Newton Johnson
Visiting one of South Africa's most interesting wine regions, Hemel-en-Aarde, part 3

One of the stars of Hemel-en-Aarde is Newton Johnson. They’ve come a long way in a relatively short period of time, and are now making some of the best wines to come from this region, with a massive leap in quality over the last few vintages..

This is a family business. Dave Johnson set things going, and he’s now assisted by the next generation, sons Bevan (managing director and in charge of marketing) and Gordy (who makes the wines along with his wife Nadine). The Newton Johnson family cashflow is helped by the fact that they own 10% of large brand First Cape.


Gordy and Bevan Newton Johnson

They moved to Hemel en Aarde and began making wines here in 1997, and now have 18 hectares of vines in Hemel-en-Aarde spread over two sites. The main farm is 40 hectares with 14 hectares of vineyards, and the second is 104 hectares, with 4 hectares of vines at the moment but the possibility to expand to 20. The rest of the property is mountainous.

I met with Bevan, Gordy and Nadine to taste the wines and have lunch in the winery restaurant, which has a great view. Bevan Newton Johnson told me of his epiphany moment that led him to wine: it was the 1978 Cheval Blanc at his father's table. That’s not a bad way to catch the wine bug.  

Newton Johnson's own vineyards account for 30% of their needs, with the rest a combination of bought-in fruit and fruit they've grown themselves, but elsewhere. Production is now 12 000 cases, and they have a nice new 250 ton capacity cellar that is set up for gravity flow.

They have two farms in the Hemel-en-Aarde, one facing south, one north. The south-facing one grows Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The 2012 vintage was the first time they've included fruit from the north-facing farm in the Chardonnay. This vintage was also the first where they released their single vineyard Pinot Noirs.

And here, soils seem to trump clones. 'We don't see a lot of correlation between the clones and the sites,' says Gordy Newton Johnson. 'The soils definitely speak louder than the clones for us.' '777 from the winery is a completely different wine from 777 from Mrs M vineyard,' agrees Nadia Newton Johnson. 'They are 200 metres apart, so climate will be the same, and we handle them differently.'

'Burgundy is 70% planted with 777,' says Gordy. 'It colours up well and you can harvest early. We are quite a warm climate for Pinot Noir. You have to be careful when you put 777 in: it can turn into a big beast of a wine. H3 is pretty much rejected by Burgundians, but put it in a warmer climate and it does well.'

Since 2007 all fermentations here have been spontaneous.

I asked them about future plans, with other varieties. Grenache came up. ‘Hopefully South Africa will do better things with Grenache,’ says Bevan. ‘We now have better material coming into the country. We are a country just made for Grenache, but we have had pretty shoddy material for some time now.’

They are working with Syrah, but believe that while Pinot needs perfect balance in the soil, Syrah needs to struggle. They’ve identified sites where Syrah will likely do well, and their first attempts to make serious Syrah are quite stunning. This Rhône blend is a new wine, using fruit from the estate. The Syrah vines are grown on stakes in a site that was completely inhospitable to Pinot with very stony soils. There's also 10% of bush vine Mourvèdre in the blend.

THE WINES

Newton Johnson Chardonnay 2012 Hemel-en-Aarde, South Africa
Lovely fine, fresh citrus nose with some matchstick and mineral notes. The palate has ripe pear, apple and citrus fruit. Very fresh, but with integrated, toasty complexity and richness. Very pure, fresh and fine. 95/100

Newton Johnson Estate Pinot Noir 2008 Hemel-en-Aarde, South Africa
This is now known as the 'family vineyards' rather than 'estate'. Powerful nose is spicy with some beetroot, herbs and cherries. Lively palate is fresh and supple with some rhubarb, cherry and plum characters. Fresh, lively and very fruity; nicer on the palate than the nose. 89/100

Newton Johnson Estate Pinot Noir 2009 Hemel-en-Aarde, South Africa
Pure and bright with lovely rich cherry and plum fruit, as well as some spicy, herby notes. Full flavoured, fine and cherryish with a silky texture. A big Pinot. 91/100

Newton Johnson Estate Pinot Noir 2010 Hemel-en-Aarde, South Africa
A warm year. Lovely aromatic nose of cherries and herbs. Supple, elegant, spicy palate is fine and expressive. Layers of fruit underpinned by savoury, mineral notes. So fine and expressive. 94/100

Newton Johnson Estate Pinot Noir 2011 Hemel-en-Aarde, South Africa
This won five stars in the Platter guide, and it's from a cooler year. Very fine, expressive nose with a hint of pepper, some spice and pure cherry fruit. The palate is lighter than the 2010 with real elegance and a mineral savoury streak under the fruit. Linear and precise with a bit of herb and pepper complexity. 95/100

In 2012, for the first time three single-vineyard wines were released. Mrs M is from a midslope block below the winery, next to Block 6, with well drained clay soils. Block 6 has a little more clay and is entirely clone 113. Windansea is higher up the slope, with shallow clay soils.

