One of the greatest Cabernets in the Napa Valley?

So say our colleagues at Waterford Wine Company in Milwaukee: Here is how they got there: “Smith-Madrone makes one of the greatest Cabernets in Napa Valley. Once, in Napa Valley, Smith-Madrone was joined by a host of other famous wineries who crafted their Cabernets in a classic style – Heitz Martha’s Vineyard, BV George de Latour, Mayacamas, and even some early Robert Mondavi Reserve.  These wines were based on the venerable vineyards they were grown in.  But then something changed.  Call it Parkerization, wine maker choice, or global warming; Napa’s Cabernets are now riper and more alcoholic.  Using oak to balance their gooey sweetness these “modern” Cabernets raise their prices concomitant to their owner’s egos, rather than the quality of the wine.  But on Spring Mountain, in Napa Valley, the two brothers Smith dry farm their old vine Cabernet from the encroaching Madrone forest.  Not many people talk about dry farming or old vine Cabernet in Napa because very few have the courage or ability to do either.  But the Smith brothers do both and this sets their Cabernet far above the curve of Napa Valley. Most wineries purposefully do not let their Cabernet vines get old.  They rip them out of the ground at the youthful age of twenty.  Old vines produce less fruit, and the older they get the lower the yield.  A lowered yield automatically lowers the quantity of wine that can be produced, ultimately cutting into a winery’s paycheck.  And very few wineries are willing to make that sacrifice.   But old vines also produce more dramatic wine.  Age lowers a vine’s vigor, naturally producing a smaller crop.  This naturally lowered crop forces the vine to put more energy into fewer berries.  The result is far more concentrated, richer flavors.  And the Smith Brothers, with Cabernet vines nearly reaching the half-century mark, have some of the oldest in the Valley. Dry farming (which is exactly what it sounds like – farming without irrigation of any kind) is very difficult to practice.  So much so that most wineries don’t bother – they irrigate with abandon.  Again, it is a question of yield.  If vines do not receive water, they struggle and produce fewer berries.  Well-watered vines produce bigger and more abundant berries.  Not only does this lead to a bigger crop and more money but also watered down wines. Smith-Madrone’s dry farmed vines have to work harder than most, digging their roots deep into the bedrock of Spring Mountain.  Most irrigated vines will have a root system that is two feet deep.  Dry farmed vines will typical dig down twenty feet.  The idea is that a deep root system pulls up minerals and flavors into the wine, creating more complexity as well as a sense of place in the Cabernet. The results are profound in Smith-Madrone’s Cabernet.  The wine opens with aromas of blackberry, black cherry, dried herbs and cassis.  It is classically built Napa Cabernet and the palate demonstrates this.  The tannins are supple, cedary and full.  The wine resonates like great old-growth Bordeaux; Smith-Madrone’s Cabernet is meant to age.  In time, as the tannins soften, the wine’s aroma will become even more dramatic, opening up with roses, sweet smoking spices, and a framboise liqueur like finish.  This is a classic Napa Cabernet, revealing fruit full of California sunshine and the structure to back it up. The Smith brothers have never changed the style of their Cabernet for a critic, preferring to let nature show how great Napa Cabernet can be.  And while they take great pride in every vintage, their prices have always been more than fair for the quality of what is in their bottles.  Now, even more so.  Here is their piece:

Author: corkingnapa

Julie Ann Kodmur is a second-generation Californian who was born in San Francisco and grew up in La Jolla. As an eighth grader she was the runner-up in the state spelling bee. She’s lived in Italy and New York and now lives in the Napa Valley with her family. She is a marketing and publicity consultant in the wine industry. Her business life can be seen at This is the home for the overflow. The ‘title’ is a reference to a sculpture honoring an Argentinean journalist who practiced his craft in the 1930s before literally dying for his words. No such drama here, just hopefully some provocative fun.

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