At first glance, Dr. Su Hua Newton seems an unlikely winery owner. She is a scientist by training. She wears a red blazer and black tights that just might be leather. She and her husband, Peter Newton, came to Napa way back in the day, when the valley’s landscape was more likely to be growing walnuts than grapes.
But then Newton begins to speak — as she did Friday night at the Newton Vineyard wine dinner at BOKX 109 Restaurant in Newton — and you realize the roles of winery owner, winemaker, and marketer suit her to a T.
That’s because she is intelligent and pragmatic (useful for one of the first-comers to the Napa wine scene). And because she is vivacious and charming (you’d have to be, to pull off some of the achievements Newton Vineyard has accomplished).
Plus, she is self-effacing and funny, and definitely not taking herself too seriously.
That last — an energy of self-deprecation and humor — helped open the door to the lively, even boisterous crowd that gathered in BOKX 109′s private dining room recently. Newton Vineyard’s reputation typically inspires a hushed reverence, thanks to wine critic Robert Parker’s 96-point rating of Newton’s wines, its inclusion in Parker’s ranking of the world’s 100 greatest wine estates, and premium price points per bottle. Newton Vineyard’s history, in other words, evokes an expectation of stuffiness.
Until Su Hua Newton is in the room.
That was the case on Friday. Maybe some of the guests came to the dinner anticipating a certain level of seriousness. What they got instead was communal seating around just a few tables in the room, exciting food (and I do not say that lightly), and the edge and the flair of BOKX 109, packaged with the unusual — even daring — flight of unfiltered wines from Su Hua Newton’s vineyards.
Maybe the next time these guests see Newton Vineyard on the wine store shelf, they’ll remember Dr. Newton’s sense of humor more than the unfiltered character of most of the wines. Maybe they’ll remember their conversation with fellow guests more distinctly than how well the Red Label Chardonnay paired with the oysters (outstanding though the food at BOKX 109 is).
Or maybe what they will remember is that Napa is full of personalities like Dr. Newton’s — personalities that flavor more than the wines.
Cathy Huyghe writes the WGBH Foodie blog. Read new WGBH Foodie posts every weekday, in which Cathy explores myriad ways and places to experience good food and wine.