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94 points for 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon from Antonio Galloni

August 30, 2015

Antonio Galloni, at, gave the 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon 94 points. He wrote:

Ripe, voluptuous and very much in the style of the year, the 2012 is a showy wine, with plenty of intensity and resonance. At the same time there is plenty of tannic backbone lurking beneath that gives the wine its power and overall structure.

#8 in The Daily Meal’s 101 Best Wineries in America for 2015

August 28, 2015

The Daily Meal’s 101 Best Wineries in America for 2015

By Colman Andrews, Editorial Director

Great wines are being made not just in California and the Pacific Northwest but all over the country; here’s our panel’s ranking of the best producers

Identifying what we believe to be the 101 best wineries in the United States was an extremely challenging mission. The sheer quantity and variety of good and great wine being made in this country has grown exponentially in the past two or three decades. Wine is now produced in all 50 states — though admittedly Alaska’s offerings are mostly made from fruits and berries, plus grape juice imported from more temperate climes — and almost every state has at least a few, if not a carload, of examples well worth drinking.

This ranking isn’t a beauty contest, giving points for attractive settings or handsome architecture, or a guide to fine winery dining. Elsewhere, we’ve included some American wineries in our lists of Wineries Worth Visiting and Best Winery Restaurants and identified Napa Valley’s Best Wineries for a View, but here — while some of the places listed do indeed offer visual or gustatory attractions — we’re concerned with what gets put into the bottle and poured into our glass.

The wineries on our list were nominated by experts in the field — sommeliers, wine writers, chefs, and restaurateurs, along with wine-savvy editors at The Daily Meal. Where possible, we factored in our own tasting notes of recent vintages; we also consulted the leading wine publications and newsletters and considered recent awards from prestigious competitions.

We considered not just individual wines, though, but the overall place of each winery in the American wine scene. Is is a dependable veteran, tried and true? An audacious innovator? Does it specialize in just one or two grape varieties, or do a sterling job with 20? Is it representative of its corner of the wine country? Does it help, in one way or another, enhance the reputation of its region, and/or of American wine in general?

We also factored in quality-to-price ratio. While this wasn’t our principal criterion, we did feel that value should be considered in our ranking strategy. Value doesn’t necessarily mean low price, of course, so there are some producers of pricey wines represented here. But our consideration of value accounts in part for the absence from our list of some of famous “trophy wines” from the Napa Valley and elsewhere, wines priced at many hundreds of dollars on release and bought more often (we’re pretty sure) as status symbols rather than as delicious things to savor — though it is also worth noting that our panel didn’t vote for some of the most famous names at all. In the nomination process, we asked our panel to consider not just the obvious places — California, the Pacific Northwest, New York State — but the entire country.

We’re proud of the list, and grateful to the experts who helped us compile it.

  1. Smith-Madrone Vineyards, St. Helena
  2. Heitz Cellars, St. Helena
  3. Dunn Vineyards, Angwin
  4. Woodward Canyon Winery, Lowden (WA)
  5. Calera Wine, Mt. Harlan
  6. Au Bon Climat Winery, Santa Barbara
  7. Ridge Vineyards, Cupertino
  8. Tablas Creek Vineyard, Paso Robles

Smith-Madrone in The New York Times on the subject of dry farming

August 27, 2015

Drought Brings Soul Searching to California Winemaking

New York Times, August 20, 2015

By Eric Asimov

St. HELENA, Calif. — At the rustic Smith-Madrone Vineyards high up on Spring Mountain, nobody has been thinking about the drought, which has absorbed so much of the conversation about California this year. Instead, concerns have been about the unnaturally warm stretch in January and February, which set the growing season in motion early. Then came a cold snap in May, which caused many growers to lose 40 to 50 percent of their crop. Then, a cooler-than-expected July, and, for much of Napa Valley, an early harvest in August.

“It’s been a normally bizarre year,” said Stuart Smith, who, with his brother, Charles, has seen a lot of weather extremes in their 44 years growing grapes and making wine at Smith-Madrone. Now he’s worried mostly about forest fires.