Newton Johnson Mrs M Pinot Noir 2012 Hemel-en-Aarde, South Africa
Sweet cherry fruit with some savoury spiciness. Supple and quite elegant with good acidity. Real intensity to the rich fruit, with depth. Sweet, supple fruit profile. 93/100

Newton Johnson Block 6 Pinot Noir 2012 Hemel-en-Aarde, South Africa
Expressive nose of cherries and plums. Supple perfume with some green notes. Lovely precision and elegance on the palate which shows tight savoury, mineral and herb notes as well as fine black cherries. Grown up. 94/100

Newton Johnson Windansea Pinot Noir 2012 Hemel-en-Aarde, South Africa
Fresh, lively, full flavoured and intense. Sweet cherries. Nicely rich and quite powerful with good tannins. It's big but retains elegance, and is a wine for the long haul. 93/100

Newton Johnson Family Vineyards Pinot Noir 2012 Hemel-en-Aarde, South Africa
Supple, bright, cherryish and lively with lovely purity and structure, as well as some grippy tannins. Overall, though, this is silky and fine with some mineral, spicy undercurrents, nice finesse and some richness. 94/100

Newton Johnson Family Vineyards Rhône Blend 2012 Hemel-en-Aarde, South Africa (cask sample)
This is a new wine, using fruit from the estate. The Syrah vines are grown on stakes in a site that was completely inhospitable to Pinot with very stony soils. There's also 10% of bush vine Mourvèdre in the blend. Rich, sweet, intense and powerful with lovely peppery black fruits, as well as some violet notes. Textured, rich yet fresh with amazing intensity of fruit, kept fresh with pepper and spice notes. One of the best young South African reds I have ever tried. 94-97/100

Newton Johnson Full Stop Rock 2009 Hemel-en-Aarde, South Africa
91% Syrah, 6%  Grenache, 3% Mourvedre. Fresh, supple cherries and spice here with some pepper notes as well as plums and sweet blackberry fruit. Supple, fresh and pure with a hint of chalkiness in the background. 93/100

Wines tasted 03/13

Older notes, from October 2010

Newton Johnson Resonance 2009
A Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon blend. Very fresh, bright and mineral with citrus fruit and a bit of grapefruit. Stylish with lovely fruit expression. 90/100

Newton Johnson Chardonnay 2000 Overberg, South Africa
Cheesy edge to the crisp, fresh, nutty citrus fruit. Some minerality. Very stylish and fresh with lovely focus. This has developed beautifully. Nutty, intense and fresh. 93/100

Newton Johnson Syrah Mourvèdre 2007 Hemel en Aarde Valley, South Africa
Very attractive and fresh. A bit peppery with some mineral notes under the sweet dark cherry fruit. Really quite delicious. 91/100

Newton Johnson Syrah Mourvèdre 2003 Hemel en Aarde Valley, South Africa
Minerally, spicy earthy nose with some evolution. Deliciously savoury with lovely freshness and some spicy, earthy maturity. A beautifully mineral wine. 91/100

Newton Johnson Pinot Noir 2009 Upper Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, South Africa
Lovely sweet, fairly elegant nose of cherries and subtle herbs. The palate is fresh with nice sweet cherry and berry fruit complemented by some nice spiciness and a subtle earthy twist. Stylish. 90/100

Newton Johnson Pinot Noir 2003 Overberg, South Africa
Very savoury. Quite evolved with a medicinal edge to the savoury, spicy, earthy fruit. Distinctly savoury with a rustic edge. No elegance. 84/100

Visiting Hemel-en-Aarde

Introduction
Bouchard Finlayson
Newton Johnson
Hamilton Russell
Ataraxia
Creation
Crystallum

Wines tasted 03/13  
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