Stu’s harvest report for the District this week:
“Harvest is still quiet on Spring Mountain with the exception of the same wineries. Stony Hill has finished their chardonnay and is moving into their riesling. Smith-Madrone has finished our riesling and is going back to finish our chardonnay. Spring Mountain Winery is now finished with their sauvignon blanc and pinot noir and moving into their chardonnay and merlot. Schweiger is also starting their merlot and chardonnay. Mike Chelini called his Stony Hill chardonnay ‘perfect’ and Smith-Madrone echoes the same ‘sediment’ with our riesling.”
We thank Jeff Alexander for his visit and thoughts:
August 26, 2014 by Jeff Alexander
Before becoming parents, my wife and I boarded a jet for San Francisco, brimming with anticipation of mammoth Muir Woods, Thomas Keller scrumptious-ness and gallons of rich Napa juice. For the most part, the journey delivered – all breezy-valley red, white and blue sky. Life continued, and we’ve since returned with our son but the landscape, of course, is forever altered by the presence of a youngster. And, most notably, I haven’t been back to the mountain.
I wrote about the Smith brothers soon after returning from Spring Mountain, from the twisted and nearly perilous road leading to the winery’s perch. The air is cooler there, the noises less motorized – less commercial – than those found below. There were only three visitors that day – a couple from Jersey and me – and we were the sole, nearly-stationary figures at the Smith-Madrone facility where harvest was full tilt.
Certain details of that short stay will never leave me: The bright-eyed honesty (and humor) of Charlie and Stu Smith, the crispness of the cold Riesling they poured us from the barrel and the pang of disappointment I felt as I left.
The tug of separation hasn’t fully subsided but recently I was fortunate enough to sample the winery’s current releases. The Smiths keep it simple, consistently crafting Cab, Chard and Riesling, and doing it well, drawing from markedly subtler fruit than the variety found at lower, sun-bleached altitudes. Though premium-priced and available solely as special orders in Pennsylvania (minimum quantity of one bottle, however), I recommend searching for samples from the Smiths’ summit.
Smith-Madrone Riesling 2012
Can Riesling receive proper treatment in Napa? S-M’s mountain setting provides the perennial affirmation. Nectarine-scented and inviting – a layered, pretty wine with floral notes, peach, white pepper, apple and stone. Very good balance and dry edge; excellent concentration, intensity. Finishes strong. 12.5% alcohol by volume.
Smith-Madrone Chardonnay 2012
Pale yellow, sea air fragrance. Nutty and spicy, it’s a blessed break from Napa Chards with big wood. A rich mix adorned by pear, pineapple, caramel toastiness and a touch of nutmeg, it has firm acidity, mineral backing and a medium finish. A fine achievement. 14.2% ABV.
Smith-Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon 2010
A lighter touch Cab full of bell pepper at this point of its young life. With medium body, it also brings out flavors of pomegranate, cranberry, charcoal and tobacco. A two-hour decant moves the wine’s brambly elements toward darker fruit and the outstanding potential bottled within. A very good effort that will likely evolve into great. Blended with 9% Merlot and 6% Cabernet Franc. 14.1% ABV.
Thank you for your calls and messages. I thought I should update you on the earthquake which took place early this morning.
I’ve lived all my life in California and was at Candlestick for the 1989 World Series when the 7.9 Loma Prieta earthquake hit and caused such destruction, havoc and death. Yet what I felt in St. Helena this morning 20 plus miles from the epicenter was much more intense and frightening. After waking with the first of the quake the second part was like a freight train running right through our home and I’m told lasted up to 30 seconds. I simply cannot imagine how our house which was so savagely shaken is still able to be standing. If this was only a 6.0 I want nothing to do with anything greater.
After inspecting our home for damage (little to none) and checking on my daughter and her family who lives in Napa (no house damage but most everything breakable was broken), Julie Ann, Charlie and I went to the winery at 4:00 am expecting the type of catastrophe most of you have seen on the news. With the exception of some damage to our wine library, we missed the bullet. BTW, my daughter and family were literally thrown out of their beds.
Unfortunately, during the day the grapevine delivered some pretty horrific news from our friends and fellow vintners (for the most part) in the southern part of the Valley and especially the Carneros region. The Instagram photos are both amazing and horrifying. Many barrel cellars are in shambles and will take civil engineers weeks to dismantle the pick-up sticks-like chaos that was once a neat and tidy barrel cellar. Had it been during the work day many cellar workers would have been crushed to death.
I suspect that the only good news is that most wineries can operate crush w/o the barrel room for a certain period of time. Crush only requires the crush pad, stemmers, must pumps, presses, tanks and refrigeration and this area is usually separate from the barrel room area.
I suspect that in the next several days we will find that there is much greater damage to those wineries near the epicenter than has been reported.
Most of the world, and even some vintners, think our business is all glamorous – I know you know differently – but earthquakes, this is beyond the pale! Most of us cannot afford earthquake insurance, so most of that damage you will see and hear about are “REAL” losses.
Have good thoughts for my fellow vintners and please sell their wine too.
Again, thank you for your concern, we so appreciate.
A new video with Stu discussing tasting wine, with our thanks to Tom Sanders:
We are honored to be included in this distinguished group of wines as memorialized by this distinguished writer:
Wed 20 Aug 2014
Fifty Wines That Shaped My Palate, 1984-2014
by Fredric Koeppel
I started this post as a way of commemorating my 30th anniversary in wine-writing, reached, as My Regular Readers know — bless your little pointy heads and may your tribes increase — early in July. Initially, the concept was “Fifty Great Wines,” but I decided that choosing 50 “great” wines from 30 years of tasting would be an impossible and probably just stupid and futile task. In three decades, I tasted thousands and thousands and more thousands of wines — you writers know how it is — so choosing the 50 “greatest” from this immense group would be a Sisyphian exercise.
Then I realized that what would be more significant anyway would be 50 wines that, as the title states, shaped my palate, the wines that shook me to the core, that shifted my perspective about how wine is made and its various effects, that achieved a level of purity and intensity that befit the divine; the wines, in short, that were not only definitive but created me as a writer. Yes, just that. So I spent the past few weeks combing through dozens of old notebooks, through the electronic archives of the newspaper for which I wrote a weekly column for 20 years and of course through the pages of this blog.
42. Smith-Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon 2000, Napa Valley. Sample for review, tasted at home December 2008.
Stu’s report for the Spring Mountain District this week:
“Spring Mountain District officially started harvest last Friday with Spring Mountain Winery harvesting a small amount of sauvignon blanc. They anticipate continuing with sauvignon blanc this week and starting with pinot noir. Higher up on the mountain not much has been happening. A few wineries are anticipating starting with chardonnay in the week of Aug. 25. Flavors seem to be developing at lower sugars than usual and the crop looks very good and clean. Everyone’s anticipating a wonderful harvest.”
This week’s harvest report for the District from Stu: Looks like Spring Mountain Winery will start harvest with Sauvignon blanc and Pinot noir next week and a few of us may join harvest with Chardonnay during the week of August 25. Most of the Cabernet Sauvignon has completed veraison and the Merlot is finishing up, but the Cab. franc is running half to three quarters of completion. Crop levels are looking very good from average plus to slightly more.