Skip to content

2010 Cabernet a ‘stately confident pleasure’ and ‘breathtaking’

January 16, 2018

Dorothy Gaiter, at GrapeCollective, chose the 2010 Cabernet as one of her ‘most exciting’ wines of 2017:

There were wines I had last year that were truly exciting. Encountering these is one of the joys of this lifelong journey we’re on with wine. I urge you to search for your own exciting wines this year, to constantly raise your standards and stay out of your comfort zone as often as you can.

My most breathtaking wines from 2017 were…. Cabernet Sauvignon, one from Smith-Madrone Winery, atop Spring Mountain in Napa….

I’ve interviewed or met most of the people who made these wines. If I had to choose one thing that they have in common, it’s an unwavering respect, reverence even, for the place where their grapes grow. What’s in the vineyard is in the glass. And, of course, they all have fascinating stories.

The Grape Collective held its first holiday party last year and the boss, Christopher Barnes, opened some really good wines, including the 2010 Smith-Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon. Earlier last year, I wrote about Smith-Madrone’s 2013 Cabernet, which puts at $50. 

Stuart Smith, 68, founded the 4,000-case winery in 1971 after earning a degree in economics from Berkeley and taking some enology classes at UC Davis. With the help of family and friends, the 22-year-old purchased 200 acres of forest that had been part of a 550-acre homestead that more than 100 years earlier had included vineyards. Talk about Kismet! About 40 of those 200 acres are vineyards now. Today, Stuart is general partner, enologist; his brother Charles is winemaker; and Stuart’s son Sam is assistant winemaker. The Madrone part of the name comes from Madrone trees on the property, evergreens with red bark.

 The 2010 was lovely. I love well-aged wines and this one had great fruit and rich earth with tannins in perfect balance. A stately, confident pleasure. I could have sipped it all night, but John had an early morning meeting!

There are stunning wines out there, waiting to be discovered. You’ll know them when you taste them. Life is too short for you to drink bad wines or always fall back on your old go-tos. Find wines this year that excite you. Cheers!


Let’s assist a ‘contender’

January 15, 2018

Congrats to Cindy Rynning for being a finalist in the Millesima Blog Awards.

Her article which put her in the running was from August:

A vote for her here might help her clinch the spot…and we thank you sincerely if you have a moment to do that.

Voting ends at midnight January 28.

Stu chosen as one of ‘most inspiring people’

January 13, 2018

January 12, 2018   

Wine’s Most Inspiring People 2018: Pioneer and Champion of Hillside Grapegrowing

By Allison Levine

Wine’s Most Inspiring People 2018

Stuart Smith

Since purchasing his vineyard at the top of Spring Mountain in 1970 and founding Smith-Madrone in 1971, Stuart Smith has become the leading voice of the hillside grower. While Smith believed that the best grapes come from the mountains, a hypothesis had been written that vineyards on hillsides are detrimental to the land. In response, Smith began arguing in favor of hillside vineyards and land-use issues. Being the leading voice was “thrust upon me,” Smith shared. “It was not my intent. When I first got a permit to log the property from Department of Forestry, I was warned that there would be protesters once I brought out a chainsaw.”

Stuart Smith was born and raised in Santa Monica, California and moved to Berkeley in the 1960s for his undergraduate studies. It was at Berkeley that he realized that he liked wine more than beer, atypical for a college student. He became friends with people from the Napa Valley and over several years became enamored with wine and the Napa area. The seeds of his passion had been planted.

Smith pursued his master’s degree at UC Davis and in 1970 purchased 200 acres with his brother. Napa was a small provincial wine-growing town when Stuart Smith first arrived, and he was among the first, along with Mondavi, Freemark Abbey, Chappellet, Spring Mountain Winery, Sterling Vineyards and Chateau Montelena, to plant in Napa. However, Smith selected property that was a forest on the remotest and highest part of Spring Mountain. “I wanted to be in the mountains. I believed then, as I do now, that there are two fundamental foundations to wine. One, you cannot make great wine from anything but great grapes. And, two, all things being equal, the best grapes come from the mountains.”

