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Stuart Pigott sends thanks to Sam Smith in a recap of the City of Riesling

July 30, 2014

On his blog today Stuart Pigott thanks the participants of City of Riesling in Traverse City, Michigan, including Sam:

I got back to NYC from the City of Riesling festival a scant 24 hours ago and the hectic events of last weekend are still going through my head. What I remember most are the people who made it all possible and also gave it such an abundance of life and energy……

In my recent posting about the Smith Madrone estate winery on Napa/California I forgot to mention the new generation there, Sam Smith. The great thing about Sam is that he is utterly grounded in the work his father Stuart Smith and his uncle Charles Smith have done up on Spring Mountain with Riesling, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon, yet he brings a fresh perspective to all of that resulting from his experience working for wine producers and restaurants around the world. He also has a great sense of humor that helped us avoid sliding into geekdom too often. The problem with that is once you go into Terminal Geek Out you no longer get any real pleasure except from what you yourself think and say, your awareness of other people narrowing until it disappears completely. The problem with all of that is that wine is about sharing (also ideas).

And there’s more and photos at http://www.stuartpigott.de/?p=5352

Stu is on a panel on dry farming at Napa Valley Grapegrowers Organic Wine Growing Conference

July 21, 2014

Stu will be a panelist at The Napa Valley Grapegrowers’ 2014 Organic Winegrowing Conference on July 29 at Inglenook Winery in Rutherford, Napa Valley. This may be the first wine industry symposium ever on the subject of dry farming.

Stu is on the Practical Application & Common Misconceptions of Dry Farming panel, which will be moderated by John Williams of Frog’s Leap Winery. The other panelists are Mike Chelini of Stony Hill Vineyards and Tod Mostero of Dominus.

“The only event of its kind in the industry, the Organic Winegrowing Conference offers the wine industry first-hand insight and networking opportunities that lead to an increase in wine quality and the promotion of sustainable practices.  Respected voices in research join forces with industry names synonymous with pioneering organic winegrowing to provide comprehensive insight and support on the details of organic and sustainable farming,” explain the Napa Valley Grapegrowers.

Conference details: https://www.napagrowers.org/events/nvg-events-2014/organic-winegrowing-conference/event-overview/.

Registration for the conference: https://www.napagrowers.org/wp-content/uploads/2014-OWC-Registration-Form-Track-Two-Sold-Out.pdf .

Founded in 1971 by Stuart Smith, Smith-Madrone Vineyards & Winery is one of the few entirely estate-vineyard mountain wineries in the Napa Valley. Smith-Madrone’s grapes are grown at the top of Spring Mountain (1,200 – 1,800-foot elevation with slopes up to 34%), west of St. Helena in the Napa Valley.  The vines are planted on very steep slopes in red “Aiken” soil which is derived from weathered volcanic materials and sedimentary rock. The wines carry a Spring Mountain District appellation and the vineyards are primarily dry-farmed. The winery’s current releases are 2012 Riesling ($27), 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon ($45), 2012 Chardonnay ($32) and 2010 Cook’s Flat Reserve ($200).

Smith-Madrone participates in City of Riesling in Michigan this summer

July 21, 2014

Samuel Smith, Assistant Winemaker, will be going to Traverse City, Michigan to participate in City of Riesling, July 26 – 28. This is an event celebrating Stuart Pigott’s new book, The Riesling Story: Best White Wine On Earth. Smith-Madrone is one of the wineries featured prominently in the book.

The Night of 100 Rieslings on July 27 is a party showcasing Rieslings from Traverse City and around the world and will include the world premiere of Mr. Pigott’s film Watch Your Back: The Riesling Movie.

Salon Riesling on July 28 encompasses four sessions with winemaker panelists and curated tastings of Rieslings. Samuel will be a panelist for two sessions. First is United States of Riesling: A Look at Riesling Regions Across America; his second is Riesling Time Machine: Rieslings & Aging.

For more information on the events: http://cityofriesling.com/

Mr. Pigott’s book is a one-of-a-kind guide to Riesling, full of personal stories. Pigott writes “There’s not only a spirit of the times; there’s also a wine of the times, and Riesling is the white wine of our time. In a wine world dominated by smoke and mirrors, where standardization of flavor is the norm, Riesling remains strikingly and deliciously original.”

