Skip to content

2014 Chardonnay ‘finds complete balance’

April 28, 2017

In the June 2017 Wine Enthusiast, the 2014 Chardonnay is reviewed:

92 points

From the producer’s dry-farmed mountain vineyard, this wine is crafted from vines planted some 40 years ago. Peach, fig and pear wrap around this medium-weight wine’s integrated oak and gravelly texture. The acidity is bright, uplifting and lush enough to find complete balance.

Come join us at Nimbash!

April 28, 2017

We are delighted to be participating in Nimbus Art’s Nimbash celebration, one of Napa Valley’s most wonderful and unusual events, a fundraiser for Nimbus Arts.

Festivities begin at 5:30 p.m. on May 13 at The Barn, 880 College Avenue, St. Helena.

There will be interactive art activities, live music and performances art, farm-to-table food, a rockin’ recycled art fashion show, wildly fabulous silent and live auctions and an after burner-dance party! The theme is STREET ART!

More details here:

Tickets here:

Smith-Madrone the good steward

April 25, 2017

The Armchair Sommelier notices dry-farming and much more: please stop by the post to see the illustrations and photos for this piece:

Good Steward, Smith-Madrone

There’s a lot of chatter in the wine world today about viticultural practices — specifically organic, biodynamic, and sustainable practices.  Many vineyards are moving away from conventional practices (which have few limitations on pesticides and chemical fertilizers) and toward one or more of these guys.  All three share similar, broad goals — advocating environmentally responsible practices like soil conservation, habitat protection & restoration, and water & energy conservation.  However, they differ in specifics and limitations.

Here’s a neat a Venn diagram that illustrates the overlap:

In organic viticulture, grapes are grown without any pesticides, herbicides, insecticides, fungicides, or chemical fertilizers.  Organic growers use natural botanicals, cover crops to control weeds, and compost to build organic matter in the soil.  Organic viticulture is rigid in its limitations, and requires certification by a government regulating body (here in the US, it’s the USDA).

If organics are important to you, I should point out that a wine can be made from organically grown grapes, but still not be an organic wine.  All wines contain sulfites (because they occur naturally in grapes), but if a wine is made organically, additional sulfites cannot be added during the winemaking process.  Look for the acronym “NSA” (no sulfites added) on the label.

Biodynamic viticulture is a hot-button topic in the wine world.  It’s based on the ideas of Austrian esoteric (read as: wack-a-doodle), Rudolf Steiner.  To provide a little context, Steiner believed mistletoe could cure cancer, and that left-handedness was a weakness resulting from a former earth-life in which the individual has overtaxed himself either physically or emotionally.  And it should be corrected.


Essentially, biodynamic viticulture is organic viticulture, with metaphysics and astrology added sprinkled on top.  Wine writers and sommeliers gush about biodynamic wines, and there’s no denying that there are some kick-ass wines made using biodynamic techniques.  And I respect the sincerity of folks who are committed to biodynamics.  But I remain unconvinced that stuffing the manure of a female cow into a cow horn, burying it for six months, digging it up again, and then spraying it on your vineyard during a descending phase of the moon . . . is anything other than viticultural voodoo.

Sustainability is a practice I can wrap my brain around — because it’s rational and reasonable.  It’s sensitive to both the environment and the community, and it’s balanced, too.  Sustainable practices allow for minimal interventions when necessary (and you don’t have to consult astrological charts).  At its core, sustainability means being a good steward of the land . . . and a good neighbor.

Meet good steward and neighbor, Stu Smith.

Brothers Stu and Charlie Smith founded Smith-Madrone Winery (in the Spring Mountain District of Napa Valley) in 1971.  The Spring Mountain District is a cool climate, mountain appellation — the vineyards there are planted on the eastern slopes of the Mayacamas Mountains (the range separating Napa Valley from Sonoma Valley).  Elevations in the Spring Mountain District range anywhere from 400 to 2,600 feet.  And the Spring Mountain District is small — there are only about 30 wineries (there are 400+ wineries in all of Napa Valley).  Napa Valley produces about 4% of all California wine, but the Spring Mountain District makes up only 2% of that figure.