There had been vineyards on Spring Mountain, yet they had all been abandoned in 1900 due to phylloxera. The property Smith purchased was a dense forest with good soil and 90-foot Douglas Firs. He got a logging permit in 1971 to reclaim the vineyard and logged one million board feet of timber, sold the logs to a saw mill, picked up rocks and burned slash piles all to re-clear the vineyard.

Publicist and wine blogger Tom Wark described Smith as “very passionate about all the things he does – making wine, growing grapes, defending the right to grow grapes. The first thing you learn about him when you meet him, he does not mince words and he calls it as he sees it.” Senator Bill Dodd (D-Napa) expressed with great love and admiration that “Stu is a very powerful presence, to say the least. When he is in a room and talking, there is no mistake about where he is on an issue.”

Smith-Madrone hillside vineyard, photo credits: Kelly Puleio

Senator Dodd first met Smith almost 20 years ago when he was running for the Napa Valley Board of Supervisors. The issues of mountain vineyards were rapidly becoming controversial and Smith was very involved in the Hillside Task Force. “I came from the business community and knew very little about wine and viticulture.” Smith offered a different angle, sharing what the growers were going through. “Stu and his brother were not only educated but were both on Spring Mountain every day. They became involved in critical areas to promote accuracy and truth and not let hysteria take over.”

For 47 years, Stuart Smith has championed the rights of farming in the Napa Valley, especially mountain vineyards. “I have always been willing to take tough stances that others shy away from,” Smith explained. Just as he was getting started, he wrote his first letter to justify hillside farming in 1971, which was printed on the cover of the St. Helena Star. Groups, such as the Sierra Club and others, look at the people farming on the mountains as the enemy. But, Smith argues that taking land and converting it from one agricultural product (timber) to another (grapes) is not destructive. And, vineyards on hillsides have many benefits, including fire prevention. Many others who have planted vineyards in the hills over the years have benefited from what Smith started 48 years ago and Smith will be recognized long after he leaves the industry for the advocacy he has done for the right to farm.

photo credits: Kelly Puleio

“Looking back at 18 years in the Napa Valley and at the environment, Stu was right on so many things,” Dodd shared. “What he accomplished was more selfless as it affected the entire industry. History has taught me that when Stu talks, I listen. His opinions, philosophies, values and techniques have stood up over time to the highest scrutiny. Whether I agreed with him or not, he has huge integrity and is willing to speak his mind, even if not politically correct.”

From developing trellising systems to cover crops to dry farming, Smith has also focused his passion on viticulture and farming advances in the mountains. And when not fighting on land-use issues on behalf of the hillside growers or working in the vineyard, Smith has been involved in the local community. “Being in the wine business means being involved in community,” Smith explained. He served on Napa County’s Watershed Task Force for several years as well as the Napa County General Plan Steering Committee, both appointed by the Board of Supervisors. He taught enology at Santa Rosa Junior College and Napa Valley College. Smith has also been involved with the Boy Scouts of America for 24 years, serving as Scoutmaster for St. Helen’s Troop One and continues as the Troop’s Chair today. “The Boy Scouts are an important part of my life. I have had a lifelong love for the Boy Scouts having been one and then getting back into it with my two sons.”

Stuart Smith, photo by Thomas Sanders

According to friend Tucker Caitlin, “Stu is iconic. I hate the word but he is. It comes from being part of the pioneer generation of Napa Valley. He really values the things that matter in life. He knows what matters in life and knows life is short. He is a very considerate and deliberate person, very thoughtful with a great reverence for history which informs his thoughts and what he does. Stu is someone you tend to listen to and if you listen, you always learn.”

