I have the great fortune of being invited to a number of wine events each year. All of these events have their merits and many are very cool. It is the more rare event that completely rocks my vinous world, however. The annual Garden Party at Newton Vineyard (Facebook, WineLog), 600 feet above St. Helena on Spring Mountain was one of those rare events. Standing atop the mountain, with a 360 degree view of at least 65% of the entire Valley, with some glorious weather to complement the elegantly balanced Newton wines, paired with nibbles from étoile and the Lady by your side, it’s a bit hard to *not* have a brilliant time. I decided to suck it up and a have a great time (tongue comfortably in cheek).
Proprietors Peter and his wife, Dr. Su Hua Newton founded the winery in 1977 after selling off their iconic Sterling Vineyard in the mid-70’s. Their new 500+ Estate (~1 square mile) was instantly notable as a pioneering estate in what is now the Spring Mountain District, with it’s current 120 acres planted in 112 distinct blocks, at altitudes ranging from 500 to 1600 feet and slopes as sharp as 56 degrees. Come harvest Newton harvesters will go through each block up to 5 times, all under the supervision of winemaker Chris Millard and Madrigal Vineyard Management. Do the math and you can begin to understand the amount of care that goes into the vineyards leading up to each harvest! These blocks are necessary, not only to take advantage of widely varying über-microclimates afforded by the differing altitudes and sun exposure that each block receives, but also due to the variou ssoil types that proliferate across the mountain. While most of the soil is influenced by it’s volcanic beginnings, each block could be dominated by iron-rich, chalky or gravel-based soil types, making the proper pairing of grape variety crucial for each planted portion of the Estate.
The Lady and I were very fortunate to have 30 minutes of Chris’ time for a tour of the winery before he headed out to greet the rest of the day’s guests. Chris is tall, rangy man, with kind, bearded features that appear quite younger than his 40-something years. He smiles often while he speaks and is very careful to put his guests at ease with his calm, considerate cadence of speech. Newton Vineyard has always been concerned about maintaining their estate and gardens sustainably and that philosophy extends all the way to Chris’ winemaking. 80% of the winery is actually underground, in caves dug out of the mountainside in order to keep land above as green and untouched by structures as possible. Chris makes the flagship wines of Newton unfiltered and unfined, indeed the Estate line of their wines are called Unfiltered. The insane, fanatical care found in the vineyards of Newton is continued in Chris winery, where there is a very cool system of 8 inline galleries where their highly regarded Unfiltered Chardonnay can ferment at 8 completely separate, independent collections of lots, at their own temperature and humidity. It’s really quite a marvel and something that I’ve never yet encountered during my vinous travels around the world.
Strolling the garden, one had to believe that Peter Newton knows how to craft a beautiful life, albeit, with all of the hard work that goes along with a lifelong vision. Peter is the gardener of the of the duo, as illustrated by the gorgeous, more royal British garden, mixed with an Eastern influence. Meanwhile, Su Hua is the devoted oenophile and the winery is designed with a clearly beautiful Chinese Pagoda flair. The staff was very warm and friendly, happily manning the tasty wine and food pairings, incredibly constructed by étoile chef, Perry Hoffman. The pairing for the 2008 Newton Spring Mountain District The Puzzle was particularly successful. Perry took fresh star anise atop lightly sweetened, high cocoa dark chocolate mousse tartlets to complement the fresh anise, dark fruits, fresh garden herbs and wet earth. An absolutely superb combo, where neither the wine nor the chocolate overpowered each other, but instead held hands and made each other whole. Further good fortune in food and drink took place during the Ritual Coffee demonstration kicked off by Chris, clearly a very avid fine coffee lover, as you can see in the video below.
While this wasn’t my first time tasting wines from Newton, I had only had one other wine of theirs, a Cab, quite a few years back. I was very interested to try their wines after hearing for so long how the winery was insistent upon making balanced wines with plenty of complexity and a happy lack of bombastic character. All of the wines lived up to their billing, from the Merlot to the Chardonnay (we only tasted the Unfiltered line that day, along with The Puzzle). They had acidity and fine, coating tannin structure that had anticipated, but they also had great restraint with their use of toasty oak and feature plenty of wonderful mineral notes. Perhaps the most striking feature was their ageability, however. We had a 13 year old Unfiltered Chardonnay that was showing beautiful dried apple and floral notes with a gorgeous dark yellow and green color. Then the highlight of the day and the wine that completely rocked my world and spoiled me possibly, for tasting any aged red wine in the near future: the 1992 Newton Napa Valley Unfiltered Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine was decanted from a 6L Imperial and showed amazingly deep garnet color for a 19 year old red wine. The nose exhibited savory leather, earth and flint, alongside deep black cherry fruit, but it was the palate that took me in. Great acidity and the finest tannins perfectly supported the mix of black and red fruit and savory mushroom and leather for the deliciously smooth mouthfeel. It was a sensational wine to complete such a day and one that showed just how well these wines can age, as its own life was still far from complete.
A very happy thank you goes out to everyone at Newton and Gregory White PR for our day atop Spring Mountain. All of these elegant, well-balanced wines that we tasted last weekend in the Garden are tagged with “Newton2011Garden,”so that you can list them in your own WineLog. All of our photos and videos from atop the mountain can be found on my Flickr in their own set, and also tagged with “Newton2011Garden.” Cheers!
Color: Deep and darker yellow green.
Nose: Dried yellow apple and some dried chamomile, light apple pie near the rim.
Palate: Getting towards orange wine tastiness with its age, dried apple here as well, still juicier finish. Good, from a magnum: OldWorldWK.
Color: Medium ruby and light brick core, light ruby edges.
Nose: Gorgeous earth and leather nose, with deep black cherry fruit and some light flint minerality.
Palate: Also amazing here, with deeper medley still of black and red fruit, savory black olive, mushroom and leather here to balance that, with the finest tannins and acid for a perfect balance. One of the best wines that I’ve had all year: AwesomeWK.
Color: Darker garnet, ruby edges.
Nose: Very complex, with great savory garden herbs to balance the all dark fruit right now, with a hint anise at the rim.
Palate: Medium bodied, with juicy acidity for the all black fruit here as well and very smooth mouthfeel. Garden herbs here too, fresh, with hints of fresh wet earth in the juicier, structured finish: KeeperWK.