Wayward Wine’s Napa visit/eighth wedding anniversary ends with one last winery.
After our bubbly breakfast at Domaine Chandon (read here), hunger finds my wife and I. So we roll up to Yountville Market for one last lunch. Both the vegan reuben and reuben reuben sandwhiches satisfy on this wet, cold Thursday.
On our way out…
Rain picks up and we hit the road for Newton Vineyard:
Since fog obscures the probably spectacular view, we head inside. It feels wooded, windowed, and cozy.
Peter and Su Hua Newton sold Sterling to Coca Cola in the 1970s and began their journey into Chardonnay (and a few reds) above St Helena. Today, 120 acres grow grapes in these high hills 500 to 1,600 feet above sea level. 112 distinctive vineyard blocks of Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot are planted to different soil types.
We start with Newton’s Unfiltered 2013 Chardonnay. Actually, Newton first printed “Unfiltered” and made it a thing. It matters because filtering wine post-ferment is a quick, modern way to render wine clear pretty. Does that strip the wine? Depends. But the Newtons went old school with patient rackings to avoid the need to filter wine.
Newton Vineyard, Unfiltered Chardonnay, Napa Valley 2013 ($60):
APPEARANCE: A slight haze with medium intense, bright gold color and legs. Delicate, complex AROMAS and FLAVORS of dried white wood, marscapone cheese, and lemon last a medium plus length. The PALATE feels dry, with medium plus acidity, taut, hot, woody, and edgy. Very good (4of 5) drink now through 2020.
For comparison, we try 2010 Unfiltered Chardonnay, Knights Valley, ($100.00)
APPEARANCE looks like a brighter lemon. Strong AROMAS of lavender and fresh pineapple. The PALATE is sweet, viscous, and hotly alcoholic. It is very good (4 of 5) but for something different…
Another 2010 Unfiltered Chardonnay but from cooler Carneros (for another cool ,k) APPEARS a clear medium gold, with AROMAS and FLAVORS of wet feet, asparagus, and grilled pineapple. The acidity is medium, body full, and overall it is very good (4 of 5).
Next up 2006 Unfiltered Chardonnay Napa Valley ($150): the decade old kin of the $60 2013 we just tasted (ahhh…$90 appreciation). The PALATE feels fleshy, fat, viscous yet tamed by medium acidity. FLAVORS keep the pineapple, but what really dominates is cinnamon, powdered vanilla, nutmeg and magic of endless length. The 2006, annoyingly, is outstanding (5 of 5). I say “annoyingly” because I don’t want to wait until 2023 to truly enjoy today’s 2013.
Thanks, Chardonnay. Now for Newton’s red.
Newton’s OCD soil matching tucked Merlot into western, iron-rich red hills.
Unfiltered Merlot, Napa Valley 2012 ($60.00)
APPEARANCES look a clear, medium plus purple with a slim ruby rim. AROMAS smell of dense fig newton, blueberry pie, rose petal, syrup. The PALATE feels dry, fine-grained but structured. FLAVORS taste rich, but right now, tobacco, pepper, toast, and too much wood dominate. 2012 Merlot is very good (4 of 5), but might show better in a few years.
How about Newton’s Unfiltered Cabernet Sauvignon, 2013 ($66.00)?
Extra AROMAS and FLAVORS recall raspberry jam, cherry liquor, chocolate, blackberry skin…you get the idea. The PALATE feels dry, with medium acid, medium plus but a bit limp in the tannin department, the body is medium, texture feels watery, smooth. 2013’s Cab is very good (4 of 5) thanks to its length but somewhat disappointing. Napa Cab maniacs would be confused.
OK OK, a big, red, iconic showstopper to make club members happy:
Cabernet Sauvignon, The Puzzle, 2013 ($135.00)
Whereas, the Unfiltered 2013 Cab lacked something, The Puzzle Cab looks and feels extremely dense, lush, thickly textured, concentrated, with AROMAS and FLAVORS of iron shavings, fig, tobacco, dried mint that last a long length. Our palates die on the vine. Give this 5 to 10 years and then it will be outstanding (5 of 5).
Tipsy, we tour the grounds. From the fog looms a Japanese gate:
That leads to the Newton’s private estate. Although they sold Newton to Louis Viutton Moët Hennessy, Peter and Su Hua’s children retain some oversight.
We duck from the rain and climb down to their barrel rooms:
Chardonnay barrel rooms are separated, ingeniously, to control fermentation and racking temperatures without more modern interventions.
The vaulted barrel cave for aging reds is equally simple yet impressive:
The Newtons had a passion for collecting and aging fantastic wines. We find shelves with special items. We get excited:
However, as we delve deeper, the shelves become hollow and the once europhilic gated special space (lifted straight out of our Alsace tour) looks sad, empty, a skeleton:
A bit after the Newtons sold to Moët, their hospitality manager (ironically he was our guide at Chandon earlier today) had sold off the collection over a series of events at the estate. We feel depressed. Gone are the ’82 Lafite’s to cajole our guide to open for us. Today, the cellars just make new wine for the world’s market.
So we head above to, um, the French garden?
Lovely. But it stings a bit. So much greatness of the Newtons remains in their wines and legacy. Yet this visit feels like visiting a graveyard: a melancholic shadow of a recent, glorious past.
Newton Vineyard’s Unfiltered Chardonnay remains a delicious icon of California. Their hilly reds decidedly differ from the monsters down on Napa Valley’s floor.
Wrapping up our Napa Valley wedding anniversary, our married and marred palates and livers look forward to a break from all the huge, tannic, alcoholic, high-scoring reds of Beringer, Stags’ Leap, St Clement, et cetera. Luckily, Chandon, Mumm, Etude, and Newton provide lighter relief. Maybe next time, we’ll spend a week in Sonoma.