The vines at Smith-Madrone are dry farmed, which means (very simply) that the vines get only the water Mother Nature chooses to give them.  Dry farming is completely sustainable, and was actually the norm in Napa Valley until the late 1970s, when drip irrigation was introduced to the region.  Before then, farmers and vines alike adapted to whatever Mother Nature gave them.  They did more, with less.

Historical sidebar:  The California wines that won the Judgement of Paris wine competition in 1976?  Dry farmed.

As California begins to emerge from an epic multi-year drought (check out this really, really, really cool drought map), good steward farmers continue to look for ways to conserve and protect water resources.  Stu Smith points out, “wine grapes use the least amount of water than any other agricultural product.”  (Almonds and rice are notorious California water hogs.)  And dry farming can save as much as 16,000 gallons of water per acre annually.

Is there a downside?

Dry farming does lower overall crop yields, but it also increases grape quality.  Dry farmed grapes produce smaller berries, with a higher skin to juice ratio, which means you have a more intensely flavored grape.

Quality over quantity.

Dry farming is more than just praying for rain, though.  You need the right kind of soil (the kind that absorbs and retains moisture), the right kind of vines (drought-resistant deep rooting vines), and the vines must be properly spaced so there’s not too much competition for scarce water.

There’s also technique to dry farming — the first few inches of soil are broken-up in the springtime, when there’s moisture in the soil, leftover from winter rains.  Then, the soil is compacted, forming a dry crust (sometimes called dust mulch) that seals in the moisture.  Deprived of consistent surface moisture (irrigation), the vine roots quickly adapt, and grow deep into the soil (sometimes 20 or more feet) to find and absorb moisture.

I found this fantastic graphic from Emeritus Vineyards and Forbes Magazine that visually explains how vine roots adapt to dry farming:

So, how do dry-farmed, mountain wines taste?

2014 Riesling  /91
Made from 42 year old vines.  Fermented entirely in stainless steel.  Beautifully dry and just plain clean, this might just be my favorite Napa Valley Riesling.  Bright, sassy acidity.  Loaded with minerals, wet rocks, green apple, lemon rind, and pears.  A long, rewarding finish ends with a hint of honey.  This Riesling has aging potential in spades.  12.8% ABV.  $30.

2014 Chardonnay   /91
Made from 42 year old vines.  100% barrel fermented for nine months in new French oak.  This wine underwent bâttonage (lees stirring), which, in addition to being really fun to say, gives a wine irresistible flavors of biscuit and dough.  Beautiful nose of green apple, lemon and buttered brioche.  Dry and highly textured, with flavors of yellow apple, pear, butterscotch, vanilla and biscuits.  The oak is present to support, but not overpower, the fruit.  The finish lingers with a passing almond.  14.2% ABV.  $32.

2013 Cabernet Sauvignon   /91
Made from 41 year old vines.  A blend of 82% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Cabernet Franc and 6% Merlot.  Aged in both new and one-year-old French oak.  The nose is a glorious menagerie of bramble, cigar, lavender and cloves.  Dry, elegant, and restrained, with flavors of blackberry, black currant, white pepper, graphite, nutmeg.  The tannins are young, but well integrated.  14.2% ABV.  $50.

Smith-Madrone wines are made from well-tended, well-loved, dry-farmed vines:

These vines are our friends.  We walk these rows year-round and know all their personalities.  ~Stu Smith

The resulting wines are a lean, elegant, and focused expression of cool climate, mountain terroir.  They reflect a consistency and keen sense of place . . . and good stewardship.


What’s the best match for Riesling?

