Fred Tasker writes about how French Bordeaux sets the standard and how American winemakers interpret the blending rules. He reviewed the 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon:
Highly Recommended: 2012 Smith-Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, Calif. (82 percent cabernet sauvignon, 10 percent merlot, 8 percent cabernet franc): aromas of cedar and oak, flavors of black cherries and black coffee, full body, hearty, smooth finish..
Stu reports on the harvest for all of the Spring Mountain District each week in the St. Helena Star. Here’s the sixth report:
September 29, 2016
Our mountain continues with its eclectic way of life with some wineries having finished, while others have yet to start. Keenan, Smith-Madrone, Stony Hill and Togni have all finished. Cain and Spring Mountain, after a short break, both are hard charging with cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and petit verdot. While Schweiger is almost finished, and both Paloma and 7 & 8 have both barely started they all are waiting for cooler weather to return for more hang time before re-starting. Kieu Hoang and Sherwin are waiting for the same reasons before they even begin their harvests. There is unanimity that the fruit is beautiful with great flavors and good acid and pH.
The St. Helena Star chooses the 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon as Wine of the Week on September 28, 2016:
Wind your way up to Smith Madrone on Spring Mountain during harvest, and you’ll have a lot to take in: the forested terrain that frames the vineyard plots, the steep degree of the mountain slopes, the deep red, volcanic-based soils, the fancy glassware in the unpretentious tasting cellar, and salt-of-the-earth looking owners.
Take time to look more closely however, and you will notice things. Things such as small fermentation bins which allow for minute, careful fermentations of individual vineyard plots; a diversity of crushed berry and whole berry fermentations so the winemakers can continue to assess and refine the best techniques for their wines; owners who work the land and make the wines, and have done so for decades, so they can answer endless questions on history, viticulture and winemaking.
But one thing in particular will stay with you long after you’ve left. The wines are not only full of fruit, texture, integrated tannins and balancing acidity, but they have something much more: soul. This cabernet sauvignon’s core of black fruits, subtle spice and dried brush are intertwined with the history of the Smiths, their stories, their trials, their triumphs, and their very special place on Spring Mountain.
In a broad review of Riesling, Esther Mobley at The San Francisco Chronicle writes about the 2014 Riesling:
From the Smith brothers’ high-elevation, dry-farmed vineyard in Napa’s western mountains, these Riesling vines date back to 1972. Petrol flavors and aromas shine through in this savory wine, which tastes of juniper berry, orange blossom and white flower. It opens with a kick of fizziness, dissipating after a second. One of the most impressive California Rieslings I’ve tasted.
Spring Mountain District Harvest Celebration
Presidio Golden Gate Club, San Francisco
Thursday, November 17, 2016 from 5:00 to 8:00 PM
Please join us and 17 of our neighbors and winemakers from Napa Valley’s Spring Mountain District for a tasting and celebration of some of the decade’s most exciting vintages, past, present and future. Library wines, current releases and barrel samples will all be featured, with those most knowledgeable about them on hand for discussion.
Light hors d’oeuvres will be served.
Tickets can be purchased here: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/spring-mountain-district-harvest-celebration-tickets-27285103479
The other participating wineries are:
Behrens Family Vineyard
Cain Vineyard & Winery
Fantesca Estate & Winery
Frias Family Vineyards
Peacock Family Vineyard
Pride Mountain Vineyards
School House Vineyard
Sherwin Family Vineyards
Spring Mountain Vineyard
Stony Hill Vineyard
Vineyard 7 & 8.
Our thanks to WineForNormalPeople for taking a look:
September 26, 2016
The Spring Mountain District in Napa and its Shining Star: Smith-Madrone
Smith-Madrone makes outstanding wine. Obviously I love it for the quality but I also love that it’s not what you’d expect from a Napa Valley wine. Then again, after saying this about more than a few wineries recently I think it’s time to start changing my ideas about “Napa” as a blob and instead think about where in Napa a wine is made before I form an idea about what it’s going to taste like (you’d think that after all that preaching to my kids about not judging a book by its cover, I’d learn! Nope.).
About Spring Mountain District
Some of the most distinctive and finest vineyards in Napa are in places that most tourists who visit the Valley never see. These gems are nestled in the tall mountains that flank the valley on its east and west sides. Wines of these vineyards often defy the ideas that many of us have about Napa, and that’s why they’re so exciting to visit and taste.
Probably my favorite of all the mountain American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) is the Spring Mountain District in the western Mayacamas Mountains. In the 8,600-acre area, less than an eighth of the land is planted. Small vineyards grow on steep parts of mountains and in high meadows. These plots are set far back from the wooded, windy road that joins Napa Valley in the east with Sonoma Valley in the west. Unless you look carefully among the dark, earthy smelling, slightly mystical forests (you could swear you see fairies and trolls in those old trees!) you would never know that some of the best vineyards in Napa are here.
