(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 40 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 has a large formal garden, spectacularly terraced, with 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 an Oxford graduate. He came to the United States to work as a journalist in San Francisco, before later making his fortune in 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 1977 to start a new winery atop Napa Valley's Spring Mountain.

Of the 560 acres he purchased, less than one fifth 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 on 73 acres were dangerously terraced along the steep and tricky contours of the mountain. This was Newton's true masterpiece: These are some of the steepest vines in all of California, and due to new restrictions, they could not be legally replicated today.

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 the vineyard has been a little too well hidden all of these years. Newton's winemaking practices continue this theme; the winery specializes in natural, unfiltered wines, which allow nature to do the talking. While natural wines can get a bad rap, Newton's premium, single-vineyard, mountain cabernets, pinot noirs, 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.

Newton offers several tour and tasting options (starting at $75 per person), which take you through the gardens and underground barrel caves, where you'll sample a selection of wines. For a more elevated experience, a smaller group can be driven to the hilltop in Napa Valley's first electric ATV to taste wine while sitting in the vineyard and admiring the view from 1,600 feet.

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

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