Smith-Madrone is the only Riesling from North America in Mr. Pigott’s list of Top 20 Dry Rieslings in the book. He explains: “…some of my favorite Californian Rieslings, like that from Smith-Madrone….a properly dry Riesling that has arguably been the most consistent wine from this grape in the entire state since the first vintage back in 1977.”

 

 

 

Stuart Pigott reports on the Smith-Madrone “magic”

July 13, 2014

Journalist and author Stuart Pigott reports on his visit to the winery:

California Riesling Diary: Day 4 – The Smith-Madrone Magic, July 13, 2014

Why do I do this job? Why am I more excited about it than ever before? Because of people like Stuart (left) and Charles Smith (right) of Smith Madrone estate on Spring Mountain in Napa Valley. Before I visited them yesterday I knew that they’re two of the unsung heroes of American Riesling, but since my visit I would say they’re also unsung heroes of American Chardonnay and American Cabernet Sauvignon. These are actually all world class wines, however I think it’s important to emphasize that although the Smith brothers are inspired by certain Western European wines, those which they produce are American thru and thru. What their wines never do, however, is neatly fit into any of the currently Fashion Wine stereotypes, American or global, because they all have genuine style by the bucket load. Of course, that means that certain critics, somms, collectors and wine fans don’t take them seriously, and maybe never will. The most refreshing thing of all about the Smith brothers is that – as I think you can clearly see from my picture – this situation doesn’t get Stuart and Charles down in the least, quite the opposite. Their quiet confidence derives from the conviction that they’re doing the right thing (also that they’ve considered all the other options and rejected them with good reason), and from the fact that there are more than enough wine drinkers out there who appreciate the Smith-Madrone wines for them to sell out at healthy prices.

At least part of the secret of this is their location on Spring Mountain where they’ve planted 35 acres of vineyards (9 acres of which are Riesling), an area of mixed forest (pictured above is a stand of redwoods) and some grassy hillsides, part of which they use as a shooting range. From up here they look down upon the floor of the Napa Valley where wine can be produced more cheaply and sold more easily the waves of well-to-do tourists who pass through at this time of year. Up on their section of Spring Mountain there are almost zero tourists and wine is far more arduous and expensive to produce. This has encouraged the development of a very different spirit and I think you can read that in their faces. When Stuart Smith said to me, “California goes over the top. That’s what Hollywood is all about,” he was defining the Smith Madrone position as one of opposition to that. That’s not a willful form of opposition though, but a very considered one. The Smith brothers have a position and that, no less than their special location, is what makes these wines so very different from the Napa and Californian norms.

Of course, the mere fact of growing Riesling in Napa Valley (the vineyard is pictured above) seems like a revolutionary act to some people in the California wine industry, but the wines I tasted ranging from 2013 back to 1994 were not only of consistently high quality, they were also also utterly distinctive. “I think the reason we’ve done so well with Riesling is that the concept of balance is fundamental to what we do. We’re in a different and warmer region than Riesling’s homeland in Germany, so we’ve been able to make the wines with less sweetness,” Stuart Smith explained. In fact, recent vintages have been properly dry and wonderfully expressive (see the hit list of the best 20 dry wines on Planet Riesling in my book BEST WHITE WINE ON EARTH). The aromas range from white peach and lemon to dried flowers and herbs, the acidity is bright and enormously refreshing without a hint of sharpness. With age a note that reminds me of quince jelly develops. If you want a “dry” white that tastes lush and creamy, sweet and heavy like the Rombauer Chardonnay, then run for cover! This is not the wine for you! However, if you want to feel fully alive and you aren’t afraid of acidity, then you could find this wine seriously exciting.

It was interesting to taste how when the wines are young the Chardonnay and the Riesling from Smith Madrone share some aromas,  and the Rieslings and Cabernet Sauvignons share something vital in a less direct way; dry elegance and brightness. That says to me how strongly the personality of this site asserts itself. More words are not necessary to convey the essentials of these wines, except perhaps to mention that the Smith Brothers 1996 Riesling was one of the best mature American Rieslings I ever tasted. Which other American Rieslings can match its vitality and uniqueness of flavor? The current vintage costs just $27, making it one of the great dry white wine bargains.