Stuart Smith says that his “whole adult career has been doing things the hard way.” It may not have always been easy, but he was driven to make the best wine humanly possible. “It has been a lot of work, a labor of love.” It has been 47 years and Stuart Smith continues to be driven by his passion.

“If you want to THINK about your Chardonnay…”

January 12, 2018

From SoifKnows, Stephen McConnell, January 11, 2018:

Golden yellow throwing big petrol coal-fire and rich melon fruit into your face. Dusky petrichor, smoky brittle, dense and filthily fruited with all the sultry nectar chalky nuance and bitter applesauce a wine can muster. Buttery and dense in the nose, with the acid bite apparent before the first taste.

One of my favorite Napa Valley chards, and the REASON IS: it goes with red meat better than a lot of red wines. I have trotted this out on several occasions to represent the main course and–amid much rolling of eyes–it cuts through savory steak and rich reductions better than some of the mainstay reds on the table.

In the mouth, bitter applesauce and persimmon personify the flinty bite of superbly crafted unctuous fermented white–rich but not fat, concentrated but not cloying–and the sultry points of the persimmon and melon complement both the rich fruit nuances of said, but also the vibrant edginess of each.  The sharp acid visible in the bouquet translates firmly mid-palate, where the slow burn of alcohol and tannin prepare you for a decades-long finish reverently awash in sweet fruit and shockingly packed with bitter structure.

If you want your Chardonnay syrupy and collapsing on itself with butter and oak, this is the WRONG bottle to buy. But if you want to THINK about your Chardonnay: a spicy nectar so alive, so focused on mountain typicity and brilliantly churning decadent fruit balanced with terroir, minerality and citrus you might only see in Chablis, THIS is your beast. If you’ve eye-rolled too many times and somewhat given up on California Chardonnay, this is your bottle.

2014 Cabernet is beautifully balanced

January 11, 2018

The 2014 Cabernet is reviewed in the January 2018 International Wine Report:

91 points: The 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon from Smith-Madrone is a classic display of Napa Valley Cabernet. This instantly grabs your attention as it releases aromatics of dark fruits intermingling with spices and herbal elements. The mouthwatering acidity is lovely, as this Medium to full-bodied wine delivers flavors of blackberry cobbler, crushed mint and coffee grounds which entice. This beautifully balanced Cabernet will cellar gracefully over the next decade.

2014 Cabernet Wine of the Week at Enofylz

January 11, 2018

Martin Redmond at Enofylz named the 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon as his Wine of the Week:

92 points: This is an alluring, harmonious wine that offers terrific value for a top-shelf Napa Valley Cab! It’s approachable now, especially with a decant, but will improve with more time in the bottle.

Color – Nearly opaque ruby/violet
Aromas – Aromatic cassis, blackberry, eucalyptus, cacao, cedar wood, espresso, anise and a hint of violets
Body – Medium-bodied, elegant and harmonious with ample fruit and balancing acidity with firm well-integrated tannins.
Taste – Alluring cassis, black cherry, blackberry, espresso, graphite, and cedar flavors
Finish – Medium/long.

This wine is crafted from 100% estate fruit from vineyards sitting at 1,800 ft elevation. The vines are planted on very steep slopes (up to 35%) and dry- farmed. It’s a blend of 85% Cab, 8% Cab Franc and 7% Merlot.   It was aged for 18 months in 70% new French oak, and 30% one-year old French oak.


2014 Cab is ‘compellingly beautiful’

January 7, 2018

From a January 7, 2018 Instagram post by Martin Redmond:

Loving this ‘14 @smith_madrone Cabernet Sauvignon! It’s 100% estate fruit from vineyards sitting at 1,800 ft elevation. The vines are planted on very steep slopes (up to 35%) and dry- farmed. It’s a blend of 85% Cab, 8% Cab Franc and 7% Merlot. The Smith brothers have an Old World winemaking aesthetic, and it shows in this compellingly beautiful, elegant and harmonious wine! Bravo!