Friday, November 8, 2013

Wine Country Garden: Newton Vineyard

Wine Country Garden
The winery possesses a breathtaking view of the
corkscrew topiaries and cypress trees that frame the
parterre garden, which cleverly covers the
chardonnay cellar and acts as natural insulation.
Photos by Eric Wolfinger.
Newton Vineyard in Napa Valley boasts some of the most distinctive and delicious wines in the world, but the gardens are equally exquisite

By Margot Shaw

Devising a secretive method of tasting wine in his father’s cellar at age 9 was something of a giveaway about Peter Newton’s future passion for viniculture. The fact that this early childhood subterfuge took place in his home in London, England, would explain his proclivity for gardening. Combine these traits with a marriage to Su Hua—a woman of sophistication, imagination, and mad marketing skills, who honed her sartorial style on the catwalk for Coco Chanel and meanwhile procured an M.D. after her name—and have the essence of the personality of the gardens at Newton Vineyard in St. Helena, California. Molly Chappellet’s pronouncement in Gardens of the Wine Country (Chronicle Books, 1998), “Show me a garden and I’ll show you the person,” could be referencing this garden and its originators specifically.

The first Napa Valley vineyards and gardens date back to the 1860s when settlers from France, Italy, and Germany staked their claims and plowed the ground by hand and horse. They also, in the process, layered the land with their cultural DNA, thereby adding and immediate Old World dimension to the frontier. Building on this foundation, Newton—the Oxford-educated former newspaper writer, paper manufacturer, and lifelong amateur garden designer—purchased 560 mountaintop acres in the Mayacamas Mountains, and carved out vineyards and gardens. Newton, with his love of natural beauty and things English and continental, and wanting to add Chinese notes to the symphony, drew a landscape incorporating all of the above. His daughter, Gail Showley, once told the San Francisco Chronicle, “He loved wine and he loved gardens. I remember lying in the dirt with him, with a string, trying to figure out where to plant something or put the box hedges.”

Drive into Newton Vineyard and you’re met by a jaunty red British phone booth accompanied by a sleek, rusty-red Asian-style lamp, the first of many that pepper the property. Ascending the hillside to the winery and gardens, there’s a scenic overlook outlined in oh-so-British ancient staddle stones that look like playful mushrooms. Next, a hillside of English garden roses leads up to French parterres and exuberant English borders, surrounded by corkscrew juniper topiary trees to rival Versailles, and a phalanx of Italian cypresses. At the top of the gardens stands a shiny Chinese-red torii gate, signaling the private family residence further up the mountain. And for luncheon parties, tastings, or special events, there’s a terrace dotted with bright-red tables, chairs, and umbrellas. From there, guests enjoy a breathtaking view of the vineyards including a distant, lone pine tree poignantly perched at the highest point on the property. This tree, affectionately known by all in the area as “Pino Solo,” is the emblem on Newton Vineyard wine labels. The silhouette of this stand-alone tree articulates the mantra of the vineyard, “singular wines created from a singular passion.”
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