Photos and the entry on his blog: http://www.stuartpigott.de/?p=5267

 

“Honest, balanced wines from California” in the eyes of an Oregon retailer

July 9, 2014

We’re honored to share this recent newsletter from Storyteller Wine Company in Portland:

Mountain Men and their Wines
After a recent newsletter about the “new California” I received a one sentence reply from a long time customer in California. It read “that’s all well and good, but don’t forget the old timers.” He is absolutely right. There are folks in California who have been doing their own thing and defying trends for a very long time when it comes to wine making. My favorites of the highly skilled curmudgeon crowd are two brothers who quietly ply their craft up on Spring Mountain, seemingly oblivious to wine critics and what their neighbors are doing.

The brothers in question are Stu and Charlie Smith and I first stumbled across them back in 2005. I was waiting for a dentist appointment when I picked up a dog eared copy of House & Garden Magazine to pass the time. I was quite surprised to find a wine column in House & Garden, and even more surprised to discover it was written by noted fiction author Jay McInerney.

The article was about two brothers who, in their overalls and gigantic beards, looked more like a ZZ Top cover band than serious winemakers. Their winery up on the Mayacamas Ridge was strictly “no frills,” with tractor and truck parts strewn all over the place. Heck, their idea of a tasting room was a 2×4 piece of wood stretched between two old barrels in front of an even older barn.

That article sent me looking for their Riesling, which Jay McInerney described as “like an Austrian Riesling from the Wachau.” Along the way I discovered their other wines were also pretty nice. Stu Smith is the vineyard manager and Charlie Smith makes the wines. They set up shop up on Spring Mountain in 1971 and by 1977 they had their first commercial vintage. Those first own rooted vines were dry farmed from the “get go” and today Stu only uses water in the first two years of a vine’s life, after which it’s all up to nature.

Folks, when it comes to honest, balanced wines from California, these guys might as well be listed among the Founding Fathers. I’ve been drinking these wines for the last 10 years and I’m happy to report that after a long hiatus, they are finally back in the Portland market. They make three wines (Riesling, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon) and all are worth trying.

2012 Smith-Madrone Spring Mountain District Riesling
This is the wine that started it all for me. I thought “how could an Old World style Riesling be made in California?” It turns out you need to go high up in the mountains. It also helps if the two guys making it are Riesling fanatics of the first order. Stu and Charlie are so committed to Riesling in 1983 they petitioned the federal government to remove the words “Johannisberg” and “White” from their wine labels. Stu thought they were silly words and Charlie deployed sterner language to describe them. Their Riesling is perhaps the very best on the entire West Coast and it can age gracefully for 15-20 years.

Sadly, phylloxera has reduced the size of their Riesling block so there’s not much to go around. Fortunately, the vines that remain are now 40 years old. The other good news is the 2012 vintage was almost picture perfect and the Smiths ended up with a bumper crop of beautifully ripened Riesling grapes. The color of this wine is picture perfect as well, with a light gold color and tiny emerald flecks floating about if you hold your glass to the light.

As you pour this wine you will pick up the first scents of orchard fruit from a foot away. White peaches and quince dominate that first aromatic wave, followed by beeswax, tart Granny Smith apples and a burst of tonic water complete with a slice of lime. The acidity is in perfect balance with all that stone fruit and at 12.5% alcohol and a mere 0.41% residual sugar the wine comes across as dry and refreshing. Overall, this is a superb Riesling with only one major shortcoming: its limited supply.

2010 Smith-Madrone Spring Mountain District Cabernet Sauvignon
Old school Cali cab lovers rejoice, the Smith-Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon is here to light up your life. 2010 was a cool growing season in the Napa Valley, especially 1,800 feet up on Spring Mountain where the Smiths grow these 38-year old vines. The 2010 version of this wine is 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Merlot and 6% Cabernet Franc. Charlie aged the juice in a combination of French and American oak and bottled it unfiltered and unfined after 21 months. It clocks in at a shade over 14% alcohol and boy is this a nice cab!

