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james laube's wine flights

Two Pioneers with Different Styles

Photo by: Greg Gorman

Posted: Feb 14, 2008 2:51pm ET

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.

Bernard Kruithof
San Antonio, Texas —  February 16, 2008 3:02pm ET
Jamie and her late husband are legendary pioneers if the modern sparkling wines in Napa Valley. Warm, generous and wonderful people both her and her husband will always be remembered in history as the people who created Napa Valleys best sparkling wines. As for their children--Well you get to choose your freinds but not your children or relatives.
Tom Lombardi
Madison CT —  February 18, 2008 3:09pm ET
I expect to pay twice retail - don't like it - but I can deal with it. Can't deal with 3 times which I only see at high priced restaurants that are not very good. High price restaurants that are very good usually respect their clientel and price the wines reasonably. Out of circulation wines are different - you are paying for something you can't get elsewhere - pretty much like you are paying a high price for the food because you can't get it everywhere.This example reminds me of Wequssette Resort in Chatham Cape Cod. In season it is $1300 a night for a waterfront suite - so it is up scale. Their mini bar is at cost, $1 for water, $3 for a top shelf scotch, etc. They want you to enjoy what their core product is - a relaxing time at the shore - not make you feel like you are being taken advantage of because you can afford it. Wine in restaurants should be like that - pay a fair price to enhance your dining experience - understanding they are a for profit business.

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