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Newton Vineyards winemaker on the benefits of unfiltered fine wines

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At the recent tour of Moët Hennessy luxury wine and spirits, there was a lot to be learned about wine. I was curious about both the “amino acid” effect in champagne/bubbly (see interview with Tom Tiburzi of Chandon Vineyard) and another aspect of wine, namely, why some fine wines are created without filtering.

I asked Chris Millard, winemaker at Newton Vineyard (which makes many varieties of luxury wines, including their star blend known as The Puzzle), to talk about what unfiltered means to the discerning wine consumer, and he was gracious enough to share a few observations.

Q. You mention that unfiltered wines have more of nature's color, aroma and taste. Is this true for all unfiltered wines?

Yes. Filtration removes not only the particular constituent that is intended but a host of other elements as well including color, aromas and flavors as well as structural elements. An unfiltered wine has all of these components still intact the way nature created them.

Q. How rare is it to find unfiltered wines? What else can you tell us about the benefits of unfiltered wine?

It is fairly common to find more expensive red wines that have not been filtered. This is because red wines tend to be more stable, both microbiologically and chemically, than white wines. It is rare to find a white wine that has not been filtered.

Often white wines have residual sugar and or malic acid remaining after the fermentation process. If the wine is left unfiltered, active yeast and bacteria can and will consume these compounds causing fermentation on the bottle. Champagne is the result. Because of this, careful attention to every detail of the vinification process is key to ensuring a successful Unfiltered Chardonnay.

Q. It seems extraordinary that Newton found such an ideal elevated location for its vineyards as late as 1977. Is that because America was just beginning to wake up to fine wines and before that time the land was simply unused?

Correct. In 1977 there were less than 50 wineries in the Napa Valley. Much of the land that was planted was on the valley floor and consisted of orchards. Very few mountain vineyards existed at the time. The land that the Newton's purchased was virgin forest. It was Peter and Sue Hua's European wine experience that lead them to seek out mountain slopes to plant their vineyards. They knew that the best and most distinct wines came from hillsides.

Q. What else would you like to tell the wine-drinking public about Newton wines?

Newton Vineyard wines are first and foremost wines to be shared with friends and accompanied by a meal. In this setting each of our wines shows its true character. And of course, being unfiltered allows nature’s purity to shine through.

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