Stuart George

Posts Tagged ‘Newton Vineyards’

Open up that Golden Gate: Travels in California

In Travel on October 28, 2009 at 5:29 pm

“Joni Mitchell’s voice and guitar wafted through the speakers as the plane landed in San Francisco…”

The young Joni Mitchell

The young Joni Mitchell

How’s that for the opening sentence to a pulp thriller? At any rate, it was a nice way to arrive in California.

The mood turned Hitchcockian when I was unable to find the driver who had been sent to collect me by my host Dr SuHua Newton. Eventually we found each other—he had even walked right past me while I was sat outside in the sun reading David Frith’s Bodyline Autopsy, one of the best cricket books ever.

Golden Gate in Fog (image courtesy of Encyclopedia Britannica)Of course, the drive into (or rather past) the city was for me thrilling, especially over the Golden Gate Bridge. I had been told that I would be staying at Dr Newton’s “hotel” in Mill Valley, a prosperous suburb just north of SF. I thought I was staying in her house, so I was bemused to learn that I would be parked in a hotel and one that wasn’t even in the city. When I arrived, all was revealed. The “hotel” turned out to be a splendid house that Dr Newton uses as her office. It was Friday so I would have it all to myself for the weekend.

We went for dinner that evening at a the Tong Kiang restaurant and drank a half-bottle of 2001 Newton Vineyards Merlot, which was mature, balanced and supple though rather short.

Mill Valley, looking towards San Francisco

Mill Valley, looking towards San Francisco

On Saturday morning I woke up and gazed from the patio across Richardson Bay to the city, which was shrouded in thick fog. It was cool too, “a nipping and an eager air.” The climate of San Francisco and the Bay Area is extraordinarily capricious.

I caught a ferry from Sausolito to the city. Taking a punt on the sunshine that had emerged earlier that morning, I was in shorts and sandals. I froze as the ferry alternately bobbed across the water through thick fog or bright sunshine.

Haight-AshburyDr Newton told me off for leaning out of her car window while she was showing me round the city. (She is a very impatient driver). Apparently some kid had his arms or legs sheared off by a passing car when leaning out of the window so a law banning such things was passed hastily. San Francisco’s weather is capricious but so is its legislation. In the city of Haight-Ashbury, the Beat Generation, hippies and the Summer of Love you cannot even lean out of a car window without breaking the law. This famously liberal city is bound up by legislation tighter than the bark on a Giant Sequoia.

It has a dark and disturbing underbelly, too. There is a magnificent and sombre film made in 2004 by Eric Steel that explores why so many people end their lives at the Golden Gate Bridge. The images captured by Steel of people leaping from the bridge into the icy water are shocking and linger in the viewer’s memory like a bad dream.

Pacific Heights, San Francisco

Pacific Heights, San Francisco

On a more cheerful note, Dr Newton lives in a Pacific Heights house with magnificent views across the city and harbour. We sat in her lounge eating, drinking, talking and watching the occasional container ship go past Alcatraz as it headed out to sea. The ships were rarely fully-loaded, their plimsoll lines usually visible. The shipping industry has been hit hard by the “crisis”. I visited some friends in Hamburg recently and they told me that for a couple of days last autumn the usually thriving shipyards there were eerily still. If local residents were spooked just imagine what it would be like if you worked in that industry.

On Saturday evening we went to a Thai restaurant called Yukol and drank 1982 Newton Vineyards Merlot. The nose was cedary and good but the palate was drying out and left acidity rather than fruit on the finish. Nonetheless, it was a rare treat.

A taxi was ordered at closing time to get me back to Mill Valley. Dr Newton was due on a nightshift in her role as a paediatrician. She is an extraordinary lady—a winemaker and doctor of medicine, with qualifications in every subject imaginable. She also paints well, speaks several languages and used to be a model. What a woman she is! I hope that somebody captures her remarkable life in words before it is too late.

In London, taxi drivers always know where they’re going. If they don’t, they consult a map or SatNav. I assumed my man would know where to go. He didn’t. Nor did I. It was late, it was dark, I had barely seen any of Mill Valley and I was tired. So we drove for at least an hour around Mill Valley to find the “hotel.” He had the courtesy to switch off the fare machine but I had been advised $40 would cover the trip from SF to Mill Valley. So that is what I offered him.

“You’re kidding?”

No, I wasn’t. This led to an earful of abuse. I pointed out to him that UK cabbies usually have a map handy. Why didn’t he?

He wanted to know why I didn’t know the way.

“Are you slow or somethin’?’”

Something, since you ask. And I’m too tired to argue and want to go to bed. More abuse. He sped off before I could note his registration plate. But, like Jerry Garcia, I believe in Karma.

Jerry Garcia

"Captain Trips"—Jerry Garcia

Sunday was spent in a very warm Napa, the temperature hitting nearly 90 degrees that day. Dr Newton showed me her Carneros Vineyard, which supplies grapes for the Unfiltered Chardonnay. Lara Abbott, Domaine Chandon’s and Newton’s Australian-born but US-raised PR, joined us here. She took my digs over The Ashes in good humour. I had been reading about Bodyline, after all.

