Newfound, Gravels Grenache 2018 California

California Newfound Wines bottles

18 December 2020 Newfound have made this Gravels Grenache a fundraiser for local restaurants.

11 December 2020 More evidence of the revival of Grenache. Click on the Grenache tag on the left to see previous examples.

From $30, £29.95

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Newfound Wines are now available in the UK for the first time, from London-based merchant Jeroboams. Just after harvest finished this autumn, I was able to sit outside with Newfound duo Audra Chapman and Matt Naumann (below) for a socially distanced tasting of their then-upcoming releases.

Audra Chapman and Matt Naumann of NewFound Wines, Sierra Foothills, California

Immediately following the tasting, I emailed Jancis, suggesting she keep an eye out for Newfound’s arrival in London, and especially for their Gravels Grenache 2018. Now that it is available in the UK at £29.95, and has been released here in the US at about $30, she asked if I would write it up as a wine of the week.

Labelled with the broad California appellation, Gravels Grenache would be easy to overlook, but that would be a mistake. A trend has emerged from California of younger producers using the broader California AVA as a way to make more affordable blends that over-deliver for the price, using fruit from multiple regions of the state. The Newfound Gravels Grenache is one such example. (Readers may recall that a previous wine of the week from Jancis, Mountain Tides California Petite Sirah, also tracked down by Martin Tickle of Jeroboams, is another.) The practice provides an opportunity for wineries to ensure they have a less-expensive wine to offer while retaining much more limited bottlings of single-vineyard wines that serve as components of the larger multi-regional blend. In this case, the Gravels Grenache brings together fruit from Mendocino and Napa counties. The 2018 would therefore qualify for the North Coast AVA but using the broader California appellation gives the winery flexibility going forward. It also makes the statement that wine from California is worth celebrating. [Europeans may see a parallel here with the likes of Vin de France – JR.]

Grenache served as one of California’s founding varieties, featuring in the historic field-blend vineyards throughout the state. It has since become an important ingredient in Rhône-inspired blends, most especially in wines from Paso Robles. A number of Rhone Ranger member producers also bottle varietal examples of Grenache. Standout versions are made by Lindquist Family (Bob Lindquist’s venture since selling Qupé), Tablas Creek, Ridge, Jolie-Laide and others. But just as often, it turns out to be a syrupy or one-note wine. Like many other varieties, it needs to be planted in the right place. For Grenache that seems to be a combination of soils that naturally reduce vigour and conditions that avoid dry tannins while ripening the fruit with good acidity and lower alcohols.

Newfound Gravels Grenache does an excellent job of offering a delicious reminder of why it’s worth finding those precious vineyard sites that suit the variety. It’s a mouth-watering wine that’s also chiselled and has great structure. There is beautiful perfume of spice and savoury herbs, some bramble and an emerging floral note. The tannin is just tactile enough to remind you the wine will do well with food as well as a bit of age, and it carries with it a long, juicy finish. It’s simply a pleasure to drink and a good example of why Grenache has been such an important variety for the state. Put simply, in the right sites it’s exciting.

Chapman and Naumann established Newfound in 2016 by first purchasing a 40-acre (16-ha) ranch in the rugged mountains of El Dorado County in California’s Sierra Foothills (see this map). They began planting a vineyard there the following year but, with such young vines, they also source fruit from growers and vineyards they admire. With a particular passion for Grenache, the couple began seeking unique sites for the variety throughout California’s North Coast.

The Cemetery Vineyard (630 ft/192 m elevation) outside Ukiah in Mendocino forms the largest portion of the Newfound Gravels Grenache, contributing 85% of the 2018 blend. The site is a prime example of California’s quirky viticultural history. It was planted primarily to Carignan and Zinfandel soon after the end of Prohibition, directly beside a historic cemetery (hence the name). Over time, blocks of Grenache were added. Today the site is owned by the city of Ukiah. Entirely dry-farmed, the vineyard sits on a band of pure gravel with very little topsoil. Vines push deep through the gravel to find their own water source in Ukiah’s warmer temperatures. The site’s unique growing conditions bring a texture and vibrancy to the blend. Regardless of variety, the Cemetery Vineyard consistently delivers vibrant acidity and length with a rocky-earthy note. (Those of you intrigued by the geekier side of California wine may be interested to know that the Cemetery Vineyard plays an important role in Rory Williams’ Calder Carignan as well.)

The remaining 15% of the blend originates from Napa Valley with 10% coming from the high Scaggs Vineyard of Mount Veeder and 5% from Yount Mill Vineyard on the valley floor.

Scaggs sits at around 1,100 ft (335 m) elevation and belongs to the American musician Boz Scaggs and his wife Dominique, who planted just 2.2 acres (0.9 ha) of Grenache, Mourvèdre and Counoise in 1998. The site is outrageously steep with a 300 ft climb from the bottom to top, and is also heavily influenced by gravel, though with a bit more loam than the Ukiah site. Since 2016, Naumann and Chapman have been farming the Scaggs vineyard themselves and bottle the different varieties separately.

Yount Mill Vineyard is on the valley floor just outside the town of Yountville. The Grenache comes from a dry-farmed section of the head-trained vineyard planted in an alluvial fan originally made by the Napa River (in other words, even more gravel soils). Yount Mill is also the source of Newfound’s Semillon 2018, which is also available at Jeroboams.

Grapes from each site are fermented 100% whole cluster, with light foot-treading after harvest and just a light, daily cap-soak per day. The wine stayed on skins for a full month (though without working the fruit), and then was aged in older vessels for a year. The wine was bottled unfined and unfiltered with just enough SO2 to keep it stable. 4,800 bottles were made.

Audra Chapman treading Grenache grapes at Newfound Wines
Audra Chapman treading Grenache grapes at Newfound Wines

Those in the United States can purchase a single-vineyard set of the three Grenaches – Cemetery, Scaggs and Yount Mill – directly from Newfound for $150. It’s a fun way of seeing what each of the sites contributes to the final blend, while enjoying Grenache. The single-vineyard wines are not currently available in the UK. 

Other Newfound wines available in the UK are the Benchland Carignan 2018 from Mendocino for £29.95 and, as mentioned, the Napa Valley Semillon 2018 from head-trained vines aged over 50 years outside the town of Yountville for £27.95.

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