We lost two pioneers of the California wine industry this past week. They were about as opposite as they could be, but they shared a dream.
Peter Newton built one of Napa’s architectural icons in Sterling Vineyards, then sold it and started another winery, Newton. In the 30 years we knew each other I saw him maybe five times. Once, about 10 years ago, he called me out of the blue to ask how I was doing.
A true Englishman, Newton always looked dapper, as if he had just finished a round of croquet or stepped off a yacht. He was extremely private, but he had a vision and a sense of style and people in wine learned from him. A couple of weeks ago I enjoyed one of his early triumphs, the 1975 Sterling Vineyard Reserve Cabernet.
Jamie Davies, who founded Schramsberg with her husband, Jack, defined elegance, grace and warmth. Soft-spoken and petite, she too had her private side. But she was very active in promoting wine and had a strong inner compass. She, like Newton, was among the generation that created the modern Napa Valley and California wine industry. No one who got into wine in the 1960s, as both Peter and Jamie did, thought it would be easy or a sure thing. But thanks to their efforts, wine is part of our cultural psyche today.
Those of us who knew Jamie were disappointed to learn of the lawsuit filed by her son John. Irrespective of whether the action has merit, the timing was atrocious. People knew Jamie was frail and in declining health, and for a son to sue his mother at a time like this seemed terribly rude and disrespectful.
I’m sure Jamie was as devastated by the lawsuit as her friends were disgusted. Media coverage of the suit did give many people time to consider and reflect on Jamie’s life, knowing that time was not on her side. Her friends had hoped for the one more rally that didn’t happen, and when she died on Tuesday, most were stunned and saddened. They hoped she passed away peacefully and not with a heavy heart.