Pioneers on the mountain

Sommelier Karl Kazaks profiled the winery in the July issue of Wine & Craft Beverage News:


Smith-Madrone pursues pioneering spring mountain style into fifth decade

by Karl H. Kazaks

Spring Mountain District, an AVA on the northwest side of Napa Valley, is named after its natural springs.

One of those springs is located near the bottom of the parcel of land purchased by Charlie and Stuart Smith in 1971, where they established Smith-Madrone Vineyards and Winery.

“It began as a hobby and got completely out of control,” said Charlie. The brothers had discovered wine while in college at Berkeley in the 1960s and decided to make their own.

“For the first ten years, Stuart and I did all the work,” Charlie said. “We pounded the stakes in, we put up the wire, we did the whole nine yards. There is literally nothing in the vineyard that we do not have extensive personal experience with. One summer we spent picking up rocks. We were clearing a two-and-a-half-acre field. We’d rip it, pick up the rocks, cross-rip it, pick up rocks. That pretty much cured me of wanting to pick up rocks.”

The Smiths started planting vines in 1972 and made their first wine in 1977 — a Riesling.

In 1979, their Riesling was entered in a wine competition sponsored by the French restaurant guide Gault Millau. Matched against Rieslings from around the world, Smith-Madrone’s was selected as the Best Riesling. Second place was awarded to a wine made by Schloss Vollrads, a winery from Germany’s Rheingau region which has been making wine for 800 years.

“Back then, our Rieslings were sweeter,” Charlie said, with a residual sugar level of around 1.5 percent. Today Smith-Madrone’s Rieslings have a residual sugar level closer to 0.75 percent.

“Their Rieslings are well-balanced,” said Mike Chelini, the winemaker at Stony Hill, a winery lower down on Spring Mountain.

Like all of the wines made at Smith-Madrone, the Rieslings show an abundance of individuality while displaying a consistent house style of vintage-appropriate structure, never lacking the backbone to permit some length of aging.

A comparison of the 2013 and 2014 Rieslings shows how the wine differs across vintages. The 2013, which has a fragrant nose of tropical and stone fruit, also has a strong aspect of wet stone. The vintage is fatter than the 2014, which has keen acidity and a pleasant lime peel quality.

“The key thing with our Rieslings,” Charlie said, “is the pH is really low in the 3.0 – 3.15 range.”

Though Rieslings aren’t much associated with Napa Valley, in the early 1970s, Charlie said the variety “was common as dirt. It was one of the recommended varieties — Riesling and Chardonnay for whites, Cabernet and Zinfandel for reds.”

If you put Smith-Madrone’s Riesling in a lineup of Alsatian Rieslings, you’d be hard pressed to pick it out. Its alcohol percentage — between 12.5 percent and 13 percent — might be the biggest giveaway when compared to some grand cru Alsatian Riesling, which often come in between 13 percent and 14 percent.

At Smith-Madrone, which experiences cooler days and warmer nights than the valley floor, Riesling is planted on eastern slopes. Chardonnay is planted on northern slopes. Cabernet sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot on southern and western slopes.

Some of the slopes are steep, up to a 34 percent grade. The soils are mostly red Aiken Stony Clay loam on top of the Franciscan Assemblage, found in California’s coastal ranges and consisting of a collection of various rock types.

There is a flat parcel, known as Cook’s Flat, named after the first person to plant grapes on this part of Spring Mountain. In the late 19th century, George Cook planted olive trees and grapevines.

The olive trees remain today at 130 to 135 years old but the vines he planted were dead by the early 20th century.

“We found old wooden grape stakes in what had become forest,” Charlie said.

Cook’s Flat is home to Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay.

The vineyard is surrounded by a mixed forest of Douglas fir, redwoods and madrone — the tree with the peeling, reddish-orange bark. The forest provides dappled sunlight in the vineyard, which the Smiths like.

Cook’s Flat is also the name of Smith-Madrone’s reserve red, which the winery first introduced in 2007. The second release was the 2010 vintage and the third was the 2009 vintage. 2012 will be the fourth release of Cook’s Flat Reserve.

Much of the production of Cook’s Flat Reserve is sold from the winery, Charlie said. “We pour it for people who come and they like it and buy it. We think that’s nice. It makes us happy.”

The 2010 Cook’s Flat Reserve is a blend of 75 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and 25 percent Cabernet Franc. Its fruit profile is mainly dark fruit, including plum. The Cabernet Franc adds width to the center palate, a nice complement to the wine’s richness. The 2009 Cook’s Flat Reserve has a special snap and vibrancy and life, no less substantial but not quite as brooding as the 2010.

