After winning New Zealand’s Young Winemaker of the Year Award for the second time in a row, Mudbrick’s Patrick Newton has firmly positioned himself as a force to be reckoned with in the winemaking community. Emilie Reynolds caught up with the family man about travelling the world, landing his dream job and the best time of the year to catch some swell on Waiheke Island.
PATRICK NEWTON was just 10 years old when his father retired as an officer with the Australian Defence Force and moved the family to a newly purchased block of land in the Gimblett Gravels.
Born in Australia and raised across the country, the move gave Newton his first glimpse into an industry that would eventually become his future.
“We moved every couple of years before my parents decided to parents decided to purchase a block of land in what is now the Gimblett Gravels just west of Hastings in 1989,” Newton said. “The Cornerstone Vineyard was established and the family moved to New Zealand in 1992 when Dad retired from the Army to run the vineyard.”
Newton’s parents taught him to be a hard worker from a young age, encouraging him and his brothers to help out with the huge work load on the vineyard.
“Growing up on a vineyard there was always plenty of work to do and my three bothers and I were roped into working on school holidays,” Newton said. “There was a rule that we couldn’t sit around doing nothing during the holidays. We either had to work on the vineyard or get a job elsewhere.”
His feelings of obligation eventually grew into passion and at the end of his high school days, Newton said the only way forward was a career in the wine industry.
“Working in the vineyard was engrained in me when I left school,” Newton said. “I went to Lincoln University and graduated from a bachelor of viticulture and oenology in 2005.”
Newton said throughout his university years he never considered pursuing winemaking and always imagined his future would reflect his younger days spent in the vineyard.
“Funnily enough I didn’t want to be a winemaker,” he said. “All of my papers at university were based around the vineyard. I didn’t take any elective winemaking papers.
“I kept thinking that you only need one winemaker to look after several vineyards yet all of those vineyards need managers. So at some point there will be too many winemakers looking for work.”
A love of travel eventually changed his mind when he finished university and Newton began chasing harvests across Australia, New Zealand, the United States and Europe.
“In 2003 I started at Forrest Estate in Marlborough and Trinity Hill in Hawkes Bay in 2004 during the university holidays as work experience,” he said. “After university, I did a whites vintage at Tyrrells in the Hunter Valley before heading straight back to New Zealand for a vintage at Esk Valley Wines in Hawkes Bay in 2005.”
From there, Newton decided to expand his horizons and try his hand at winemaking in the northern hemisphere.
“I headed over to the USA to work for Copain Custom Crush in Sonoma where I had positions with several different wineries including Donum, Auteur, Tallulah, and Dumol,” he said. “This was the best experience as I worked one on one with several different winemakers at the facility.”
Soon after, Newton chased another vintage all the way back to McLaren Vale where he worked at d’Arenberg for 2006 in a role he described as “very labour intensive”.
“After d’Arenberg it was back off to the Northern Hemisphere to Van Volxem in the Saar Valley in Germany,” he said. “This was an up-and-coming winery where the owner purchased several of the old top vineyards (almost entirely Riesling) in the area and was bringing them back to life with organic principles.”
Chasing vintages year after year, Newton flew straight back to South Australia where he was employed at Kingston Estate in the Riverland region in what would be his first experience with large-scale winemaking.
“It was a real eye opener in terms of logistics around the winery,” he said.
The small vintage ended early that year, allowing Newton to head back to where it all began – New Zealand.
“I picked up work at Constellation’s Corner 50 Winery in Hawkes Bay,” he said. “At this stage an assistant winemaker position popped up at Vidal Winery in Hawkes Bay.”
Newton saw the role as an incredible opportunity to be a part of the award-winning Villa Maria Group.
“I applied and ended up getting the position,” he said. “I stayed there for four vintages before applying and getting the winemaker position at Mudbrick Vineyard where I have been for the last four vintages.”
Now, at 33-years-old and with a career that has spanned across many countries under his belt, Newton said the most important attribute in his winemaking philosophy was a sense of place.
“My philosophy is that I want the Mudbrick Vineyards to come through with every glass,” he said. “The only way to achieve this is through sustainable vineyard practices and minimal intervention in the winery.”
