"Drink what you enjoy, don’t drink what people tell you to like.” This isn’t the advice one might expect from a sommelier and general manager of one of the hottest new restaurants in town. But Matt Mannick doesn’t come across as the type to be pigeonholed by others’ expectations. A self-made man who’s blazed a trail from rural Pennsylvania to Northeast Florida and beyond, becoming a standout in the culinary industry, Mannick’s story combines equal parts hard work, passion, talent and luck.
Growing up in Waymart, Pennsylvania, a small town of 1,300, Mannick spent summers on dirt bikes and four-wheelers and winters on skis and snowboards. “I’m really happy to have grown up there,” he said during the lull between lunch and dinner service on a recent weekday. After graduating from Pennsylvania State University in the mid-aughts, Mannick planned to move to North Carolina until a trip to Jacksonville convinced him otherwise. In June 2005, he settled in the town that has now become his home.
Though he didn’t intend to pursue a career in the restaurant industry, he’d waited tables in college, an experience that paired quite nicely with his degree in marketing and management to make him a choice hire for local culinary powerhouses. His résumé reads like a list of must-try Northeast Florida restaurants: Biscottis, bb’s, The Capital Grille, Black Sheep, Bistro AIX, Il Desco and now Cowford Chophouse. “I love busy nights … it’s a high almost that you want to keep chasing,” he said.
Mannick credits Allan DeVault of Black Sheep for teaching him “a tremendous amount” about wine. He also did a turn at sales and marketing with PRP Wine International.
Though he says he “randomly” got involved in the wine business, wine has become much more than a focus of his career—it’s a passion he delights in sharing with his wife, Emily, also a level-one sommelier, whom he says has the superior palate. “We’re dorky; we like to talk about wine … we quiz each other on it,” he said.
Mannick’s passion for the grape has also presented opportunities for him to literally expand his horizons. In recent years, he’s traveled to Italy for Ferrari camp, tasting scores of bubblies, and gone to Napa Valley for a “steakhouse summit,” during which he learned about pairing wine with particular cuts of meat. (And you thought schlepping to a business conference in Tampa during Gasparilla was fab.)
Prior to his recent transfer to become general manager of Cowford, as vice-president of the Forking Amazing Restaurants group, Mannick created several wine lists, most recently the selection at Cowford. Mannick said that he spent four months creating the 350-bottle wine list; in that time, he estimates, he tasted an incredible 1,500 wines. “Usually after I make a list, I don’t have a glass of wine for a month,” he laughed.
Creating a wine list is far more nuanced than merely choosing some tasty vintages; Mannick said that one of the challenges is to select wines for the customer, rather than the taster. “I usually create categories within the list … [that] fit the price range, fit the concept.”
As to wine ratings, though Mannick admits that he would be compelled to seek a bottle that was rated the rare 100, he thinks that ratings are often, well, overrated.
“I don’t find them that important,” he said. “To me, it’s all about what you like, not what somebody should tell you to like.”
LOCAL WINE HOT SPOTS
St. George Inn, 4 St. George St., Ste. 4, St. Augustine, 827-5740, stgeorge-inn.com
1534 Oak St., Riverside, 380-3091, blacksheep5points.com
CARRERA WINE CELLAR
35 San Marco Ave., St. Augustine, 217-4751
6 Aviles St., St. Augustine, 827-9055, cellar6staugustine.com
COWFORD CHOPHOUSE (pictured above)
101 E. Bay St., Downtown, 862-6464, cowfordchophouse.com
ESPAÑA RESTAURANT & TAPAS
22 S. Fourth St., Fernandina, 261-7700, espanadowntown.com
2665 Park St., Riverside, 290-6711, ildescojax.com
330 A1A N., Ste. 209, Ponte Vedra Beach
7643 Gate Pkwy., Ste. 105, Southside, jjbistro.com
20 S. Second St., Fernandina, 261-8100, leclos.com
3630 Park St., Riverside, 381-0909, restaurantorsay.com
The Ritz-Carlton, 4750 Amelia Island Pkwy., 277-1100, ritzcarlton.com
TAVERNA SAN MARCO
1986 San Marco Blvd., 398-3005, taverna.restaurant
TOWN HALL RESTAURANT JACKSONVILLE
2912 San Marco Blvd., 398-0726, townhalljax.com
THE WINE BAR
320 N. First St., Ste. 102, Jax Beach, 372-0211
1314 Prudential Dr., Southbank, 398-8989, winecellarjax.com
DRINK 2017 STORIES
BEER: SAND, SALT & SUDS
story by Marc Wisdom
WINE: BOTTLED POETRY
story by Claire Goforth
COCKTAILS: THE SWEETER THE SPIRITS
story by Claire Goforth
MEAD: SO THICK AND SO SWEET
story by Marc Wisdom
KOMBUCHA: BOOCH, PLEASE
story by Brentley Stead
Photography by Madison Gross