Jimmy Mancbach, the longtime director of fine wines for distributor Southern Wine & Spirits, America's largest wine and spirits wholesaler, passed away at his Hillsboro Beach, Fla., home on Jan. 2. The cause was complications from diabetes. He was 56.
"Please don't let people say that I died young," Mancbach said from his hospital bed in a November 2006 conversation with Jean Arnold Sessions, president of Hanzell Vineyards in Sonoma, with whom he'd worked on and off since they met in 1985. "I've lived a great life and truly enjoyed it all."
A wine connoisseur with a penchant for unearthing hard-to-find and overlooked brands, Mancbach spent a great deal of time traveling in California and around the globe hoping to discover the next addition to Southern's Gems Collection, which he oversaw (it was often referred to as Jimmy's Gems). His expertise led Southern to endow him with broad autonomy to purchase wines according to his own distinguished palate.
He took immense pride in his ability to build relationships with his restaurant clients and help improve their wine programs by telling the stories of the wines he sold to them and explaining the winemakers' vision--all the while avoiding the pretense and snobbery often associated with wine. "I micromanage each of my buyers and my wines," he once said. "I have little to do with the political bullshit in this business or with egomaniacs--people who think they know everything about wine."
According to Arnold Sessions, Mancbach even continued setting up allocations and marketing plans from his hospital bed. "Jimmy has always been the person that really gets it about small wineries," she said. "He'd get this merry band of road warriors [winery sales directors] and go out and educate about the wines and other great wines. We grew up doing that in Florida."
Mancbach was a native of Metuchen, N.J. He moved to Florida in 1979 and had a brief stint in the furniture business before landing with Miami-based Southern. He usually took an active presence in Miami's South Beach Wine & Food Festival, often helping auction off high-end wines at the annual event.
He was particularly passionate about wine education, and before his death Mancbach asked several of the wineries he worked with--including Ridge, Au Bon Climat, Hanzell and Chateau Montelena--to set up a scholarship fund that could send aspiring winemakers to California to work harvest alongside the likes of Au Bon Climat's Jim Clendenen.
"'Don't let it be some fluff job in the office,' he told us," said Arnold Sessions. "'They have to be on the land with the winemaker and learning the excitement and passion.' He said that with tears in his eyes." She said she expects a kickoff fund-raiser for the scholarship fund to be held--likely with the involvement of a celebrity chef--in South Florida in the next couple months.
Mancbach is survived by his parents Irwin and Barbara Mancbach; his sister, Jane Fletcher; and her two children. A memorial service was held last week in Boynton Beach, Fla., with a burial and shivah last Friday in Santa Barbara, Calif.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to the James Mancbach Scholarship Foundation, c/o The United Way of Miami-Dade, 3250 S.W. Third Ave., Miami, FL 33129.
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