Newton Vineyard is prestigious hillside estate featuring excellent wines, formal English style gardens (with a slight Asian flair), exceptional views of the Napa Valley and a wine cave. The famed American wine writer Robert Parker once called this winery “one of the most gorgeous mountain estates in California”.
The winery was founded in 1977 (first vintage was from 1979 when the winery was built) by the late Peter Newton (native of England, died in 2008) who also founded Napa’s only “tram” winery, Sterling Vineyards. Peter was one of the Napa Valley’s post Prohibition pioneer winery owners. He moved to San Francisco in 1950 to follow a journalism career for The Financial Times. He soon was a successful businessman, having founded the Sterling International in 1951 based in San Francisco (whose products focused on tissue paper – not the last one to come to the Napa Valley whose career was built around paper products – reference Ed Fitts, founder of Brand Napa Valley on Pritchard Hill).
Greatness often runs in family’s – and it certainly has with the Newtons. Peter was the son of Frank Newton, a successful race car driver and engineer who designed the Trans-Andean Railway (the highest railroad on the planet at that time). Peter’s brother, Doctor Kenneth Newton wrote the Two Pound Tram, (under the pen name William Newton) a very successful selling book. This is a delightful read; similar to a movie which features loss, this book leaves one feeling somewhat sad. Peter’s son is Nigel Newton, the founder of Bloomsbury Publishing Plc – the publisher of the Harry Potter series (whose young daughter Alice helped ‘discover’ J.K. Rowling after reading one of her early drafts that her father had brought home).
Peter Newton enjoyed designing formal gardens and his work shows wonderfully on the property with 15 small gardens including a Zen and Rose Garden. His first wife, UK born Anne St. Aubyn, died at age 40 in 1970 due to an unfortunate accident in which she fell from the fourth floor of St. Luke’s Hospital in San Francisco. His second wife Dr. Su Hua Newton (whose degree is in Clinical psychology) was originally from China (now lives in Switzerland and is in her 80’s).
The majority of the winery holdings are owned by Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton SE (LMVH) – a Paris based lifestyle and luxury company. Dr. Su Hua Newton still has a smaller ownership in the winery.
The 560 acre estate is entirely hillside, some of which is quite steep. Because of the size of their property, this is the rare Spring Mountain winery that has such a diversity of elevation to farm (the property ranges from 500 to 1,600 feet above sea level). Block by block farming is practiced (112 blocks of vineyards) are located on the estate. Hillside farming has its benefits as far as the wine – but certainly its challenges. The costs can be higher on the hillsides – the blocks are truly hand farmed – during harvest all grapes are picked by hand. Each block is fermented separate from each other and post fermentation and aging are combined to create the final blends.
Newton Vineyards also owns and farms vineyards outside of the Spring Mountain District including sizable holdings in both Mt. Veeder and Yountville and the Napa side of Carneros.
The estate lies just west of St. Helena. As visitors head west from St. Helena towards the Mayacamas mountains on Madrona Ave, this street ends against the hills in a “T” – turn right here. If you have a prior appointment, follow their private driveway as it winds up the mountains – taking note to be careful of the aggressive speed bumps. The Newton Vineyard driveway passes through one of viticulturist David Abreu’s most prime properties – Madrona Ranch. One knows they are getting close to the winery when one passes the prominent ‘English’ telephone booth. This was placed here as a tribute to Peter Newton and his birthplace (the UK).
After visitors enter the upper gate (below the final vineyard planted hill that leads to the winery), park in one of the gravel parking spaces and use the phone inside the nearby red phone booth to call up to the winery and you will be then met by your host driving a shuttle golf cart – and then driven up to the winery. Once your tour and tasting is completed, your host will return you to your car via the golf cart. Ride sharing vehicles are allowed to pickup passengers in the small parking lot next to the winery (above the lower parking lot).
The parking on the upper lot next to the winery is very limited. Tours are by appointment only – held twice daily, once in the morning and once in the afternoon.
Tours involve walking around the property (it is hillside so there is not much flat space on site). Notice the Piño Solo or Lone Pine Tree in the distance. This is a 100+ foot tall tree at the top of the ridge all by itself; it appears on one of their labels and is one of the icons for this estate. At certain times of the year it is decorated and bright with lights.
Tours proceed through the formal gardens (which sit on top of the barrel room). The brown building here used to house Su Hua’s office but now functions as their wine lab. If you are shown the wine caves – the highlight here is their Library Wine Collection. Tours proceed through their very cold cellars – large doors partition this cellar so each block of the cellar can be kept at a different temperature. Your tour ends in one of two rooms (with views of the nearby hillsides and vineyards) for the actual sit down tasting. Or weather permitting, tastings are hosted in a patio area with several seating spaces taking full advantage of the nearby vistas.
Sit down tastings such as this one provide good opportunities to meet fellow wine enthusiasts because everyone in the tour is seated at the same table. We have taken several tours here; the hosts are always very personable and knowledgeable about not only Newton Vineyards but Napa Valley.
All their wines are naturally fermented. One of the highlights of a visit is tasting through some of their unfiltered wines; they make a delicious unfiltered Chardonnay which is in extremely high demand and during some of our prior visits, has been sold out. Newton Vineyard has been training ground for numerous now prominent winemakers – several who have enjoyed parts of their careers here include John Kongsgaard who pioneered their Unfiltered Chardonnay program (with Newton Vineyards doing a very good job of promoting these types of wines) and several of his own assistants including Aaron Pott and Andy Erickson. Later Jean Hoefliger (Alpha Omega, AXR) worked here.
The first three vintages of Newton were produced from purchased grapes. Today, Newton creates several different tiers of wine. Our favorite is their Merlot, which is part of their Unfiltered Portfolio of wines. The 2006 Newton Vineyards Merlot has a very fruit forward but elegant nose as well as slight hints of old leather and tobacco on the finish. Note that because Newton replanted a number of their Merlot vines, this wine was not made for several years but came back into production with the 2021 vintage.
Some of their most intriguing wines are found under their Single Vineyard portfolio; these are mostly sourced from Napa based vineyards. An exceptional wine is the 2014 Mt. Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine is noticeably dark in the glass – it has a lot going for it both on the bouquet and the palate. Deeper aromas show including blackberry, tobacco and an earthy characteristic. On the palate is a richness, a depth and intensity of flavor if you will. Complemented by a powerful finish that features chewy, robust and persistent tannins. This is a muscular big mountain Cabernet Sauvignon.
The Puzzle represents some of the best fruit from their various vineyards on Spring Mountain, Mt. Veeder and Yountville and is a Bordeaux Style blend with varietal percentages varying depending on the vintage. The 2014 Puzzle shows a nice mix of aromas on the bouquet including plum, black licorice and hints of tobacco. A crowd pleaser among those we tasted this wine with – shows very good acidity and intensity of flavor. Still young and the tannins reflect this – long lasting, meaty and slightly chewy they persist for some time.
And over the years, select Newton Vineyard wines have been served at a variety of White House functions including by Presidents George Bush and Bill Clinton during their terms.
NOTE: the winery burned down in the Glass Fire in 2020 – the property suffered major damage. While the winery is being reconstructed, tastings are temporarily held by appointment at Brasswood Winery, just north of the town of St. Helena.
A visit here is highly recommended, both for the wine, the gardens, the views – in short, the pedigree of this special property. For more information and to join their mailing list or wine club, visit: www.newtonvineyard.com