Saturday, September 23, 2023 Sep 23, 2023
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What To Drink and Buy Now: Newton Vineyard and the Puzzle Tray

By Hayley Hamilton Cogill |
Newton's The Puzzle Tray available at The Nest

Last week, winemaker Chris Millard of Newton Vineyard visited Dallas with artists Stephanie Tharp and Bruce Tharp, PhD., the husband-and-wife team behind the stunning eco-chic Puzzle Tray (just introduced by the winery and currently sold at The Nest). The idea behind this piece, which is as functional as it is beautiful, came several years ago when Newton started to partner with various artists who believe and work with the same principles of sustainability, ecology, and functionality as they do.  

Each year Newton selects one artist (or artist partners as with Stepahanie and Bruce, owners of Materious in Chicago) to join the winemakers for a few days at their Spring Mountain winery in Napa Valley to get a feel for the winery and see what inspiration they find from the Newton story, its sprawling 560 acre mountain top property, and the commitment to sustainability with functionality the winery has had since they started in the late 1970’s.

From the beginning, Newton realized it was simply smart business to work harmoniously with nature, as seen through the way it planted the 112 vineyard blocks around the expansive property which is interspersed with native vegetation to preserve the ecosystem.  This is also seen, or not seen, with the lush garden filled with flowers and herbs outside the visitors area.  For most visitors, this simply looks like an aesthetically pleasing place to sip your Unfiltered Merlot or Chardonnay while enjoying a stroll on a spring day.  In reality, the garden was built on top of the Chardonnay fermentation cave, helping insulate and maintain a cool temperature for energy conservation.  The winery also collects rainwater for irrigation, uses pomace left from grape skins and seeds after pressing for composting, and practices recycling at the winery.  These are all good for the environment, but also act as cost-saving elements that help the winery work efficiently.

With this, Newton Vineyards has long understood that there is as much art as there is science in a glass of wine, and you have to be a smart craftsmen while being a dedicated steward of the land to create balanced, sustainable, vineyard–driven wine.  These same ideas often apply to the creation of fine art, as it is important to understand the principles of science interspersed with skill when molding or shaping a piece of art.

As it has partnered with various artists throughout the years, it has been important to find artists that believe these same ideas. Partnering with Stephanie and Bruce was an obvious and easy match as they both are product designers who practice sustainable principles in their art. Stephanie, an Associate Professor and Program Chair of Industrial Design, also teaches aspiring art students at The University of Illinois where Bruce is an Associate Professor and Graduate Program Chair. They both explore the possibilities and realities of working with these principles in mind within this academic setting.

The Puzzle Tray

In early October, Stephanie and Bruce, along with their two young children, visited Newton and found immediate inspiration for what eventually became their “Puzzle Tray.” The terraced vineyards, 112 individual vineyard blocks, biodiversity, terrain of Spring Mountain, and Asian influences seen throughout the winery and blending of East and West inspired by the Chinese and British heritage of founders Dr. Su Hua and Peter Newton inspired the Tharps created the eco-friendly tray made from Certified Walnut Wood and made in the shape of a “golden rectangle” representing harmony and proportion in the Western culture. The top of the tray is filled with intersecting asymmetrical lines symbolizing a historic Asian motif which creates negative spaces, reflecting the various vineyard blocks throughout the property.  Keeping functionality in mind with design, individual coasters can be lifted out of the space between these lines to be used for snacks, glasses, even a small one to potentially hold salts or spices.  A hidden compartment under one of these coasters even holds a corkscrew, symbolizing the hidden Chardonnay cave under the garden.  Though the piece is also the name of the prized wine of Newton Vineyards, The Puzzle, the name really came from their daughter who looked at a disassembled tray and said she wanted to put the puzzle pieces back together.  Only 112 trays were made as well, symbolizing the 112 vineyard blocks.

Artists Stephanie and Bruce Tharp with Winemaker Chris Millard

The tray is as elegant and beautiful as their unfiltered, hand harvested Newton Vineyards white label wine.  I had a chance to taste through some of the wineries’ latest releases as well, all of which were Chris’ first vine-to-bottle wines with Newton who joined the winery in 2008.

I think the Newton Unfiltered Chardonnay is one of the best from Napa Valley if you are looking for a classic, rich, and well-rounded Chardonnay.  Aged 16 months in partially new French oak, the wine is filled with ripe melon, fig, sweet spice and creamy honey aromas followed by flavors of baked apple pie with cinnamon and caramel.

The 2008 Newton Unfiltered Cabernet Sauvignon balances bold, lush fruit forward notes with complex layers of spice, tobacco, chocolate and toasted cedar.  A wine with structure and balance, that is meant to be enjoyed now, but some aging will enhance some of the earthy and herbal undertones in the wine.

The Puzzle is the ideal example of why so many people love mountain fruit verses that grown on the valley floor.  Made from only the best grapes from hand selected blocks throughout the vineyard, this blend is only made in years where the fruit is exceptional.  The 2008 Puzzle blends 42% Merlot, 36% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14% Cabernet Franc, 6% Petit Verdot and 2% Malbec to create a silky, elegant wine filled with ripe, dark fruit mingled with black licorice, espresso, chocolate and subtle hints of wild flowers.  A beautiful wine to enjoy paired with roast lamb, grilled steaks or even aged cheeses and charcuterie.