The ruby-red color is darker than Dorothy’s shoes but not quite as dark as Gene Simmons’ helmet hair. The nose is classic cab with crushed blackberries and cedar, along with tiny notes of damp cellar floor earth, blueberries and star anise. As California wine writer Dan Berger once wrote about Smith-Madrone Cabernet Sauvignons, they are “a throwback to an earlier era when Cabernets smelled like the variety!”

The palate is focused and sinewy, with surprisingly brisk acidity and a firm tannic backbone. Once again, “balance” is the key word here as the tannins and acidity do a nice job keeping all that black fruit flavor in line. My guess is this wine has a nice long life ahead of it.

2012 Smith-Madrone Spring Mountain District Chardonnay
2012 was a pretty nice vintage for Chardonnay up at Smith-Madrone. After a cooler growing season in 2010 and 2011 Stu Smith says “2012 came as a welcome relief. Spring and summer passed with nearly ideal growing conditions and sure enough, when September came around the Chardonnay ripened right on time. Harvest began on September 4th under balmy blue skies and continued that way right through the end of the month. It was a harvest made memorable by the fact that everything went just right.”

These Chardonnay vines are now 40 years old and Charlie Smith uses 100% new French oak barrels for his barrel fermentation, but he cuts the juice’s stay in the barrel to eight months. The result is a beautiful example of California Chardonnay that’s rich in texture without crossing over into the opulent zone.

The wine’s color is a nice golden harvest moonbeam and the aromas that drift up out of the glass are potentially addicting. We’re talking no excuses, no apologies Chardonnay scents of Granny Smith green apples, Bosc pears, clarified butter and a totally appropriate touch of toasty oak inspired hazelnuts and spice.

The palate is smooth and creamy, with a lush mouthfeel and flavors like Meyer lemon, honeycomb, toasted hazelnuts and a trace of Honeydew melon. If I was at the beach and tending to a big boiling pot of water filled with Dungeness crabs, this is the wine I’d like to have at my side.

I adore the Smith brothers’ wines and I truly hope you will give them a try.

Cheers,
Michael Alberty
Head Storyteller
Storyteller Wine Company, Portland, Oregon
PS Some of you may be asking yourself, “OK I get the Smith part of the winery’s name, but who is Madrone?” In an interview conducted for his “Gray Report” blog, W. Blake Gray asked that very question. Here is Charlie Smith’s response: “I think the reason we added the Madrone — it’s a local tree — is that we were totally crazy for hyphenated French names like Lafite-Rothschild and Romanee-Conti. We’re going to call it Chateau Smith? A friend suggested Smith-Madrone and it’s worked out OK. There’s been one problem: I’ve had to give this explanation for the last 35 years.”) and all are worth trying.

2012 Smith-Madrone Spring Mountain District Riesling
This is the wine that started it all for me. I thought “how could an Old World style Riesling be made in California?” It turns out you need to go high up in the mountains. It also helps if the two guys making it are Riesling fanatics of the first order. Stu and Charlie are so committed to Riesling in 1983 they petitioned the federal government to remove the words “Johannisberg” and “White” from their wine labels. Stu thought they were silly words and Charlie deployed sterner language to describe them. Their Riesling is perhaps the very best on the entire West Coast and it can age gracefully for 15-20 years.

Sadly, phylloxera has reduced the size of their Riesling block so there’s not much to go around. Fortunately, the vines that remain are now 40 years old. The other good news is the 2012 vintage was almost picture perfect and the Smiths ended up with a bumper crop of beautifully ripened Riesling grapes. The color of this wine is picture perfect as well, with a light gold color and tiny emerald flecks floating about if you hold your glass to the light.

As you pour this wine you will pick up the first scents of orchard fruit from a foot away. White peaches and quince dominate that first aromatic wave, followed by beeswax, tart Granny Smith apples and a burst of tonic water complete with a slice of lime. The acidity is in perfect balance with all that stone fruit and at 12.5% alcohol and a mere 0.41% residual sugar the wine comes across as dry and refreshing. Overall, this is a superb Riesling with only one major shortcoming: its limited supply.

2010 Smith-Madrone Spring Mountain District Cabernet Sauvignon
Old school Cali cab lovers rejoice, the Smith-Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon is here to light up your life. 2010 was a cool growing season in the Napa Valley, especially 1,800 feet up on Spring Mountain where the Smiths grow these 38-year old vines. The 2010 version of this wine is 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Merlot and 6% Cabernet Franc. Charlie aged the juice in a combination of French and American oak and bottled it unfiltered and unfined after 21 months. It clocks in at a shade over 14% alcohol and boy is this a nice cab!

