It is with heavy hearts that we say goodbye to a dear friend and a very important part of the Newsome-Harlow family. On Sunday, December 12, 2010, at the relatively young age of 69, friend and grower James Declan Dalton passed from this earth.
It was 1998 when Jim was introduced to local vineyard manager Steve Collum. In the year 2000 with Steve’s help, Jim established a vineyard here in Calaveras county. Beginning in 2003, I started making wine from the Dalton vineyard. Plenty of stuff. Grenache and Mourvedre for the Twisted Oak wines, along with some Petite Sirah for the NH wines. Over the next couple of years I realized that this was a special place and a special guy. In 2006, I took the plunge and committed to two more blocks from the ranch for the NH wines. The Syrah, along with a really cool block of Zinfandel which goes by the name of The Donner Party Zinfandel. Both the 07 and 08 vintages have received high praise (93 points) from national wine publication The Wine Enthusiast. By 2010, I was purchasing the lion’s share of the fruit from Jim’s vineyard and making several wines for two wineries from it.
In short, the vineyard has become one of the greater vineyards I’ve had the pleasure to work with. It was that way for a reason. See, I only knew Jim for the last 10 years of his life, but it became clear to me quite quickly that Jim never did anything “kind of” well. A native Irishman through and through, for him it was all or nothing and it showed in everything he did.
It’s a very personal loss for me. Jim was not just a grower to us, he was a friend and mentor of mine. Not just in business, but in life. We would often get together for lengthy lunches and share a bottle of wine (sometimes two) and talk about the wine business. He would ask about Newsome-Harlow and how things were going, countering any difficulties I brought up with some crazy story from his business past that made my troubles seem inconsequential. Without exception, I left those lunches much more uplifted and with a feeling that someone else understands.
He was like this with everyone, not just me. He touched so many people throughout his life. I’ve never met anyone that had a single bad thing to say about him. He led a very full and vivacious life, living through some personal tragedies that would make your bones shiver. And in the end, his mission was simply to help people, encourage people and enjoy life.
Jim was taken from us far too early. Part of his legacy is the vineyard and part is his family. In addition to countless wonderful siblings, Jim leaves behind a wife, a daughter and son-in-law and two grandchildren that he was head-over-heels about. Jim’s vision will live on. His daughter Dierdre will be picking up the torch and along with her mother Frances, will continue working with Steve running the vineyard and seeing to projects that he, Steve and I discussed at length and were quite excited about. First, the newest plantings on the vineyard will bear first fruit this year…some Sauvignon Blanc to add to the current NHSB along with a bit more Zinfandel for The Donner Party. Just as important, they will oversee the completion of the third-party organic certification program that Jim and Steve began in 2009.
There is an old cemetery on the property, and Jim was laid to rest there. It was a beautiful service filled with around two hundred pairs of teary eyes. In the days following his burial and celebration it has become a little easier to accept the loss and deal with the new absence of someone I cared very deeply for. And I look forward to forming new friendships over the years with his family and working to achieve the goals for the vineyard that Jim had set. Jim now rests on a knoll overlooking the Syrah block on the eastern end of the vineyard. It is the block that the Newsome-Harlow Syrah is harvested from and will be until fate says otherwise. I think he would be happy about that. Godspeed Mr. Dalton, I’m better off having known you!
Scott Klann is the Proprietor and Winemaker for Newsome-Harlow in Murphys, California.