While at Texas Tech in the late 1970s, Neal Newsom (Texas High Plains cotton farmer Doyle C. “Hoss” Newsom’s son) had the fortune to encounter chemistry professor Dr. Roy Mitchell. At that time, Dr. Mitchell’s combined personal and academic interest in wine was advancing the Texas wine and grape-growing industry, then in its infancy. Dr. Mitchell had a profound influence on young Neal and, ultimately, on the Newsom family legacy. “I’ve always been interested in alternative crops to cotton,” says Neal. “I’ve examined soybeans and several varieties of grasses, but Dr. Mitchell really gave me the bug to grow wine grapes.”
In 1984, Neal and his father ordered enough cabernet sauvignon cuttings to start a 3-acre vineyard. “We really didn’t know what to expect,” says Neal. “Would the vines live? Would they produce fruit? Would the wine be drinkable? There were a lot of unknowns, but I knew we had a combination of our good soil, hot days and cool nights. I knew that cabernet were sought-after grapes with low yield and high price-per-ton.” Around the time their vineyard was planted, Neal and his wife, Janice, welcomed the birth of their son, Nolan.
In two years, the Newsoms got their first crop. “All the grapes from that harvest fit in five-gallon pails tucked into the back of our Suburban,” says Neal. “We took them to a winery near Odessa.
After weighing them, we got a check for nearly a thousand dollars, which made me even more excited about growing grapes.”
The Newsoms now grow 19 grape varieties on more than 150 acres in the High Plains, and they supply fruit to the top wineries in the state. Working in combination with many of the best Texas winemakers for three decades, Newsom Vineyards has become the symbol of quality Texas grapes from which high-quality, award-winning Texas wines are made.
“I’d always been my father’s right-hand man,” says Nolan, “but in 2011, when I was to assume vineyard manager responsibility from him, I had a major car accident. It left me damaged and needing several surgeries and long rehabilitation. Our family always had a plan to open a tasting room. After my accident, I had to look past full-time vineyard operations. I took ownership of the tasting room as my new career path. I’m a ‘people person’ with a talent and experience in food service—useful in running our tasting room business.”
The plans for opening the Newsom tasting room started in earnest in 2013. It was a bad year with multiple spring freezes that resulted in a harvest of despair for the family. Neal delivered his entire harvest to the Llano Estacado Winery loading dock. “It didn’t even fill a one-harvest bin designed to hold a thousand pounds of grapes,” he says. “I had the harvested grapes weighed primarily for insurance purposes.”
Even though the grapes made barely a barrel of wine, the Llano Estacado staff came up with a plan to make Neal’s grapes into a private blend. “They called me up and said, ‘You gotta come down here and taste this stuff. It’s great!’” says Neal. “It was a cabernet-centered blend supported by sangiovese and other red varieties.”
“This single barrel of wine was the start of our Newsom Vineyards brand,” says Nolan. “We named it ‘Inception.’ It was the event that launched our tasting room project. For decades, our family has grown grapes and sold them to wineries to make wine selling under their labels. We’ve reversed things up. In our tasting room, we’re selling small-batch wines made by some of our favorite Texas winemakers and selling them under our Newsom and Inception labels.”
Today, Nolan works with his wife, Mei, in Comfort, furthering the Newsom legacy with their new tasting room set in a converted centennial house. While Nolan comes from the sandy red dirt of West Texas, Mei comes from the hustle and bustle of Shanghai, China. “I came from China to Lubbock as one of Texas Tech’s graduate winemaking students,” she says. “Nolan and I met on one of my vineyard assignments. We are completely committed to this tasting room business and feel we have great potential to extend the Newsom Vineyards legacy.”
The Newsom tasting room has quickly become a Hill Country wine and food destination. Working with other Comfort businesses, Nolan created “The Comfort Backyard.” “It’s a common area,” he says, “that links our tasting room with our neighboring food and beverage establishments where people can gather, relax and enjoy themselves. We also host gourmet food trucks and have live bands in our new outdoor music venue.”
While in Comfort visiting Newsom Vineyards, check out the neighboring local establishments: Hill Country Distillers, Huckleberry’s beer and wine bar, High’s Cafe for breakfast and lunch, 814 A Texas Bistro for dinner, Branch on High wine bar and a new brewery (opening this fall) in the historic Comfort Community Theatre building.
By Russell D. Kane • Photography By James W. Skogsberg
Newsom Vineyards Wines Ready to Sip & Savor
2015 orange muscat—aromatic, floral and dry
2015 pinot grigio—lemony, light and dry
2016 albariño—fragrant and peachy
2014 Bending Branch Newsom Vineyard tempranillo—full-bodied
2014 Inception cabernet/tempranillo blend—medium-plus body and finesse
Special Newsom Wine Club Wines:
merlot, syrah, albariño (oak-aged) and 2013 Inception
For more information, visit newsomvineyards.com or call 806-549-6732.