Newton Vineyard was founded by Peter and Su Hua Newton in 1977. Peter Newton had been one of the major forces in the postwar rejuvenation of California wine, establishing Sterling Vineyards in 1964 and selling out a decade later to Coca-Cola (talk about seed money). He planted red Bordeaux varieties in a series of small, strategically placed vineyard sites on Napa’s Spring Mountain.
From the beginning—and long before it was fashionable—Newton Vineyard was a pioneer in sustainable farming practices. The winery blends into the hillside; rows of vines alternate with cover crops, and vineyard blocks share the landscape with tracts of forest. Winemaking is natural, and indigenous yeasts are used whenever possible. Newton was also one of the first estates to bottle their wines unfiltered, in an attempt “to preserve the integrity and natural essence of the superior fruit.”
Winemaker Chris Millard has been at Newton since 2008, and that vintage represents the first wines he has made from start to finish. There is a distinct family resemblance among them: They are impeccably balanced, powerful yet graceful, concentrated and stylish at once. Millard passed through South Florida recently in conjunction with the debut of a wine tray designed for Newton by the Chicago-based team of Stephanie and Bruce Tharp, and we had the opportunity to sample his recent releases. The asymmetrical walnut tray mirrors the harmonious design of Newton Vineyards (you know a winery is serious about sustainability when even its accessories are in tune with nature).
The 2008 Unfiltered Chardonnay ($45) is medium-bodied and perfectly proportioned, filled with flavors of vanilla, honey and ripe pear, with a core of candied citrus. Whiffs of cedar and blackberry appear on the nose of the 2008 Unfiltered Cabernet ($50); in the mouth, flavors of cassis and wild cherry are underlined by good acidity and a firm mineral backbone. The blend on Newton’s flagship red, The Puzzle, varies from year to year, with the 2008 ($85) composed of 42% Merlot and 36% Cabernet bolstered by small amounts of Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec. The wine is full-bodied yet seamless, with gobs of enticing red and black fruits framed by a fine herbal edge.