Legendary Boutique Napa Valley Winery
I first met Stuart Smith, Founder and Managing Partner of Smith-Madrone Winery at WWET 2018 in Napa Valley. He was a presenting winemaker at a couple of seminars sharing his POV, his wines, and his history in the Valley. If you are from Napa, I will venture that you know Stu, as he is known. After the conference, Gary and I stuck around for a couple more days. We intended to make our way up Spring Mountain, where the winery resides. But the road can be treacherous during inclement weather, and the clouds were not in our favor.
Since he would be coming down the mountain to head home, he met us after we finished a tasting at another winery tasting room near his home. I had tasted all his wines during the seminar, so this was a conversation about his winery, the Spring Mountain AVA, and Napa Valley.
The time flew by even though we sat there for almost two hours. But it was closing time, and we all had places to go. I will never forget the comment the tasting room employee said to us after Stu departed. With eyes wide open, he announces to us, “That’s Stu Smith! He is a legend in this valley.” We smiled with a nod and headed on our way as well.
The Smiths of Smith-Madrone
The vineyards and winery were founded in 1971, by Stu Smith. The current team includes Stu, as managing partner and enologist, his brother Charles F. Smith III is the winemaker. His son Sam Smith is the assistant winemaker. Oh, and as far as the Madrones go, they are the primary trees that blanket the ranch, so they need no introduction.
On Spring Mountain
Napa, the AVA, is mostly a valley, but it also includes some of the mountain slopes that surround the valley. The vineyards on the valley floor range from sea level to a range of 200 (Yountville) to 1000 (Oakville) feet above sea level and everything in-between. Then there are the mountain vineyards that climb up slopes that start at 600 feet above sea level and go as high as 2600 feet above sea level. The benefit of being this high up is that the vineyards are above the fog line, which provides warmer nights and cooler days. The vineyards of Smith-Madrone sit at elevations between 1,300 and 2,000 feet on steep slopes.
The estate is on a 200-acre ranch, partly planted as vineyard over a century ago.
All wines are made entirely from the winery’s dry-farmed estate vineyards surrounding the winery on top of Spring Mountain in the Napa Valley. Stu Smith chose specific slopes with different exposures for specific varietals when planting the vines: eastern exposure for Riesling, southern and western exposures across flat stretches for the Cabernet Sauvignon, and the coolest north-facing slopes for the Chardonnay. They make approximately 3,000 cases a year.
Tasting the Four Wines of Smith-Madrone
I last tasted and wrote about Smith-Madrone wines in the Spring of 2018. So when I was asked to be on a Zoom tasting with Stu Smith and their latest releases, it was a heck yes. I mean, come on, the 2014 Smith-Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon was one of my top 4 wines of 2018. Any chance to taste newer vintages and the answer is quick and emphatic.
2016 Estate Grown Riesling
If you see or hear the word Riesling and you think sweet German wine, then think again. The only thing this has in common with the German wine is the grapes used. This Riesling is Alsatian in style. It sees no oak, only stainless steel. The style is dry and is made to be a pure expression of the grape.
Like all Smith-Madrone wines, acidity is key. It starts out bright and lively and ends with a mouthwateringly juicy finish. The nose is a blend of floral notes, citrus peel, early peach and stone fruits. It has a creamy center. The palate is consistent with the nose with notes of stone fruits, including peach and apricot, lime citrus, and a tad of minerality and spice.
I generally drink Riesling with spicy food, and this wine would be a great pairing with that. But do not limit yourself to spicy as savory of any kind will also make a great pairing. It will even “pair” with itself on a hot summer day as you sit on the porch, watching the sun cross the sky.
2016 Estate Riesling, Spring Mountain AVA, Napa Valley, CA 12.8% ABV, $34/bottle.
This wine is widely distributed, so ask your local wine store to carry it. Here is Charleston you can pick this wine up at Edmund’s Oast Exchange. Call first to check on availability. It may also be purchased directly from the winery.
2016 Estate Grown Chardonnay
I used to be an ABC (Anything but Chardonnay) wine drinker. That is until I discovered wines like this 2016 Estate Grown Chardonnay.
The aromas of this wine are lush. I smell both vanilla and toasted almond on the nose. I also got citrus, specifically lemon. The acidity is so juicy it is making my mouth water as it should. The palate also brings a hint of vanilla, some tropical fruit as well as apricot. While lush and fruitful, the wine is weighted without being heavy. It is nicely balanced easily integrating with the pleasing acid.