The Razi vineyard was also visited. The owner had a charming ticking-off (sic) from Dr Newton over various things, irrigation and burned grapes and so on. She explained to me afterwards how she turns on the charm to get the best out of people. A good lesson for life!

I joined a tour group at Newton Vineyards to have a look around the estate. It’s a long way up—the pine tree that is shown on the bottle labels is at 1,700 feet above sea level. Some of the vineyards surrounding Newton’s winery are at a 60-degree slope—nowadays, new plantings are only permitted at up to 30.

Lunch was at the Auberge du Soleil restaurant up in the hills at Rutherford. SuHua and Lara cooed at Colin, the boyish-looking and charming sommelier. It was very good, especially the cookies made to order for Dr Newton. Being a generous soul, she let me and Lara try them.

The afternoon was spent with John Caldwell at his estate in Coombsville. I had arranged to meet John after having had to request images from him for a brilliant Jonathan Swinchatt article that I edited in my previous dayjob.

John and Joy Caldwell

John and Joy Caldwell

John used to sell his grapes to Pahlmeyer Winery and others but began bottling his own wines with the 1998 vintage, though production has remained tiny at less than 1,000 cases per year.

The red wines are big and fleshy, especially the Proprietary Red. Caldwell Vineyards’ winemaker is Marbue Marke—from Sierra Leone! But he hasn’t yet made a blend called “Palm-wine music.”

The Caldwell bottles with the “C” logo mould cost $3.50 each, John told me. Money is tight but “I love it too much to sell.” He and his wife Joy have a young family. He’s one of the good guys and deserves his successes.

Three days is hardly enough to see California but I was due back in New York on Monday night.

At JFK airport I was refreshing myself with a beer when a car ad appeared on the bar’s TV screen. It was subtitled “Do not attempt yourself. Professional driver on an enclosed track.” Only in America…

Raymonde’s Review: Howard Park new releases

In Tastings on July 30, 2009 at 7:45 am

Jeff and Amy Burch very generously send the new releases of their Howard Park wines to me every year. Rather than self-indulge alone, I thought that I would share this bounty with some friends.

Paul Raymonde by himself

Paul Raymonde by himself

On Friday 24 July, I took a few bottles round to my great pals Paul (London’s finest caricaturist) and Angela Raymonde in sleepy W10. Also with me for the weekend was SuHua Newton of Newton Vineyards.

Everybody had an opinion on the wines—especially SuHua (she has an opinion on everything)—but the notes below are mine alone.

2007 Howard Park Chardonnay Great Southern

Ripe and plush fruit. Quite fat, even without a malo. Well-integrated oak. White peach flavours. Some sulphur on the nose—perhaps a legacy of its use to prevent the malo. Drink now.

2007 Howard Park Leston Cabernet Sauvignon Margaret River

Strong varietal character. Earthy and savoury, à la St-Julien. Sweet and juicy at the front, more savoury at the finish. Not very tannic—these will soften quickly. The oak became more apparent with aeration (50% new French for “approximately” 18 months). For relatively early drinking—now to 2012.

Howard Park Leston Cabernet Sauvignon

We also tried a couple of other bottles for comparative purposes.

2005 Pierro Chardonnay Margaret River

Finer and less opulent than the Howard Park Chardonnay. Full malo. The 13.5% alcohol shows a bit.

2006 Newton Vineyards Unfiltered Chardonnay

The third time that I have tasted this wine over the last year or so and its best showing yet. Soft and rounded but not fat. Last time I had it I found it rather cloying and blowsy. It was much better this time—though doubtless this evening’s company helped.

Then, at London’s greatest curry restaurant Hot Stuff on 28 July, I was joined by winewriter Maggie Rosen and The Times’ rowing correspondent (and cricket blogger) Patrick Kidd for more Howard Park wines.

2008 Howard Park Riesling Great Southern

Thinner than some recent vintages, according to my memory of the 2007 and 2006 Riesling. Drink now to 2013+.

Howard Park Riesling

2008 Howard Park Sauvignon Blanc Margaret River/Pemberton

Very grassy. Crisp and fresh. Like the Riesling, very sleek.

Howard Park Sauvignon Blanc

2007 Howard Park Leston Shiraz Margaret River

Dark berry fruit on the nose. Medium body. Nice texture but will be even smoother with age. Sweet, charming fruit. Drink now to 2011 for more balance and smoothness. Tasted alongside a 2007 Yalumba Patchwork Shiraz a day later, when the fruit sweetness became even more apparent. The Patchwork was similarly sweet at the front but finished dry and savory, whereas the Leston’s sweetness followed all the way through.

And a Kiwi curio courtesy of Maggie:

2005 Destiny Bay Magna Praemia Waiheke Island

Very oaky on the nose, though the palate is luscious and velvety. Styled to please the goût américaine but I will give it the benefit of the doubt… Drink now to 2012+ in the hope that the fruit will eventually subsume the oak.