California Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom Just Kind of Hangs Out At His Winery Now

Patrick Howley Political Reporter
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Democratic California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom spends a lot of his copious free time at his winery.

Newsom, who is up for re-election but refuses to debate his Republican challenger Ron Nehring, makes $123,965 per year as lieutenant governor and commands a $1 million staff and office budget, but he barely does anything in the job. So why, exactly, is the former San Francisco mayor running for another term?

“It’s just so dull … sadly, I just, ugh, God,” Newsom told the San Francisco Chronicle in June, referring to his job in government. Newsom said that there’s “no reason” for him to go to work much at his ceremonial job, and admitted that he only goes to the state Capitol in Sacramento at most once a week.

What is he doing instead?

“Now that he doesn’t have any more local conflict, he’s back involved in the PlumpJack business,” Newsom’s sister said in December 2011.

Newsom is the co-founder of Plumpjack Group, which he started with billionaire Gordon Getty.

“PlumpJack Management Group has built a solid, respected brand with a portfolio of properties that includes wineries, restaurants, retail and resorts,” according to the company’s website. One of the group’s wines won the top prize for wines from Wine Enthusiast Magazine in 2004. The magazine called Newsom’s wine “first rate, fat, fleshy, flashy and sensual.”

The group purchased 40-acre Steltzner Vineyards and winery in Napa Valley in 2012, little more than a year after he became lieutenant governor. Several months later, the group announced a new Cabernet Sauvignon release that Newsom said meets the group’s vision of “trying to find distinctive properties that offer a unique characteristic of their regions.”

“I’ve always been interested in the Stags Leap District. The wines are so opulent and soft,” Newsom said.

The Los Angeles Times detailed Newsom’s lackadaisical lifestyle, including his once-a-week Capitol visits, in a July 2013 piece describing his political career as being “in eclipse” since he’s been lieutenant governor.

Newsom and Brown have not convened a one-on-one meeting since Brown was elected in 2010 after winning the Democratic nomination over Newsom, the Times reported. Newsom previously called the lieutenant governor’s office “a largely ceremonial post … with no real authority and no real portfolio.”

Newsom chairs the state’s Commission on Economic Development. But as Nehring pointed out on the campaign trail, the commission has not made appointments to fill any of its 16 open slots and Newsom last convened a meeting a year and a half ago. Newsom criticized “the good folks across the hall” in Brown’s office for failing to make the necessary appointments.

Newsom, who wrote a book called “Citizenville” about political participation in the digital age, and hosted a now defunct Current TV talk show, was previously the unwitting victim of “sick pay laws” in his state. After Newsom’s secretary, Ruby Rippey-Tourk, wife of his deputy chief of staff and campaign manager, went to taxpayer-funded therapy for her substance abuse problems, she admitted to her husband that she had an affair with Newsom. The affair ended up going public in 2007.

Newsom led Nehring by 20 points in a September poll.

Newsom’s representatives did not return a request for comment.

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