owner of Litchfield Wine Merchant, for the taste of burgundy that changed the course of his career. “It was delicate and complex all at once, and it seemed to stay in your mouth forever. I couldn’t describe it, but I knew it was like nothing I’d ever tasted. I was hooked.”
Jamie maintains a modest personal cellar at home, though he’s quick to quip he can’t afford cases of burgundy. Like many consumers, his priority is value, the inescapable ratio of price to quality. It now falls to Jamie to curate the County Wine collection, a standard of variety, style and unique interest that’s becoming clearer as he gets acquainted with his clientele. “They are very well experienced. The thing that makes me happiest is discovering an audience for something I love.”
“I recently added a Jacquàre (a white grape found mostly in the Savoie region of France). It’s obscure, but I like it, it’s not expensive, and I had a hunch it might fit in. Twenty minutes later a guy walks in and remarks, Jacquàre! That gives me a sense of what this shop has meant to the community.” Jamie’s unpretentious hospitality is natural and engaging. An “eternal student,” his formula for retail is disarmingly simple: share personal experience and build trust, rare and welcome skills in the complex world of wine.
Webb claims not to be creative himself, but his role models include artists and filmmakers. He likens the crafting of elegant wine to the precision of poetry and notes that one of the pleasures of age is finding beauty in so many unexpected places. Even when the tiny shop buzzes with happy chaos, he exudes a sense of easy-going calm, one of the hallmarks of a good listener. “My father’s family were all even-tempered and focused, but I have to work on being a good listener all the time.”
Though Jamie grew up in Darien, his affection for the northwest hills dates back to his years at The Taft School, and regular tennis and squash matches with Litchfield County competitors. He also coached and competed while earning his degree at Trinity College, making frequent day trips for hikes in Steep Rock, lunch at the Pantry, and shopping in New Preston. Working in New Preston now feels like a homecoming.
Jamie’s love of wine (and beer) is an extension of his love of food and culture. Wine is always representative of a place and an experience. Traveling in Italy, he recalls, one of the treasures of Emilia-Romagna is the aromatic cured ham Culatello di Zibello. He’d been baffled by the many sparkling, sweetish wines of the region until he tasted them with the ham, and then “it clicked.”
“As a wine guy,” Jamie notes, “I’m excited by the explosion of connoisseurship among beer lovers. We now routinely discuss nuances of particular varieties of hops with beer drinkers who quote reviews and ratings like wine scores from Robert Parker.” He organized his own early exploration of wine around Parker’s writing. “I looked for the highest ratings with the lowest prices.” From there he let his palate be his guide, especially when traveling in Europe.
How to stay excited when you sample 20 or 30 wines a week, some of which are of reasonable quality for their price, but few dazzle? “It’s easy to fall into a rut without noticing.” And then, a revelation – “Occasionally I taste something different, something very special, deftly balanced and unique. A wine that rises above the noisy crowd. The bar gets reset, and I remember why we do what we do.” Characteristically, Jamie adds, “That sense of professional refreshment also reminds me to stay alerted to those experiences of beauty in all parts of my life.”
Asked about how he hopes to move County Wine forward, Webb allows “There are wine shops in our area with good collections and strong knowledge, and everyone goes at it a little differently.” Focusing on an atmosphere of shared experience, personal attention, and mutual interests, he asks, “What are you cooking? Are you entertaining? What have you been drinking lately?” The goal is to keep the shop vital, reliable and fun.
Owners Laurie and Dennis White share a mutual appreciation with Webb. He’s a mature manager with ownership experience and a broad view of responsible business operations. To Webb, their trust allows him to focus on the shop’s collection and the customer experience, exactly where he wants to be. “We’re a well-matched team,” he says. “Laurie and Dennis have great spirit. They are not indiscriminate number crunchers – they’re committed to sustaining the traditions that put County Wine on the map.”
Like a child, Jamie Webb still delights in discovery. And as the father of an eighteen-year-old son, he tries not to forget what it was like. “I admire his energy and his willingness to change direction, trying one thing after another. He doesn’t make apologies when he has a better idea, and he is a force to be reckoned with.” Jamie brings that same sense of genuine joy to his new post.
County Wine & Spirits
178 New Milford Turnpike (Rt.202)
Bill Fore is the former owner of County Wine and Spirits. Since his departure from County Wine, Bill has been writing, working part time at the Hickory Stick Book Shop, and training his dog. See our past article about Bill Fore HERE.