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A day on the mountain with PullThatCork

July 18, 2016

Nancy and Peter Brazil (PullThatCork) came to visit and shared their thoughts here:

Highlights include talking about Smith-Madrone’s history, the uniqueness of mountain soils and growing grapes on the slopes of a mountain, the hows and whys of row orientation, trellising, dry-farming and the Smiths’ approach to winemaking, with notes on the 2013 and 2014 vintages of Chardonnay and Riesling, 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon and 2009 Cook’s Flat.

“….When you taste Smith-Madrone wines you are tasting the style of wines the Smith brothers like to drink themselves, according to Charles…Skill, more than luck, accounts for the fine quality of their wines. They pay attention to every detail, beginning in the vineyard. They eagerly await the opportunity to begin tasting each vintage as fermentation proceeds; making observations, taking notes, planning changes for the next vintage. And while there is a overall consistency of style in the Smith-Madrone wines we tasted, there is definitely vintage variation, which is exactly as the Smiths would have it….”

and: “…Wine tasting at the winery requires a reservation, but you will be rewarded for planning ahead. The drive up Spring Mountain takes you away from the crowds of Napa Valley, the air is fresh and the mountain vineyards are beautiful. Wine tastings take place in the barrel room where the aromas of wine production accompany your tasting. If you are lucky Curly the winery dog will be there.  Taste these beautiful wines for yourself, I’m certain you will not be disappointed….”



95 points for the 2014 Riesling and more

July 15, 2016

Mark Gudgel of ITheeWine visited the winery: here is his report:


Happy Friday!  Next month, a full-length piece I wrote on Smith-Madrone’s entire portfolio will come out in Food & Spirits Magazine. Until then, however, I wanted to start the weekend off by jotting a few notes on what I consider to be one of the most impressive wines I’ve had all year.

High up on Spring Mountain with a gorgeous view of the Valley, the Smiths — Charlie, Stu, and Sam, dry farm their way to producing some of the best wines anywhere in Napa. They’re amiable, casual men, and the winery is one-of-a-kind, with unparalleled views, barrels stacked from floor to ceiling, and the occasional call to behead a rattlesnake. It’s a place that reminds one that the Napa Valley is a rural, agricultural area, and to someone hailing from Nebraska’s isolated Sandhills as I do, it felt more familiar and more comfortable than anywhere else we visited.

The 2014 Riesling, which is just now being released, is an impressive example of what dedicated, knowledgeable winemakers can do with good fruit. The Smiths craft the varietal in a manner far more reminiscent of Alsace than of the ways that many Californian producers are inclined to bastardize the varietal, as if somewhere it is written that it should sit on the bottom shelf and compete with the White Zinfandel. The 2014 Smith-Madrone Riesling is bone dry and very smooth, with that familiar nose of petrol and the crispness of a dry English cider. With high acidity, subtle notes of white fruits, and a clean finish, this is a beautiful wine.  In my estimation, it could compete amongst the best Rieslings in the world. Though I’ve never experienced it for myself, I’ve heard a number of people suggest laying S-M Rieslings down for a decade or more. I plan to give it a try at some point.

Two weeks ago today my friend Zach and I had the pleasure of visiting Smith-Madrone for ourselves. It was cathartic, a genuinely fulfilling and life-giving experience, and we’re grateful to Charles and Sam for being wonderful hosts.  Whenever you’re next in Napa, I cannot overstate the need for you to visit Smith-Madrone. It’s one of the best experiences I’ve ever had in all of wine country. Until you can arrange to visit, their 2014 Riesling is a spectacular wine, and should tide you over until you, too, can climb the winding roads of the Spring Mountain District. 95 points on my scale, and I highly recommend it.

A video visit to the vineyards

July 1, 2016

Ray Fister of LifeBetweenTheVines did a video of a recent visit to the winery (June 30, 2016):

Talking with Stu Smith of Smith-Madrone Vineyards & Winery on Spring Mountain is to get a strong feel of what Napa Valley was like back in the 1970s.  Stu goes way back to 1971, a time when there were very few wineries in the valley.  Along with his winemaker brother Charlie (whom we interviewed for Podcast #94 in July of 2013) make exceptional Cabernet Sauvignon, Riesling and Chardonnay.  This interview was conducted ‘mobile’ while touring the property with Stu.

