(Courtesy of Newton Vineyard)

Peep the Napa secret garden that's been a secret far too long

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Newton Vineyard's secret mountaintop garden is like Napa Valley's mini version of the Gardens of Versailles, yet somehow, most people don't even know it exists.

Planted over 35 years ago on the roof of the vineyard's underground cave, this classic French garden is a perfectly geometric maze of planter beds, intricately-cut hedges, shrubs, and spiraled trees. Surrounded by stunning vistas on all sides, it feels on top of the world.


But this enchanting oasis is just one chapter of the Newton Vineyard fairytale. The property actually has 11 gardens total, including a pagoda and an Asian red gate; unparalleled 360-degree views, and of course killer wines.

Founder Peter Newton had a fascinating history. Born and raised in England, he was a dispatcher in Palestine during WWII and, thanks in part to a mistake acceptance, an Oxford graduate. He came to the United States to work as a political journalist on Capitol Hill, before later making his fortune in San Francisco as a paper mogul.

Courtesy of Newton Vineyard.

In the 1960s, Newton began purchasing land in Napa Valley and planting grapes, selling some to none other than the Mondavis. He was the visionary behind the acclaimed Sterling Vineyards in Calistoga (the white-washed one with the gondola), before selling the property in 1976 to start a new winery atop Napa Valley's Spring Mountain.

Of the 560 acres he purchased, only 11 percent of it was plantable for vines. But the mountain terroir, Newton correctly believed, was the key to growing premium grapes. Ranging from 500 to 1,600 feet above sea level, an elaborate mosaic of 71 vineyard parcels were dangerously terraced along the steep and tricky contours of the mountain. Newton's true masterpiece, these are some of the steepest vines in all of California— due to new restrictions, they could not be legally replicated today. (May through October, visitors can book the Discovery Tour to take a wild ride through the vineyards aboard Napa Valley's first electric ATV. The experience culminates in a wine tasting at 1,600 feet.)

Caves and an underground cellar were also dug into the hillsides and the winery itself was designed to blend into the surroundings. Leaving as small a footprint on nature as possible, one might argue it's been a little too well hidden all of these years. Newton's winemaking practices continue on this theme; the winery specializes in natural, unfiltered wines, allowing nature to do the talking. While natural wines can get a bad rap, Newton's premium, single-vineyard, mountain cabernets and chardonnays have proven that natural doesn't necessarily mean a compromise on quality.

"For us, unfiltered means respect for time and nature. In order to fashion our unfiltered wines, we need to acknowledge what nature gives us. It's our way of maintaining the integrity of our wines, from the vineyard to the bottle," says winemaker Alberto Bianchi.

It wasn't until 1982 that Newton finally had time to start creating his gardens. In his own words, gardening (also an addiction of his mother's), was in his English blood. From a Chinese garden to a rose garden, each one he planted is completely unique, but it's the magical French garden that has turned Newton Vineyard into one of Napa Valley's best kept secrets.

// 2555 Madrona Ave. (St Helena), newtonvineyard.com

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