April 20, 2017

Next to the April 20 Santa Rosa Press-Democrat’s choice of the 2014 Riesling as Wine of the Week, chef/author Michelle Anna Jordan designed a dish to pair with the wine:

Pairing: Green Papaya Salad with riesling


If our Wine of the Week, Smith-Madrone 2014 Napa Valley Spring Mountain Riesling had a proprietary name it could be “Mountain Joy” for the high-elevation pleasure it imparts. It has the suave delicacy of grapes grown in rocky mountain soil with long light exposure and cool temperatures, along with a bit of the swagger and sass this varietal can display when handled with care and understanding.

On the palate, the wine offers an almost tempestuous swirl of fruit, full and lively, a merry-go-round of apricots, white peaches, nectarines, papaya, mango, pineapple, ripe Gravensteins and suggestions of orange honeydew melon. There are hints of orange flower blossoms, citrus zest, and enough mangosteen to make you long for a trip to Malaysia, where that elusive fruit is queen.

This wine is best with the tangy foods of Southeast Asia, especially Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam. Thai larb with pork or squid, green papaya salads, green curries and the Vietnamese noodle salads known as “bün” are happy companions. As an aperitif, you’ll enjoy it with feta cheese, green olives and Marcona almonds. For an easy weeknight dinner, enjoy a glass alongside a quick sauté of chicken thighs, sliced celery, sliced radishes, spinach, olive oil, lemon juice and fresh snipped chives.

A simple taco of corn tortillas filled with avocado and radish salsa is a quick and delightful pairing, as are open-faced radish sandwiches with creme fraiche or fresh chevre. It is also excellent with most simple green salads.
The wine is also absolutely exhilarating with green papaya salad, though the heat should be turned down a bit so that the wine doesn’t turn at all bitter. Look for green papaya at local Asian markets such as Asia Mart (2481 Guerneville Rd., Santa Rosa). This salad, with Vietnamese roots, is perfect in spring and with this wine, as it doesn’t call for tomatoes and long beans like the Thai versions do, and it has less heat.

Vietnamese Green Papaya Salad
Serves 4 to 6

1/4 cup fresh lime juice, from 2 to 3 limes
2 1/2 tablespoons fish sauce
2 1/2 tablespoons sugar
1 small garlic clove, minced
1 or 2 Thai chiles or serranos, minced
4 cups julienned green papaya (see Note below)
1 teaspoon sugar
Kosher salt
1/2 pound medium wild shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 boneless pork chop, about 4 to 6 ounces
3 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro

First, make the dressing. Put the lime juice, fish sauce, sugar, garlic and chiles in a small bowl and stir until the sugar dissolves. Set aside.

Prepare the green papaya if you have not already done so, put it into a large bowl, and fluff it with your fingers or a fork.
Fill a small saucepan half full with water, add about a teaspoon of salt and bring to a boil over high heat. Add the shrimp, remove from the heat and let stand 3 minutes, or until the shrimp are opaque pink. Transfer to a plate to cool.
Return the saucepan to medium heat and when it begins to boil, add the pork chop, cover the pan, and remove from the heat; let stand for 15 minutes. Remove the pork from the water, cool slightly, and use a sharp knife to cut into match-stick-sized piece.

Use your fingers to shred the shrimp into 1/4-inch pieces.

To finish the salad, add the shrimp and pork to the papaya and toss well. Add the dressing and the cilantro and toss again.
Transfer to individual plates or a serving dish and enjoy right away.

Note: Some markets sell backs of freshly shredded green papaya, which will save you a lot of work. Otherwise, use a vegetable peeler to peel a whole green papaya. Cut the fruit into quarters, scoop out the seeds, and peel away the layer of white skin in the cavity. Cut into wedges and either julienne by hand or using the small blade of a mandoline or Japanese Benriner slicer. Put the papaya into a large bowl, sprinkle with a little sugar and salt and use your fingers to work them into the papaya; let rest for 15 to 30 minutes, until the papaya feels a bit slimy. Rinse thoroughly under running water, drain, wrap in a tea towel and squeeze tightly to release as much water as possible.