A Nobel Prize for Charles and Stuart

June 30, 2016

Fred Koeppel takes a look at 12 Napa Valley Cabernets: Whither Napa Valley Cabernet XI: A Twelve-Pack Miscellany

So, here we are, in the 11th segment of “Whither Napa Valley Cabernet,” a series devoted to exploring the many aspects of the cabernet sauvignon wines created in the various regions of the Napa Valley. It’s a question worth asking, since, as readers will see in today’s selection of 12 examples, the cabernet wines from this legendary area and its sub-AVAs, can vary from an austere Old School character to the new style of very ripe — or over-ripe — fruit and plush textures…..

Brothers Charles and Stuart Smith deserve a Nobel Prize for consistency and integrity. Making their Smith-Madrone wines using the same methods every year and allowing the vintage to speak through the grapes, they produce chardonnay, riesling and cabernet sauvignon wines on Spring Mountain that embody ideals of realism, individuality and location. Produced from 40-year-old, dry-farmed vines and aged 18 months in French oak barrels, the Smith-Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Spring Mountain District, is a blend of 82 percent cabernet sauvignon grapes, 10 percent merlot and eight percent cabernet franc. The color is dark ruby from stem to stern; notes of dried sage and rosemary, briers and brambles, cedar and tobacco leaf are etched on intense elements of ripe and dried black currants, raspberries and blueberries, all balanced on a well-oiled vehicle of graphite and granitic minerality. On the palate, the wine is — no surprise — lithe and sinewy, bolstered by dusty, slightly velvety tannins and vibrant acidity. The finish is long and lean and laden with chiseled flint-like minerality. 14.2 percent alcohol. Production was 1,815 cases. Drink through 2028 to ’32. Excellent. About $48, the bargain of this group.



Year’s Best U.S. Riesling in Wine & Spirits

June 29, 2016

The 2014 Riesling heads the list of California Rieslings in the August issue of Wine & Spirits Magazine.

The wine was scored at 92 points:


From Stu and Charles Smith’s 42-year-old riesling vines high up Spring Mountain, this captures the sage-like scent of the hills in a refreshing and discreetly elegant white. Hints of orange blossom and lemon zest fill out the mineral-inflected acidity, then the wine juices up again in the finish, clean and refreshing. Chill it for any roast fish.

Lady Amherst’s Pheasant on the loose

June 23, 2016

Stu was driving through the vineyard at twilight and….let’s let him take over, from a note he sent to neighbors:

Dear friends on the Mountain:

I wanted to alert you to some unusual wildlife you may see strolling through your vineyards, as I did over the weekend.

It’s a very dramatically colored bird with an enormous tail and the amazing ability to fly straight up at great speed (the bird demonstrated this skill when my dog tried to chase it): it’s Lady Amherst’s Pheasant. Native to southern China and Burma and spectacularly out of place in our Spring Mountain forests.

Here’s more:

I can only surmise that this bird escaped from a pet store or an owner somehow let it loose.

I guarantee you you’ve  never seen a bird this wild looking in your vineyard before!


2012 Cabernet is “such a good wine” in Food and Wine

June 23, 2016

The Best Wines to Stock in Your Bicultural Home

By Carson Demmond, Food and Wine Magazine blog, June 22, 2016

Blue Hill’s Michelle Biscieglia shares 6 Italian bottles and 6 American ones.

“I really could eat pasta every single day,” says Michelle Biscieglia, wine director for Blue Hill New York. So, it’s convenient that her husband, Italian-born chef Simone Bonelli of La Pecora Bianca, specializes in just that. “My favorite thing in the world is spaghetti pomodoro with Simone’s tomato sauce,” she adds. “He uses really great olive oil, sweats out shallots, and lets it simmer for hours… It’s unreal.”

But while their tastes in food perfectly align, they’ve had to compromise on what wines to keep stocked at home. Bonelli’s palate inevitably leans Italian. “I think I have a broader sensibility because I taste more wines from all over the world than he does,” she says. In addition to their solid collection of Italian reds and whites, they’ve found another category they can both agree on: American wine.

“Most of the American wines that we drink have some sort of Old World influence,” Biscieglia adds. “It just goes with how we like to eat and drink.”

Here, she shares 6 Italian bottles and 6 American ones they can both get behind.

2012 Smith-Madrone Spring Mountain District Cabernet Sauvignon
“Here, you have unmistakably Californian fruit, but the winemaking style is so restrained that it’s a great example of how Napa expresses terroir. They’re located in Spring Mountain, so it’s a structured, tannic wine, but if you throw it into a decanter before throwing some sort of steak or rich meat on the grill, it opens up so nicely. It’s savory and a little smoky, and it strikes that balance of red and black fruits, with just a hint of rusticity. It’s such a good wine.”