A vertical of Riesling in time for the holidays!



Winery’s signature varietal spanning six vintages

Napa Valley, December 2020 — Smith-Madrone Winery is releasing a six bottle vertical collection of Smith-Madrone Riesling from the 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019 vintages. “As we get ready to celebrate our 50th anniversary next year we wanted to offer our customers something fun, unique and something uniquely ours,” explains founder/General Partner Stuart Smith.

The 2014 and 2015 vintages are only available in very small quantities in the winery library. The 2017, 2018 and 2019 are not released yet. The 2016 is the winery’s current release (which is also available in a 1.5L magnum bottle). This vertical is being offered for $250.00. To buy:


“Tasting these wines is an absolute taste of our terroir,” adds Stuart Smith. “The same varietal, from the same vineyard, tended by the same hands for the last fifty years—this is a chance to really understand our estate and our approach to winemaking,” he says.

Smith-Madrone is considered to be a pioneer of growing and making Riesling in the Napa Valley. In establishing the winery and planting its vineyards on the steep slopes of Spring Mountain in 1971, Stu intentionally chose Riesling because of its characteristics of thriving on hillsides. 

Entered accidentally, Smith-Madrone won the award for Best Riesling In The World for its 1977 Riesling in the 1979 Gault Millau Wine Olympics competition in Paris. It was a blind competition and the contenders were wines from all over the world, including prestigious names such as Schloss Vollrads.

In 1983 Smith-Madrone was the first U.S. Riesling producer to label its wines by its true name, “Riesling,” after an eight-month struggle with the BATF. Smith-Madrone had been the only winery to use only the word Riesling on its labels when other wineries at the time were using either Johannisberg Riesling or White Riesling. Why? “It’s the true name of the varietal,” Smith explains. “When was the last time you had a red Riesling? White Riesling is redundant; Johannisberg is a picturesque winery in Germany not too dissimilar from Smith-Madrone. Why should we call Riesling ‘Johannisberg Riesling’ if we don’t call Pinot Noir ‘Romanee Noir’ or Cabernet Sauvignon ‘Lafite Sauvignon?’ The true name of the varietal is simply Riesling and our fighting to use that terminology was an expression of our serious commitment to this grape,” he adds.

“With our Riesling you get the purest expression of the varietal. There’s no malolactic fermentation, no oak extraction, lees stirring or blending with other varietals,” says winemaker Charlie Smith, Stu’s brother. “Once harvested, the grape juice goes directly into stainless steel tanks where it is fermented, clarified and then bottled. This is true minimalist intervention winemaking and Riesling is the only varietal that reaches its greatest heights this way,” he adds.

Riesling expert (author of The Riesling Story: The Best White Wine On Earth) Stuart Pigott named Smith-Madrone’s Riesling the only dry Riesling from North America in his list of Top 20 Dry Rieslings in the book. About the winery’s Rieslings, he has written, “they were not only of consistently high quality, they were also utterly distinctive. The 1996 was one of the best mature American Rieslings I ever tasted. Which other American Rieslings can match its vitality and uniqueness of flavor?” In describing the varietal in general terms, Pigott has written: “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 one of Napa Valley’s authentically artisanal wineries, founded in 1971 by Stuart Smith. Winemaking and grape-growing are handled entirely by the two brother-proprietors, Stuart and Charlie Smith and Stu’s son, Sam Smith. All of Smith-Madrone’s wines come from the 38 acres of estate vineyards surrounding the winery, first planted 49 years ago by Stuart and Charlie. The vineyards extend across steep mountainsides, at steep slopes at elevations between 1,300 and 1,900 feet. Total production each year is less than 4,000 cases.

Smith-Madrone’s current releases, all sourced from estate-grown fruit from vineyards surrounding the winery at the top of the Spring Mountain District appellation in the northern Napa Valley, are 2016 Riesling, 2017 Chardonnay, 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon and 2016 Cook’s Flat Reserve.

Collected fact sheets for the set of wines:

Riesling for Thanksgiving on The Splendid Table

Author and podcaster Elizabeth Schneider recommends Smith-Madrone Riesling for the Thanksgiving table on the radio show The Splendid Table this weekend:


Her segment starts at 50:08; her recommendation for Smith-Madrone Riesling at 51:53.

