Wine Lets Him Taste Good Life Ex-londoner Having A Grape Time

Posted: December 08, 1989

Meet Phillip W. Silverstone: He drives a Jaguar, lives in a big Main Line house, and jets frequently to France, Italy and the West Coast.

Suave and polished, the 37-year-old Silverstone is a connoisseur of wines. He has a 1,000-bottle collection in his wine cellar.

Want to know who Phil Silverstone really is and how he got to the Main Line?

Truth is, Silverstone was a Londoner who left school at age 17. He was working as a sales representative in men's clothing when he met a vacationing American girl, fell in love and married.

Silverstone's new father-in-law owned a liquor store on the White Horse Pike in Lawnside, Camden County.

And that's where he found himself 12 years ago, surrounded by stacks of Colt .45 Malt Liquor, Thunderbird wine and bargain-priced gin.

"It was boring as hell," he recalls with a wonderful British accent. ''But I had always liked wine, so I started reading books, took some wine courses. And I started building up the wine section in the store."

Soon wine mavens from every corner of the Delaware Valley were driving to V.J. Liquors to choose from its vast wine list and consult with Silverstone.

He then struck out on his own, transforming himself into a creative impresario in the local wine world.

Have a wine collection you want appraised? Rare wine to sell on the investment market? Want to speculate in the wine futures market? Scouring the world unsuccessfully for a rare vintage?

Then Phillip Silverstone is the man to see.

In addition to these services, Silverstone's New World Wine Co. is the American sales agent for a half-dozen fine overseas wine companies.

Silverstone started a wine hot line (it died), created high-flying wine tastings on trans-Atlantic flights, and wrote a newspaper wine column.

His climb to the Main Line was partly timing: Wines became trendy and chic in the status-conscious '80s.

Partly, it was luck: His first big break came when a friend from England introduced him to a Prussian prince whose winery bottled the Rolls-Royce of German wine. Soon Silverstone was the sole American agent for Schloss Reinhartshausen.

But mostly, Silverstone's success flows from an abundant imagination and an adventurous, entrepreneurial spirit.

For instance, he's been doing a lot of work recently for the much maligned Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board.

"The LCB is the best kept secret in the nation. They'll get you anything you want - anything - on special order," he says.

"I arranged to get the state 20 cases of wine a year from a Northern California winery called Sarah's Vineyard, which make a very tiny amount of wine.

"A hockey player wanted a case of a Petrus 1966 (a Bordeaux). It's hard to find, so the LCB contacted me. I made the phone calls and found it. It will sell for about $5,000."

At times the state has purchased an entire wine celler from a private collector through middlemen such as Silverstone.

Many now collect wine the way others collect rare coins or art.

"Maybe they can't afford $4 million for a Rembrandt, but they can spent $4,000 for a bottle of wine," says Silverstone.

Collectors show off their rare wines to visitors, but only the most wealthy can afford to drink the stuff.

"I have some wine I bought in 1978 for $29.95 that have appreciated in value to $500. But I can't afford to drink it," he confesses.

"I'm saving it. It's like money in the bank. In the future, when my daughter gets married, she'll inherit a nice little nest egg. . . .

"I was amazed to find how many people out here (the Main Line) have large wine cellars of 2,000 to 3,000 bottles," says Silverstone.

Several big collectors are well-known professional athletes, but Silverstone will not provide names of clients.

"The most expensive collection I've ever seen was in England," he recalls. "It belonged to a British television personality. I was given a chance to sell it and got an offer of $1 million from an American.

"It wasn't enough," he adds. "It was worth nearly $2 million and was sold in three days to a German investor."

The fun of the wine business for Silverstone is finding new ways to make a buck or make a deal.

"I read Donald Trump's book 'The Art of the Deal' and was really inspired," he adds.

"Know how I got my Jaguar?" he asks. "I traded for it. I traded two off- street parking spaces in Center City for the car."

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