The drought may have turned all of California into a pitiless desert in the popular imagination, but a week in July spent visiting fine-wine regions all around the state painted a more nuanced picture. Across the state…the drought has caused soul-searching in the wine industry, even at places like Smith-Madrone, as wineries rethink how they use water and the way they do business. And everywhere, the fervent hope is that El Niño, the periodic ocean weather system, will bring rains this winter to renew Western water supplies.

While agriculture has generally been portrayed as California’s thirstiest industry, absorbing a high percentage of scarce resources, grape vines are not among the prime offenders. They are tenacious survivors, genetically programmed to thrive where other plants cannot.

At Smith-Madrone, Stuart Smith has become convinced that dry-farming is the way to go, not just because he thinks it results in better wine but because water in California has always been a moral issue. He said he’s seen far too many vineyards irrigated to achieve a garden-like beauty, to the detriment of both wine and water supplies. “From a wine-quality and a responsible-citizen position, we should all use less water,” he said. “Wine growers can make better wines and be better ecological neighbors if they thought about vineyards differently.”

This week’s Spring Mountain District harvest report

August 27, 2015

Stu’s report on harvest in the Spring Mountain District this week:

Harvest report: Low yields, high quality

August 25, 2015 by Jesse Duarte, St. Helena Star

Spring Mountain District — Stuart Smith, Smith-Madrone Winery — “Harvest is slowly picking up speed. Being lower on the mountain, Spring Mountain Winery has finished their sauvignon blanc, semillon and pinot noir and are deep into their chardonnay with slightly lower crops. School House has also finished their chardonnay and pinot noir. Stony Hill has finished both their chardonnay and gewurztraminer and is waiting on their riesling. Smith-Madrone has started on both chardonnay and riesling, and Keenan will start this Friday with chardonnay. The reds are still weeks away. Early reports are that juice chemistry and quality are excellent. For those of us with vines that bloomed during May it may be some of the worst shatter any of us have ever seen.”

2014 Riesling swims along in MyWineWords’ Riesling on the River

August 21, 2015

Here is the 2014 Riesling as part of MyWineWords’ Riesling on the River series:

In Napa, where Cabernet is king, it is the Riesling from Smith-Madrone that claims its rank amidst royalty with a bright and bold proclamation  both on the nose and on the palate with wild floral, sharp citrus and fresh apple decrees.

Smith-Madrone in the September issue of Decanter Magazine

August 20, 2015

Standing the test of time

By Elin McCoy

September 2015, Decanter Magazine

Successive re-runs of the legendary Judgement of Paris tasting have shown that California Cabernets can age. But is it site, vintage or winemaking that counts the most? Elin McCoy finds some unexpected answers.

“….Winemaking techniques also count. While some winemakers favor long macerations, others don’t. Stu Smith, winemaker at Smith-Madrone, on Spring Mountain in the Napa Valley, points out that adding in the tiny stems between the grapes adds tannin. But time of picking, he and many others agree, matters most for ageability. “The problem today is that the overripe style is still with us.” Fond of pithy phrasing, Smith likes to call them ‘Ninety-minute wines.’ With the 2009, 2010 and 2011 vintages, it looked like some wineries known for that style were scaling back towards more balanced wines. “These cool vintages allowed people to rethink their attitudes about how ripe grapes should be,” Smith says.

10 wines that will stand the test of time

2009 Smith-Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon

In this cool year, the wine is lively and complex, with intense aromas, juicy texture and grippy tannins.

And we’re off! Stu’s first report on harvest in the District for The St. Helena Star

August 18, 2015

Stu’s first report on the harvest in the Spring Mountain District for The St. Helena Star:

With 30-35 inches of rainfall, the Spring Mountain district vines are holding up very well in the heat.  Bud push of Chardonnay was even earlier than in 2014 due to a very warm winter and initially indicated a very early harvest.  Then for six weeks our spring weather turned cold and over cast and pushed bloom back to normal timing on the red varieties, yet caused considerable shatter.   Only Spring Mountain Winery is harvesting on the mountain with small lots of Sauvignon blanc, Semillon and Pinot noir.   Crops levels vary considerably from block to block, with Cabernet Sauvignon estimates indicating an unusually short crop.