Episode 723: Global Thanksgiving with Hawa Hassan and Andrea Nguyen

November 20, 2020

Thanksgiving won’t be the same this year, but don’t stress, we talk to our friends who have always celebrated the holiday in a non-traditional way. Andrea Nguyen, author of Vietnamese Food Any Day has the story of how her holiday became a Vietglish Thanksgiving, Dan Souza from America’s Test Kitchen helps us downsize this year’s menu. Dan gave us access to the Roast Duck, Turkey Thigh Confit, Sous Vide Turkey Confit and Lemon Posset recipes for Thanksgiving week so check them out! Somali American Chef, Hawa Hassan, talks about the community of women she’s met through her travels and the recipes and stories she collected for her newest book, In Bibi’s Kitchen, and Bricia Lopez of Guelaguetza Restaurant in Los Angeles talks about how her family makes traditional Thanksgiving recipes their own. Plus, we get wine ideas from Elizabeth Schneider author of Wine For Normal People and Petra Paredes of New York City’s Petee’s Pies drops in to talk about her working holiday traditions.

Tasting Panel tastes the 2016 Cabernet

In the November-December 2020 Tasting Panel Magazine:

93 points: The grapes for this Cabernet Sauvignon-dominant blend with small percentages of Cabernet Franc and Merlot grow in steep, dry-farmed vineyards in cool mountain temperatures. Bold aromas of brush, black plum and espresso precede a round, elegant, borderline-silky mouthfeel with coffee-flavored tannins, sweet earth and dark chocolate. 

Thanks, RedWineGuys

On November 17, RedWineGuys wrote:

This weekend we were reflecting on which wine we should open that had a special meaning behind it. Ours was 2015 Smith-Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon! It was 11 months ago on a chilly December morning. We drove up to Spring Mountain to visit Charlie Smith, winemaker at Smith-Madrone Estate.
We joined a group of 10 as Charlie went through the different wines, how they were made and the unique characteristics of each wine! This was definitely a man in love with his wine, you could feel the electricity of his thoughts as he related stories to the different wines!
Our heart was heavy with the thought of Smith-Madrone being destroyed by the Glass fire but the latest word we have, most was saved!
The 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon from Spring Mountain is 84% Cabernet Sauvignon and 16% Cabernet Franc, all estate grow. Aged for 18 months in 65% new, 35% once used French oak which doesn’t take away from the terroir of Spring Mountain. Dark fruit aromas greet you as you bring your glass up for a taste. The mouthwatering fruits slowly entice you as this bold wine finishes with a soft long finish.
Highly recommend you decant for 2-3 hours so the wine really opens up!
Great job Charlie, Stu and Sam!

Terroirist tastes Cabernet & Chardonnay — “overperforming…beautiful…” and more

Isaac Baker at Terroirist tastes the 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon and 2017 Chardonnay:

This week I’m back with another roundup of wines from California, including some I’ve known and loved for many years. Smith Madrone’s new Chardonnay and Cab are true to their roots, delivering complex, intriguing, delicious Spring Mountain wines.

2017 Chardonnay:

94 points. Deep yellow color. Inviting, complex aromas of apple butter, lemon curd, grapefruit zesty, topped in notes of honey, graham cracker, sea salt and ginger. Harmonious, complex nose for sure. Rich texture on the palate, the creaminess is matched by this racy, salty aesthetic. Lemon curd, yellow apple and apricot fruit meld well with white tea, graham cracker and ginger, along with these stony, mineral, mountain stream elements. Consistently, such an overperforming Chardonnay that screams value, and the 2017 is a really expressive, vibrant iteration. Aged 10 months in 85% new French oak.

2016 Cabernet Sauvignon:

93 points. Medium purple color. Aromas show tart but deep currants and black cherries, with lots of earthy, spicy complexity (tobacco, paved road, warm clay, graphite) with dark chocolate and espresso notes. Full but nuanced on the palate, well-built, grippy but refined tannins support juicy, tart red and black currant, and the balance between all these elements is lovely. Notes of leather, black pepper, tobacco leaf, mint, along with charcoal, vanilla and cedar nuances. Delicious, pretty, packs complexity and nuance. Long life ahead for this beautiful Cab. Includes a combined 10% Merlot and Cabernet Franc, this is aged 19 months in 45% new French oak.

CompanyWeek takes a look

Our thanks to Glen Martin for this profile:

Smith-Madrone Vineyards & Winery

By Glen Martin, November 9, 2020, CompanyWeek

Managing Partner Stu Smith sees the recent wildfires that have ravaged Napa Valley — and nearly destroyed his winery — as both a warning to heed and an opportunity for a better future.