Smith-Madrone didn’t release any red wines in 2008. The smoke from fires that year particularly affected their high-altitude vineyard. They sold their production that year to a bulk buyer.

Another challenging vintage was 2011, which was wet. But thanks to its mountaintop location, the vineyards at Smith-Madrone dried out more quickly than did some valley floor vineyards.

“The hillsides are different from the valley floor,” Charlie said. “Not just a different microclimate, but a different climate.”

Chelini concurs. “It’s fairly cool on Spring Mountain, frankly,” he said.

Smith-Madrone’s 2011 cabernet sauvignon does have a bit of a pyrazine green pepper quality, but it also has good fruit flavors and good tannic presence, as well as the structure to allow it to mature for at least a couple of decades.

The 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon has a riper, more accessible structure, very fruity and lively. Charlie calls it a “light heavyweight — not a real heavyweight but not a middleweight either. It makes me cheerful when I taste it.” The current release of the winery’s Cabernet Sauvignon is the 2013 vintage.

All of Smith-Madrone’s wines are made to mature in bottle. The sweet spot for Chardonnays, Charlie believes, is the six to eight-year window. A typical Cabernet will show its full potential in the 15-20-year range, with good vintages capable of lasting 50 years.

For example, Charlie has a strong affinity for Smith-Madrone’s 1979 Cabernet. “We knew that was a great wine from the very beginning. We just loved it from the start. Some wines, when you finish fermenting, you just go, ‘Wow, this is really good stuff.’”

Chelini finds Smith-Madrone’s Cabernets “very, very civilized, approachable even when young but capable of aging well too.”

One of the reasons Smith-Madrone is able to make wines of such distinct character and ageability is its sorting of grapes and wines into many different lots.

First, grapes from any one particular vineyard can be harvested in multiple passes. For example, the relatively compact five-and-a-half acres of Cabernet Sauvignon in Cook’s Flat is usually harvested in three stages.

To determine when to pick, the Smiths “take a close look at the grapevines. It’s very helpful to know your own vineyard. What we do is custom picking at its most picayune.”

In the winery, different fermentation techniques are used. Some of the reds are fermented in tanks, others in small open containers.

“We keep very close track of what comes out of the vineyard and how it fermented,” Charlie said. “We have a lot of different barrels — some are new, some a year old — and put portions of everything into those barrels. We have a lot of different barrels.”

“When you make a blend, go through and grade the barrels, then put the best foot forward.” Cook’s Flat Reserve is a blend of the best barrels from the vintages in which the Smith’s choose to make a version of that wine.

For weed control, the Smiths cultivate every other row to keep some amount of ground cover at all time. With the exception of new vines, all the vineyards are dry farmed.

In the winery’s early years, the Smith even propagated their own vines in a mini-nursery. Today, they buy vines from a commercial nursery.

The layout of the winery was specifically made to be efficient.

“It’s not something you want to do day in and day out but in a pinch one guy can handle the operation,” Charlie said. In the “old days” he sometimes had to do just that, making the wine while Stuart was out selling and marketing it.

Today, the brothers have the help of Stuart’s son, Sam, who has worked at the winery for several years after some apprenticing elsewhere, including at Dr. Loosen winery in Germany.

For all of the wines, no bottling occurs until everyone agrees.

“We make a joint decision,” Charlie said. “Everybody’s got to be happy. We push and we push until everyone agrees.”

Chelini remembers first meeting the Smith brothers, when he took them a piece of equipment to borrow.

He’s impressed with what the Smiths have built over time, giving them the highest kind of praise for a Spring Mountain vintner.

“They’re mountain boys, no doubt about it.”

2012 Cabernet Highly Recommended in Sacramento Bee

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..

WineForNormalPeople: Smith-Madrone makes outstanding wine


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.

About Smith-Madrone
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?

Elaine Brown for Jancis Robinson tastes the 2012 Cabernet

Elaine Chukan Brown reviewed 2012 Napa Valley Cabernets at

Smith-Madrone from the Spring Mountain District is the absolute standout for producing both high-quality wine vintage-to-vintage at an incredible price. For only $48, the Smith brothers consistently deliver wines that express the vintage, the character of their mountain site and the variety. The wine stands out in a line-up for its own sake and then really impresses when the price is revealed.

