In St. Helena there is a very hidden, beautiful winery called Newton Vineyards, established by Peter and Su Hua Newton. You may know their name because Peter Newton founded the famous Sterling Vineyards, a short drive away in Calistoga, which is known for its aerial tram and incredible views. Peter Newton sold Sterling Vineyards to Coco Cola in 1977 and purchased hillside land nearby to build their home. His wife experimented growing various grapes on the land, developing Malbec, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Petit Verdot. Su Hua selected only the finest grapes from each and trademarked their famous Puzzle wine. Each year it is different and a mystery as to how much of each varietal is in it, hence the name Puzzle. The winery itself is extremely unique. Sua Hua was from China & Peter was from England which has influenced several interesting landmarks on the property. There is a Chinese pagoda, Chinese red gate, and Chinese lanterns alongside a London phone booth and full English gardens.
Tours and visits to the winery are available by appointment only and only available for small groups. This is a very different feeling from nearby Domain Chandon that is crawling with people. Our tour group consisted of only six people (Ben & I, plus two other couples, also from San Francisco who were wine club members). There was only one other group on the property and no one scheduled after us. What I expected to be an hour and a half, turned into a leisurely three hour experience. We enjoyed exploring the whole winery with wine stops along the way, and a tasting afterwards that included a blind tasting & quiz.
Driving up, I was convinced that our gps had taken us to the wrong entrance. We left the main road, drove through a little neighborhood that felt like suburbia, passed some farm land, then were told that we had arrived. There was no grand entrance, no winery that we could see, nothing. We drove up to what looked like a truck delivery entrance to a call box & got no answer. To our surprise, someone answered, asked for our name, & buzzed us in! We then drove another 15 minutes up a very windy road, past a barn with some goats & a donkey, a full soccer field, a London phone booth, big red Chinese gates, then finally arrived. We were personally greeted immediately with a warm hello & some wine.
After touring the stunning English gardens, we were taken down into the wine rooms. Su Hua designed the winery to seamlessly blend into the hills. She did this for two reasons. First was that she wanted to retain the aesthetic of the beautiful California landscape, and secondly because they were facing the energy crisis of the 70’s. The large rooms built into the hills naturally keep the wine at a cool & moderate temperature without needing air conditioning. Thermostats monitor the temperature, and a series of doors allow barrels to be kept separate depending on what stage they are in. The only power required are lights and some fans to circulate the air.
Sua Hua Newton didn’t want to have a big, gaudy sign out front, so instead she grew the trees to resemble corkscrews so that everyone would know it was a winery!
When Peter & Sua Hua Newton lived on this property, visitors had to call up to the house using this working London phone booth in order to be buzzed in!
The winery is one of the few hillside wineries in Napa as it is no longer legal to build a winery this way. Napa county outlawed it as Napa grew from 50 wineries to over 500 in a short period of time, in order to prevent erosion & overgrowth. This unique location provides some of the best views in all of Napa. Newton has easily jumped up to being one of my favorite wineries that we’ve ever visited!