I noticed on the wine spec sheet that it is barrel-fermented and spends nine months in 80% new oak. I had to ask, “How does a wine that spends so much time in new oak not become overly oaked?” What I learned is that not all oak trees and thus, the barrels from which they are made are not the same. Smith-Madrone buys barrels, which have a tight grain structure—this structure reduces the innate flavors that come from oak from being absorbed. Well done, Smith-Madrone, well done!
2016 Chardonnay, Spring Mountain AVA, Napa Valley, CA 14.4% ABV, $40/bottle. This wine is widely distributed, so ask your local wine store to carry it. Here is Charleston you can pick this wine up at Edmund’s Oast Exchange. Call first to check on availability. It may also be purchased directly from the winery.
2015 Estate Grown Cabernet Sauvignon
I was super excited to taste this wine, given that I loved the 2014 vintage so much. The first sentence on the spec sheet said that the 2015 harvest was unusually small, unlike the abundant 2014 harvest. Oh, how fun it would be to taste them side-by-side.
Smith-Madrone Cabs are unlike most any Cab. Sav. you will find in Napa. First and foremost is, the wine is sold when it is ready to drink, which you can do the day you bring it home from the store, or you can cellar it for years and watch it mature. It is structured yet unpretentious, sophisticated, but easy. It is a stand-alone wine, or it will pair with almost anything. This wine is delicious.
Secondly, unlike other Napa Cabs, is its price. At $52.00, I dare you to find a quality, Napa Cab, as impressive for so little cash. Yes, I am a big fan.
This wine is 84% Cabernet Sauvignon and 16% Cabernet Franc. It spends 18 months in barrel 65% (the same tight-grained) new oak, and 35% in one-year-old oak.
The nose is vibrant and bountiful with a mix of dark fruit like plums, some dried and some fresh—also blackberry and currants along with notes of licorice and spices. The palate is similar yet restrained in its intensity. Savory and herbal notes also come through. It is silky and smooth with a nice boost of acid in the finish.
When is a Cabernet “fun”? This wine is fun.
2015 Estate Bottled Cabernet Sauvignon, Spring Mountain AVA, Napa Valley, CA 14.3% ABV, $52/bottle. Here is Charleston you can pick this wine up at Edmund’s Oast Exchange. Call first to check on availability. It may also be purchased directly from the winery.
2016 Cook’s Flat Reserve
The only other time I ever tasted Cook’s Flat Reserve was during the WWET Napa conference in 2018. It was the 2012 vintage during the first seminar that day, starting at 8:30 am. I dug through my notes to try and find what I wrote. Just as well, I guess, mornings are not my favorite time of day, so who knows if I could even read what I wrote at that ungodly hour. So moving on… to the not yet released to the public 2016 vintage of Cook’s Flat Reserve.
This is a special wine, a labor of love.
It is created from a small group of the best barrels of the vintage. We are some of the first to taste the 2016 vintage. Since every vintage is different, you can expect the blend also to be different. The 2013 Cook’s Flast Reserve, which is the current vintage for sale on the website, is a blend of 46% Cabernet Franc, 33% Cabernet Sauvignon, 21% Merlot. The 2016 blend is 54% Cabernet Sauvignon and 46% Cabernet Franc. Both are aged 19 months in new French oak barrels.
This is an expensive wine. A precious gift for the person(s) who want more than just a great glass of wine, but an immersion into the 1,800 feet elevation slopes of Cook’s Flat as well as the winemaking skill of the maker. Someone who drinks and contemplates the wine. They admire how it changes from the first glass to the last. I am not sure when the 2016 vintage will be released, but even in its youth, it is an incredible sip. I can only imagine what will transform in the years to come.
Dark blue and black fruit aromas waft out of my glass. Black currant, plum, even prune intermix with earth and vanilla. The palate offered similar flavors and so much more, including a tad of dark, dark chocolate. We drank this bottle over two days. I wish I had documented the differences on day two. Shame on me. Both days were magical. This was special.
2016 Cook’s Flat Reserve, Spring Mountain AVA, Napa Valley, CA, 14.1% ABV, $225/bottle. It is only available for purchase directly from the winery.
Smith-Madrone Vineyards and Winery * 4022 Spring Mountain Road, St. Helena, California 94574 * Phone 707-963-2283 Open by appointment only at 11:00 am or 2:00 pm on Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday. The tasting fee is $25 per person; this fee is waived with wine purchase. Please note that due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the tasting room is closed until further notice.
That is all for now.
Rick & Gary