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Newton Johnson Vineyards in the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley

Part 3 of Stellenbosch Visio‘s exclusive discovery of the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley’s vinous treasures…

The view from the Pavilion room shows the estate’s vineyards stretching towards the Babylonstoren mountain.

The Newton Johnson Vineyards, a family affair, is situated in the Upper Hemel-en-Aarde, with brothers Gordon (winemaking) and Bevan (marketing and sales) in charge, while founding father Dave, who pioneered winemaking in the valley, counts the awards rolling in for the magnificent and precise wines made here. 

The current generation is taking this family cellar and vineyards to new heights by exploring the subtleties of their vineyards. Since Dave bought the property with its virgin soils in 1995, the approach has been to keep the land and vines as close to their natural state as possible and safeguard biodiversity. 

Growing up

The two Newton Johnson boys grew up with the knowledge of soil and vines coursing through their veins. Gordon and Nadia Newton Johnson are the husband-and-wife winemaking team. They met in 2004 during the harvest in the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley. Gordon was an economics graduate who found an outlet for his creative bent in winemaking; Nadia, the sixth generation of winegrowers near Robertson, held a degree in oenology and viticulture from Stellenbosch University. Over the years and the vintages, they have become a perfect foil for each other, testing and comparing and making minute adjustments. 

A line-up of the three Pinot Noirs from the Newton Johnson Vineyards; Bevan Newton Johnson, managing director; the Hemel-en-Aarde timeline, the date shows when the family came from Stellenbosch to start the farm.

Being attuned to the soil and the seasons gave the Newton Johnsons an intuitive understanding of every vineyard site and this enables them to see how it all comes together and to explore the minutest detail that would make a wine distinctive. Of their wines, Pinot Noir gets the most airtime, with five wines on offer that range from two made from bought-in grapes to three estate stunners: Family Vineyards Pinot Noir, Seadragon and Windandsea.

The effect of terroir is noticeable, as soils in the Upper Hemel-en-Aarde differ from the lower valley in being more gravelly and with easy drainage. The wines are perfumed and succulent and you don’t have to have a Master’s palate or nose to detect a Newton Johnson in a Pinot Noir line-up. Brooding dark fruit lies beneath a layer of heady spice and potpourri of dry wild flowers, and the wines, especially the Family Vineyard, contain a sunny sweetness that is most agreeable.

Needless to say, the Chardonnay is immensely fine. But the other trump card dealt by family Newton Johnson is the Albariño, a crisp, brisk wine made famous in Spain and Portugal, where it is known as Alvarinho. This is a fun summer drink, with loads of green fruit and a bracing touch of salinity, its flavours brought to the fore by texture and a lasting presence in the mouth. It screams out for fish and other seafood, usually on offer in the Newton Johnson restaurant, which also has one of the best views of the valley.

Says Bevan who is head of marketing: “In this difficult year we are receiving phenomenal support from South Africans coming here to experience the drive, the beauty, the wines and the food.”

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