The ruby-red color is darker than Dorothy’s shoes but not quite as dark as Gene Simmons’ helmet hair. The nose is classic cab with crushed blackberries and cedar, along with tiny notes of damp cellar floor earth, blueberries and star anise. As California wine writer Dan Berger once wrote about Smith-Madrone Cabernet Sauvignons, they are “a throwback to an earlier era when Cabernets smelled like the variety!”

The palate is focused and sinewy, with surprisingly brisk acidity and a firm tannic backbone. Once again, “balance” is the key word here as the tannins and acidity do a nice job keeping all that black fruit flavor in line. My guess is this wine has a nice long life ahead of it.

2012 Smith-Madrone Spring Mountain District Chardonnay
2012 was a pretty nice vintage for Chardonnay up at Smith-Madrone. After a cooler growing season in 2010 and 2011 Stu Smith says “2012 came as a welcome relief. Spring and summer passed with nearly ideal growing conditions and sure enough, when September came around the Chardonnay ripened right on time. Harvest began on September 4th under balmy blue skies and continued that way right through the end of the month. It was a harvest made memorable by the fact that everything went just right.”

These Chardonnay vines are now 40 years old and Charlie Smith uses 100% new French oak barrels for his barrel fermentation, but he cuts the juice’s stay in the barrel to eight months. The result is a beautiful example of California Chardonnay that’s rich in texture without crossing over into the opulent zone.

The wine’s color is a nice golden harvest moonbeam and the aromas that drift up out of the glass are potentially addicting. We’re talking no excuses, no apologies Chardonnay scents of Granny Smith green apples, Bosc pears, clarified butter and a totally appropriate touch of toasty oak inspired hazelnuts and spice.

The palate is smooth and creamy, with a lush mouthfeel and flavors like Meyer lemon, honeycomb, toasted hazelnuts and a trace of Honeydew melon. If I was at the beach and tending to a big boiling pot of water filled with Dungeness crabs, this is the wine I’d like to have at my side.

I adore the Smith brothers’ wines and I truly hope you will give them a try.

Cheers,
Michael Alberty
Head Storyteller
Storyteller Wine Company, Portland, Oregon
PS Some of you may be asking yourself, “OK I get the Smith part of the winery’s name, but who is Madrone?” In an interview conducted for his “Gray Report” blog, W. Blake Gray asked that very question. Here is Charlie Smith’s response: “I think the reason we added the Madrone — it’s a local tree — is that we were totally crazy for hyphenated French names like Lafite-Rothschild and Romanee-Conti. We’re going to call it Chateau Smith? A friend suggested Smith-Madrone and it’s worked out OK. There’s been one problem: I’ve had to give this explanation for the last 35 years.”

“Superb,” says Adam Lechmere about the 2009 Cabernet

July 8, 2014

From English blogger and wine writer Adam Lechmere, some thoughts on the 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon:

The Smith-Madrone ranch high on Spring Mountain is a piece of Napa history, unchanged since bearded pioneers Charlie and Stuart Smith arrived in the 1970s. The tasting room is a comfortable, ramshackle barn with armchairs you sink into. They have an extraordinary list (their Spring Mountain Riesling is renowned, and delicious, though not as original or unusual as their Cabernets).

This ‘09 has a classic nose, blackcurrant and mint vibrating in the glass, then flavours that can only be described as Bordeaux-like, cassis and coffee, but with an additional layer of perfumed fruit that stamps it indelibly as Napa. High vineyards, long hot days and cool nights bring sharp acidity to the structure. Superb.

http://adamlechmere.blogspot.com/2014/05/scaffolding-and-bare-brickwork.html

2009 Cabernet is a Best Buy with 90 points in August issue of Wine & Spirits

July 6, 2014

In the August issue of Wine & Spirits Magazine, the 2009 Cabernet:

90 points and Best Buy

A substantial wine with mountain-grown intensity in its meaty, cherry-scented fruit…The fruit grows more fragrant with air… Powerful and gracious, this should develop well.