Remembering a Napa Valley Wine Pioneer… and Garden Designer

    Peter Newton, founder of Napa Valley’s Sterling Winery, one of the early pioneers of planting Merlot in America, and a skilled designer of world-class gardens has passed away after a lengthy illness. He was 81.

     Margrit Mondavi, wife of another Napa wine pioneer – Robert — remembered Newton as a friend, a scholar, a gentleman and an important part of the Napa Valley wine industry. She said his love of beauty and his gardens will leave an everlasting impression in the Napa Valley.

     “Bob and I convey our sentiments of sympathy and compassion to Peter’s family,” she said. “He was a wonderful man.”

     “Peter was one of the pioneers of the Napa Valley,” his son, Nigel Newton, told the St. Helena Star. “He came here when half the valley was still a cow pasture. He helped forge the modern Napa Valley.”

     Newton founded Sterling International, a paper manufacturing and trading business, in San Francisco in the 1950s. The company traded pulp and paper around the world and manufactured paper in plants in Trinidad, Thailand and the United Kingdom. Nigel Newton said at one time Sterling International supplied 10 percent of the paper for the United Kingdom.

     In 1964, the elder Newton and his family bought a weekend house and a 63-acre vineyard on Highway 29 in Napa Valley. “As an Englishman and a lover of Claret, he soon owned a number of different parcels around the valley, totaling about 500 acres,” Nigel Newton said.

     Newton decided to create and build Sterling Winery on Charlie’s Hill, with its commanding view of the Napa Valley. The building was designed by Martin Waterfield, the paper company’s controller, in the style of an Aegean monastery. One of its most prominent features were its bell towers.

     When Sterling opened in 1969, it was one of only 27 wineries in California. Its first crush also was that year. Ten years later, Newton sold Sterling Winery to Coca Cola, and began planning Newton Vineyard in the Spring Mountain District of Napa Valley.

     John Kongsgaard worked from 1983 to 1995 as vineyard manager and winemaker at Newton Vineyard. “Peter was a very private person, but he was very involved with the people he worked with and his friends,” Kongsgaard said. The first release from Newton Vineyard was in 1981.

     As evidenced first by Sterling Winery and then Newton Vineyard, Peter Newton had a life-long love of architecture as a destination, Kongsgaard said. He designed the office and winery buildings at Newton Vineyard, which are mainly underground.

     And with an Englishman’s love of gardens, Newton designed 13 different gardens on one site. They are among the finest English gardens in the world and are listed in the Oxford Companion to Gardens, describing the world’s top 1,000 gardens.

Posted in Our Wine Travel Log
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