Scaling the Peaks
Before becoming a winemaker, Louisiana native Rob Newsom worked for many years as a professional alpinist, ice-climbing pioneer and developer of the Gore-Tex fly-fishing wader.
He’s led 16 expeditions into the Alaska Range, and two Himalayan treks into the Everest/Khumbu region.
Newsom, who bears an uncanny resemblance to actor Peter Coyote, has built his home and winery off the grid in the Cascade Mountains, outside the town of Leavenworth, Washington.
Follow a winding road into wilderness, cross a rustic wooden bridge over Icicle Creek, and arrive at his rock-strewn, Icicle Canyon property. It makes you believe that Grizzly Adams must be his next-door neighbor.
Since retiring as a mountain guide, he’s focused on winemaking, fly-fishing and guitar-picking. When asked, an avalanche of thoughts spill on how his two careers have intertwined.
“It’s all about taking what nature gives you, and making something aesthetically pleasing from it,” Newsom says.
“We can all go out and grow grapes at eight tons per acre and make some wine,” he says. “And we can all go climb Mount Rainier. But to go to some badass mountain, pick out the most striking, beautiful line and ascend that line to the top—that is like trying to create the finest wine in the world. Something elegant, with a lot of finesse.
“It’s about what it takes to create it, and how you get there.”
Although the dangers are of a different scale, the fears are often comparable.
“You’re always scared, always worried about the weather,” Newsom says. “You’re always having to repair your gear. But if the goal is to create this beautiful thing, making wine is much like climbing mountains. It’s about getting from Point A to Point B.
“You crush your grapes and make the wine, and you’re not back at base camp until somebody is drinking the wine,” he says. “And when you’re at the summit, you still have to get back down.
“It’s just about making the next move in as good a form as you can. You can’t make the whole climb all at once. You make one move, then the next move. But you’d better be thinking of the whole picture all the time—where you are in that huge landscape. If you don’t, you’ll get killed—or make mediocre wine.”