Newton has had clear success turning his winemaking ideas into reality. In 2015, he won the New Zealand Young Winemaker of the Year award for the second time running. Judged only by what they put in the glass, Newton said the accolades have been his greatest achievement to date.
“The great thing about the Riedel New Zealand Young Winemaker of the year is that you are judged solely on the quality of your wines,” he said. ”You enter three wines of different varieties and styles and they get judged as if they were in a normal wine competition. The scores are then added up and the person with the highest score wins.”
Commenting on his win, Newton said he was “extremely lucky to have the best vineyard manager on Waiheke Island, Nick Otto”.
“Nick works very hard in the vineyard to produce grapes with superior flavour,” he said. “Once the grapes are harvested I minimally handle them in the winery. All the wines are naturally fermented with almost no additives.
“I’d like to think the judges saw my wines as terroir driven that have a sense of place.”
As well as his two Young Winemaker gongs, Newton was awarded with the Viognier Trophy at the Royal Easter Show in 2014, as well as both the Syrah Trophy and Champion Reserve Wine Trophy at the Bragato Wine Awards in 2014.
At the height of his career, Newton said he still has huge plans for the future.
“I would like to produce my own wines. They would all be single vineyard wines reflecting both the vineyard and vintage,” he said. “Over time I would like the wines to be the benchmark for quality in both New Zealand and the World. Selling out of these wines every year would also be a bonus!”
Newton said one of the biggest challenges his has faced through his career has been juggling work with family life.
“My father once told me that your boss will forget how hard you worked for them a couple of years after you leave but your children will always remember you not being around when they were young,” he said. “With that in mind I wanted to end up with a job where there was more work/life balance and I found it at Mudbrick.”
Describing an average day, Newton said he and his wife endeavour to spend as much time as possible with their two children Joseph, 5 and Rita, 3.
“I usually wake up around 5.30am and read the news in bed while the kids and my wife are still asleep. My children wake up just after six and then it’s all go getting the kids ready for the day.
“As Mudbrick is a small business my day can be made up of many different roles. This includes work in the winery, vineyard, as well as sales (I am also the wine sales manager) and any tastings or tours at the winery.”
Newton said the greatest thing about his role was that every single day was different, a notion which was proved by his extracurricular activity of creating a single malt whiskey for a client at the winery.
“I try to get away from work just after four outside of vintage and either head to the gym or go for a run. It’s a great way to unwind and clear the mind. Then its straight back home to see the family and cook dinner. My wife and I eat dinner early with the kids so we can all talk about our day. Then the night-time routine begins and ends with both the kids in bed by 7pm.
“The rest of the evening is spent with my wife relaxing in a quiet house with a glass of wine or whiskey.”
Newton said spending time with family was his number one priority on days away from the winery.
“We go on lots of bush walks, picnics and go swimming,” he said. “Keeping the kids busy is always a challenge.
“When I get some ‘me time’ I try to go out fishing. The waters around Waiheke Island are very productive. Surfing is also great when there are waves. Unfortunately there are only 20 to 40 surfing days a year on the Island. Most of them are windblown swell. A couple of times of year Waiheke gets cyclonic swells. When this happens it seems like all the tools on the island get put down and everybody is out in the water.”
Newton said he felt lucky to live on Waiheke Island, and work for a company which nurtured his creative process.
“Mudbrick Vineyard is a fantastic company to work for,” he said. “The owners Nick and Robyn Jones have been very supportive of me in my career and are always willing for Nick Otto and me to push the boundaries to produce better wines.”
Newton said his advice to young guns would be to go out and get some real life experience in different wine regions.
“Get inspired by drinking wines from different regions around the world and learn how they are made,” he said. “The best way to do that is to travel.
“On a more personal note, I’ve been lucky in my career working for people who have been passionate about what they do. These people have been willing to pass on their knowledge in an open way and I have learnt a great deal from them. My success is a reflection on my experiences with them. So a big thanks to these people!”
This article first appeared in the Grapegrower & Winemaker magazine.
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