Riesling is Wine of the Week

April 18, 2017

The 2014 Riesling is the wine of the week in the April 18, 2017 Santa Rosa Press Democrat. Peg Melnik explains:

The Latin poet Virgil wrote “Bacchus loves the hills,” and he was on to something. Smith-Madrone’s riesling is planted in vineyards perched at 1,900 feet and it’s impressive.

Stuart Smith is behind our wine-of-the-week winner — the Smith-Madrone, 2014 Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley Riesling at $30.

This dry riesling’s rich mouth-feel is kept in check with its bright acidity. It has notes of honeysuckle, papaya, apple and petrol. With its depth of flavors and lingering finish, the Smith-Madrone is striking.

“It was the vintage that made the wine,” Smith said. “Nature puts her stamp on the vintage and it’s our job as winemakers to nurture the wine during this process and let the grapes express themselves into the wine. We vintage date wines to celebrate the uniqueness of each vintage.”

Smith’s philosophy is to let Mother Nature do the talking.

“We don’t ‘shoot’ for any style,” he said. “We try to listen and learn what the grapes give us and then nurture the best wine that flows from those grapes. We would never force a style; that is antithetical to our beliefs.”

Smith, 68, is the general partner and enologist of the St. Helena winery. His brother, Charlie Smith, is the winemaker.

“My brother, Charlie, and I believe that riesling is one of the great grape varietals of the world — not just a great white wine varietal.

“This means that we care about growing and making our rieslings just as much as we care for our chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon,” he said.

Smith said what makes him a good fit to be a vintner is his passion for wine and wine growing.

“I believe that wine is the greatest beverage on earth,” he said. “Being a winegrower is a passion first and a business second. Charlie and I, and now my son, Sam, make wine for our palates, not for some scorecard. Anyone can make wine, but to continue the pursuit of making great wine you must first truly know what great wine is, believe in yourself and be relentless in that pursuit.”

The most challenging part of the business is dealing with the market place to shift the perception of riesling.

“We have to convince folks that our riesling is not sweet,” Smith said. “Once tasted, folks love our dry riesling, but getting over the perception that all rieslings are sweet has truly been a life’s work.”

Riesling is a nimble wine for Easter!

April 14, 2017


Peter Hellman recommends our Riesling for the Passover and Easter table at today:

The 12 Best Wines For Easter & Spring Celebrations

By Peter Hellman

Contrary to what the poet said, April is not the cruelest month, at least not when it comes to wine. If you’re wondering what to pour with your Easter meal, Passover Seder, or any Spring celebration, this is the month to leave behind the heavier wines of winter and bring on brighter, lighter bottles. Read on for wines that tick all the boxes: Delicious, organic and/or sustainably grown, affordable, and widely available. You can thank us later.


Serving sustainably caught fish? You’ll love these:

  • Smith-Madrone’s Napa Valley Riesling (about $27): For delicate, white-fleshed fish, such as spring’s first flounder, a nimble partner is this bottling, evoking ripe honeydew melon spritz with Meyer lemon. If you spot an older vintage, grab it. This wine ages beautifully for years.

Best riesling in Napa Valley, hands down

April 10, 2017

Catherine Bugue chose the 2014 Riesling as Wine of the Week in her St. Helena Star column this week:

Amid the millionaires, castles and vanity wines that spring up in Napa Valley, there remain salt-of-the-earth types who came here without pretense, with a love of the land, and the grit to conquer the rugged terrain in the name of fine wine. The Smith brothers (Stuart and Charles) epitomize that renegade spirit of the second wave of individualists who came to Napa Valley and made something out of nothing.

Their foresight should be legendary: they listened to forebears; looked at the steep slopes of Spring Mountain and saw great wines. One of their most sought-after productions is their riesling, and the 2014 has laser-like fruit focus with refreshing, yet deeply nuanced, complexity. This is the best riesling in Napa Valley, hands down.