Napa Valley AVA
Located in southern Napa Valley on the western slopes of the Mayacamas mountains
If ever there was a story of a winery personifying an individual, it would be that of Newlan Winery and it’s founder, Bruce Newlan. Two compelling forces in Bruce Newlan’s life resulted in the creation of one of the finest small wineries in the Napa Valley.
A love of farming and a relentless desire for experimentation led Bruce to entertain thoughts of buying land to start a vineyard. What better way to fulfill these two passions!? After all, growing grapes for wine making was the ultimate farming experiment—particularly in the 1960’s, during the early revival years of California winemaking.
At that time, if you were going to buy land to plant a vineyard, you went to Napa—which is exactly what Bruce did. In 1967, he purchased 13½ acres in southern Napa Valley on the western slopes of the Mayacamas mountains. He bought the land for $2,500 an acre which was then a high price to pay. Today, comparable land would fetch up to $30,000 an acre—if any were available! The parcel had walnut trees planted on it which Bruce promptly replaced with 11 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon vines.
During this period, Bruce was still employed as a physicist and engineer for aerospace firm, Lockheed. He and his wife, Jonette lived in the San Francisco Bay area and commuted to Napa on the weekends to tend the farm. Bruce had no formal training in growing grapes. However, he actively sought expert advice from other farmers in the area, and professional farm advisors at the University of California. He also attended night classes and read virtually everything he could find on the subject.
In 1970 he harvested his first commercial crop of Cabernet Sauvignon. Two years later Bruce bought 16 more acres of bare land a half-mile down the road, where he planted Pinot Noir vines. Each successive year throughout the early 1970’s, Bruce’s crop grew in both quality and quantity. As a result, his yield commanded increasingly higher prices. One year in fact, Bruce recalls, “We got $1,000 a ton for Cabernet and four tons per acre. That’s more money than I was making at Lockheed!” So, in 1974 Bruce quit his job and the Newlans moved to Napa permanently.
Shortly after moving to Napa, Bruce decided to start a winery of his own. For years he had been selling his crop to the likes of Silver Oak, Robert Mondavi and Inglenook, who in turn were producing outstanding Cabernet Sauvignon wine. “I found out later that my grapes were being used to make Inglenook’s great “Reserve” wines. Back then, wineries were very secretive about that sort of thing,” Bruce said.
In 1977, Newlan Winery was founded. The winery’s first Cabernet was released in 1980 and garnered instant acclaim. By that time, Newlan was also producing a Chardonnay, and Johannisberg Riesling. Also in 1980, after much experimentation, he introduced his first Pinot Noir vintage. “I experimented for about five years on the Pinot,” Bruce said. “I planted six different Pinot clones, did small-lot fermentation on each, and reduced it to two of the best clones for blending,” he added.
Today, Newlan Winery is one of the few remaining small family owned and operated wineries left in the Napa Valley. Annually they produce about 1,000-3,000 cases each of Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, and Zinfandel.
Although the availability of good quality winegrapes has greatly diminished lately, Bruce would like to have his winery producing at the 20,000 case level within the next five years. Bruce has gradually phased himself out of the winemaking role and now concentrates on financial matters and confers with National Sales Manager, Kristy Wallstrum, on marketing strategies. Bruce’s wife, Jonette is in charge of hospitality and coordination of all the public relations events held at the winery. Their son Glen, tends to the wine production tasks. Glen’s wife, Jerri-Lynn handles the office administration duties.
The Newlans invite all Platinum Wine Club members to visit the winery and to join their own wine club, Vintner’s Circle. Shipments go out every other month for about $39.00 plus tx & shpg. Wines include pre-release, current and library selections. Discounts are up to 20%. Call them direct at 1-800-500-9463.
Bruce Newlan - Proprietor
A love of farming was instilled in Bruce Newlan at an early age. As a young boy, he enjoyed working in his uncle’s vineyards in Fresno during summer vacations. His Dad was a farm owner also, and in the back of Bruce’s mind, he too, would some day be involved in farming.
Bruce was born and raised in Long Beach, California, and attended college at Fresno State. Despite his penchant for farming he decided to study physics and electronics and graduated with an engineering degree. Ironically, Fresno State was well known for their enology program, but at the time Bruce had no idea the impact that winemaking would have on his life.
Engineer, Physicist, Ham Radio Operator, Pilot, Navy Captain, Farmer, Winemaker—Bruce has always enjoyed meticulous tasks that involve creating, and concocting. Ever since he can remember he has liked to tinker with things—taking things apart and putting them back together again. A never ending curiosity about how things worked. It is this need-to-figure-things-out mentality that has driven Bruce to excel in an variety of divergent but somehow related careers, hobbies and interests throughout his life.
Right out of college Bruce joined the Navy, where he was on active duty for five years. Out of the Navy, he was immediately recruited by aerospace company, Lockheed, as an aerospace engineer. There he was intimately involved with strategic Navy programs such as Polaris and Trident.
It was in the mid-nineteen sixties during his career at Lockheed when he began to feel a tug back to his farming roots. His friends had introduced him to fine wines a few years earlier and true to his nature, it had piqued an intense curiosity. He soon began to dabble in home-winemaking, helping to satisfy his natural urge to figure it out. This new-found, inexact science of winemaking fed his compulsion to experiment and concoct things. He soon decided that to actually grow grapes himself, would not only afford him a reasonable living but allow him to get back on the farm where he longed to be.
In the 1960’s, the only logical place to buy land to grow grapes for winemaking was in the Napa Valley. After an extensive search, in 1967 Bruce bought 13½ acres just north of the town of Napa. Lockheed was his security blanket though. He would never leave his career as an engineer unless he was sure the grape growing business would pan out.
For the next seven years Bruce and his wife Jonette, (whom he met in college), commuted to Napa Valley on the weekends to tend the farm. Then it was back to Sunnyvale during the week to work at his ‘real” job and rest up for the next weekend!
In 1974, Bruce and Jonette decided it was time to take the plunge. The season earlier they had earned more money selling off their grape crop than Bruce was making at Lockheed. ‘We bootstrapped this place,” said a proud Bruce Newlan. ‘The money came from working hard at Lockheed, and our only partner is the bank,” he added.
After almost thirty years of grape growing and close to twenty years making wine—Bruce Newlan, his wife Jonette, and their sons, Dan, Jim and Glen, have earned well deserved respect in the Napa community. Their kind of operation is a dying breed—a family-owned, family-operated vineyard and winery in the Napa Valley. In a time of frequent takeovers and bankruptcies, Newlan Vineyard and Winery remains a solid entity.
Newlan wines are consistently top medal winners and internationally acclaimed year after year. In fact in 1988, at the International Wine and Spirits Competition held in London, Newlan wines earned three out of four trophies awarded to United States wineries.
Looking back at his long and successful career in the wine industry, Bruce Newlan says ‘The only thing I regret is not making the missiles-to-wine switch earlier!”