Just to make things extra confusing, there is no Spring Mountain peak: It’s a name for the district because the undulating, high terrain happens to have a lot of springs and streams. That said, the vineyards here are uncontestably mountain: the AVA hits a steep ridgeline that reaches 2,600 feet in altitude and dips at 400 feet. Just west of the town of St. Helena in Napa, the vines bask in daytime heat and hoard acidity during cold nights, giving them terrific balance and structure that (more commercial) Napa Valley floor wines often lack.
To do viticulture right here, you need passion, dedication, and to march to the beat of your own drum. The vineyards and wineries of Spring Mountain District are for true wine lovers and winemakers – the 30 or so properties are run mainly by families and couples, who work hard to farm vineyards that yield dark colored, tannic reds, with earthy and distinctive fruit notes and some flavorful, yet balanced whites.
There are bigger names on this mountain than Smith-Madrone, but few are its equal. In 1970 Spring Mountain District pioneer Stuart Smith tromped around on a mountain in the District and after clearing the forest trees, including some beautiful Madrone trees (hence the name), Smith planted vineyards and opened the winery. His vineyards are on steep slopes between 1,200 and 1,900 feet, on well-drained, rocky, volcanic soils. Everything is dry-farmed – there’s no irrigation at Smith-Madrone so the vines dig deep to get water and nutrients. The grapes are small and flavor-packed as a result.
Stuart’s brother Charles Smith joined the winery in 1973 and today, the vineyard is 37 acres, mostly of Cabernet Sauvignon with Riesling, Chardonnay, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc. Each grape variety is planted on land with a different sun exposure so the whites don’t get flabby and lose acidity in hotter sites, and the reds get ripe enough to make some seriously tasty wine. Stuart Smith is the viticulturist and enologist and Charles is the winemaker. They make about 4,000 cases of some of the most delicious wine in California.
I love them, but they may hate me…the story on vintage
So with this pedigree and with the review I’m about to give, I have to admit that I got off to a rocky start with Smith-Madrone. Because these wines really are small production and handcrafted, unlike other, larger wineries that issue that claim, and because the winemaking isn’t formulaic, some lots and some vintages won’t be as strong as others. It turned out, that for some reason, a few years ago I tasted a wine that was huge, oaky, and like a grocery store Chardonnay. I liked the Cabernet, but the Chardonnay was totally unpalatable to me because it was imbalanced (too oaky). I posted the review and upon reading it, Julie , the PR rep, called and asked if she could send another bottle because what I tasted sounded nothing like what she and others had experienced. Sure enough, the new sample was fantastic. An acidic, perfectly balanced Chardonnay with a judicious use of oak but nothing over the top or nasty. It was an excellent lesson for me in vintage variation and small lot wine, and gave me more respect for Smith-Madrone.
And another note…before I get to the reviews of the wines sent to me, I want to say another thing about Smith-Madrone: they are the best value for Cabernet in Napa. By a longshot. I would challenge you to find a Cabernet Sauvignon of the same caliber as the Smith-Madrone for $48 out of Napa. It isn’t possible. Most of this quality level are well over $60 per bottle. Get this stuff on your radar!
So, to the wine…
Chardonnay, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley, 2013
Pale with thick legs and butterscotch, oak, tropical fruit, lemon, and guava aromas. The fruit and oak (butterscotch) came through on the palate but not in an over-the-top way. With excellent acidity, this wine is a food wine – restrained, bright, medium-bodied and best with something creamy (fancy mac-n-cheese comes to mind).
Drink or sink? Drink. Fabulous and the way oak should be used with the Chardonnay grape.
Cabernet Sauvignon, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley, 2012 $48
(I’m doing catch-up on wine samples and sadly, the Cabernet is already sold out from the winery, so you’ll need to look at online retailers to buy this stuff if you’re in the States)
As is common for Spring Mountain Cab – the wine was super dark in color. The aromas are unending – blackberry, blackcurrant with dark flowers, a touch of mint, and savory, sautéed herbs. There’s a distinct mineral note – not soil, but more like natural SPRING water (maybe it’s the power of suggestion?). The wine tastes like black plum, dark raspberry, and strawberry with distinct minerality. The texture is velvety, medium-bodied, and measured — so well balanced! Unlike some Napa Cabs, especially from the mountains, this wine does not have a heavy, hard finish. The tannins are softer making this a Bordeaux-feeling wine with Napa Valley fruit, if that means anything to you!
Drink or sink? DRINK. This is one of the best vintages I’ve tasted from Smith-Madrone. I loved it.
So there you have it! Are you a fan of Smith-Madrone? Have I convinced you to take a look at Napa mountain wines in a slightly different way?
Stu reports on the harvest for all of the Spring Mountain District each week in the St. Helena Star. Here’s the fifth report:
September 21, 2016
This week has been much more active than the past several weeks. Most of the wineries are very active finishing up their whites or harvesting the spectrum of reds with merlot, cabernet sauvignon or even cabernet franc. It appears that the spring showers, elevation and maybe just plain old chance has created another vintage on the mountain with a goodly amount of diversity. For some, the merlot crop is back up to normal, yet for others it’s certainly larger than 2014 but nowhere near normal.