Stu Smith and his family are anomalies in the Napa Valley premium wine business. They’re not a multinational corporation. Or cinema celebrities. Or mega-rich retired lawyers. And they don’t churn out tens of thousands of cases of wine made from grapes purchased hither and yon.

On the contrary: Smith-Madrone Vineyards & Winery produces only 5,000 cases of ultra-premium wine a year. Further, all of it is estate-bottled — meaning Stu, his brother, Charlie, and his son, Sam, grow all of the grapes for their wines on their 38-acre vineyard located on the steep slopes of Spring Mountain, a heavily wooded promontory on the west side of the Napa Valley. They prune the vines, cultivate the vine rows, crush and press the fruit, and ferment, age, and bottle the wine themselves.

“We do it all,” says Smith. “And we’ve been doing it since 1971. Given that wine is a hyper-competitive industry, we figure we must be doing something right.”

That’s an accurate assessment if the products are any indication. Smith-Madrone is known for elegant, complex wines that express the unique terroir of the Spring Mountain viticultural area. As Smith says, the wine business is cutthroat as any — but the family has held its own in marketing and sales as well as product quality. “We do a lot of D2C, we ship to 21 states, and we export to Japan, Germany and Canada,” he notes. “Just like in the vineyards and winery, we work at it.”

The Smiths harken back to an earlier Napa Valley — one that is still evoked in lush advertising and breathless PR hype, but has largely disappeared. When Stu Smith started out, the Napa Valley wine business was characterized by small, family-owned enterprises, most producing estate-bottled wines. Robert Mondavi was the biggest fish in that small vinous pond. You could still drive up Highway 29, the main route through the valley, without tapping your brakes.

Now it’s gridlocked traffic from the city of Napa in the south to Calistoga in the north, and the wineries have proliferated like mushrooms after an autumn rain. Very few of the newcomers produce only estate-bottled wines, and many buy grapes from around the state, relying on the cachet of their Napa Valley addresses to move their products.

And the owners? “Well, I don’t think they prune many vines,” Smith says. “I sometimes say that I never went down to Hollywood to act in movies — so why are they coming up to Napa County to make wine?”

Over the past few years, the Smiths have had to contend with a challenge far more menacing than celebrity competitors: catastrophic wildfire. Flames threatened their wooded estate during the disastrous Tubbs Fire of 2017, which burned more than 5,600 homes in Napa and Sonoma counties and killed 22 people. In 2019, the Kincade Fire burned 120 square miles not far north of the winery, destroying 374 buildings. And the September 2020 Glass Fire swept across Napa and Sonoma counties, scorching woodlands all around the Smith-Madrone property and immolating 1,555 structures, including many palatial homes. Thirty-one wineries were damaged or destroyed by the flames — and Smith-Madrone was almost one of them.

“The only reason we didn’t lose it all is because we had done a lot of work reducing brush and other fuels around vulnerable areas, and we were up here sleeping in our trucks for seven nights fighting the fire when it came up on us,” Stu says. “As it was, we lost eight gates, 2,000 feet of water line, and more than a hundred vineyard anchor posts.”

Climate change — which has been associated with the sharply increased incidence of wildfire in the West — is a topic of considerable discussion in California Wine Country. Much of the concern centers on the possibility of shifting viticultural zones: in a warming world, the Carneros region at the southern terminus of the valley may no longer be able to produce the cool-weather pinot noir and chardonnay that made its fame. The mid-valley, now planted largely to cabernet sauvignon and other red Bordeaux varietals, may have to switch to more heat-tolerant grapes. But Smith isn’t worried about any of that at this point.

“Climate change is real, but the aspect of it that concerns us right now is wildfire,” he says. “This is about raw survival. Our forests have been mismanaged for so long that they’re tinderboxes. We need to streamline regulations so we can reduce the fuels and return our forests to a healthier — and safer — state.”

Challenges: “To get back to a normal baseline by repairing and rebuilding after the fires, and making and selling wine,” says Smith.

Opportunities: A healthier forest. “At this point, they’re more in the forest than the winery, vineyards, or marketplace,” notes Smith. “The fires have greatly reduced the fuel reservoir in our regional forests, so this is a golden opportunity to begin managing them properly with regular prescriptive fire and thinning.”

Needs: “First, to get a solid week of good sleep,” muses Smith. “Second, some relief from regulation so we can conduct proper forest management. The irony is that both conservationists and the wine community want it — but we must somehow find a way to cut the regulatory Gordian knot.”