17.5 points: Notes of dry cocoa, mixed mountain berries and bramble, with an accent of pine and a hint of mint. Ample, persistent tannins are washed through with mouth-watering acidity into a long, fresh finish. There is a sense of rich flavour from the chocolatey notes but acidity and tannins continue to wash and cleanse the palate making this a flexible wine for the table. Really good value here. Drink 2017-2025.

93 points for the 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon

Our thanks to Fred Swan at Planet Grape for his kind words about the 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon:

93 points

Elegant nose of mocha, dry leaves, black currant, boysenberry and mineral. Medium body with enough juiciness and fine, chalky texture for a decade or more of aging, though the wine is very drinkable now. Excellent, berry-focused length. Perhaps one of Napa’s best values in Cabernet.

2012 Cabernet is inspirational


Cindy Rynning at GrapeExperiences talks about the 2012 Cabernet as an example of elegance and more:

Planning a dinner party? Are you having good friends stop by for a glass of wine before a show? Is it your night to host appetizers and drinks before going to a restaurant with your wine loving gourmet group?  It’s time to discover a few special wines that are more than ho-hum, perhaps those that have a touch of elegance, yet fit your budget, be it meager or generous.

But first, what do we mean by “elegant”?  One dictionary describes the word “elegant” as “pleasingly graceful and stylish in appearance or manner, as in she looks elegant in black; gracefully refined and dignified, as in an elegant young gentleman, or literary style; graceful in form or movement, as in an elegant wave of the hand; appropriate to refined taste, as in a man devoted to elegant pursuits”.

Another definition, finally, refers to wine: ”excellent, fine, superior, as in an absolutely elegant wine”. OK, but those words are ambiguous and were not what I was searching for. You may have your own definition, but here’s mine (and sorry if I’m waxing a bit poetic)…

“An elegant wine has mesmerizing flavor and balance with just the right amount of fruit, acidity, tannic structure (if it’s a red wine), and alcohol to complement any dish – it’s not big and bold or wimpy and weak. An elegant wine prompts me to sit back and say “ahhhh”, then anticipate another sip. An elegant wine is deliciously affordable or is so incredible that I don’t feel the least bit of guilt that it’s over the budget. An elegant wine evokes an emotion, whether I’m sharing it with good friends and family as a celebratory drink or I’m having a weeknight pour while reading a book on the porch. An elegant wine is all of these things in my glass.”

Smith-Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon 2012: – From the Spring Mountain district in Napa Valley, Smith-Madrone has inspired me once again to appreciate and find well-priced wines from this iconic region. Estate grown and bottled, I found aromas of dark, rich blackberries, ripe plums, and cherries, all of which were jam-worthy, and a touch of vanilla. On the palate, notes of more dark berries, chocolate, black pepper, and herbs were woven with structured tannins, bright acidity, and a long, rich finish. Decant and fire up the grill…this find will be just what you need with that barbecue.

93 points for the 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon

In the August 2016 issue of Tasting Panel Magazine, the 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon is reviewed:

93 points

Grilled meat and dark chocolate soil are the richness that sweeps you into its coffee bean and chocolate licorice middle. Statured, with grainy tannins on tiptoes, as rhubarb, ash and blue fruit keep it polished and strong all the way.

Unique…authentic farmers are we

Our thanks to Susan Spinello for her recent visit: “…There is something unique about the lay of the land and the spacing of the vines, something that is sought after, but can only be achieved by authentic farmers and longevity in the business.  Smith-Madrone captures that and more, as evidenced by their superior wines…”

Her article is here: and our section:

Our next adventure was about 35 minutes further northwest.  Just past the town of St. Helena, and a few more bouts of whiplash later, we travelled up the steep, rugged 5 mile incline of Spring Mountain Road to the Vineyards of Smith-Madrone.  Pulling onto the long dirt driveway up to the barn 1800 feet high. It was time for a wardrobe change.  Adorned in boots, jeans and a tee shirt, we were about to meet the legendary Smith brothers.   Founded in 1971 by Stuart Smith, and joined two years later by winemaker and brother, Charlie, Smith-Madrone has been producing award winning and authentic wines since 1977.  This year marks their 45th anniversary of superior excellence in winemaking.

Upon entering the barn, Charlie was finishing up a tasting for a small group of five.  We wandered around the property under the watchful eyes of Curly, the Springer Spaniel who was just doing a less than stellar job of guarding the premises.  The vantage view from this over 200 acre property situated in the Mayacamas Mountains above the fog is breathtaking.  Surrounded by Madrone and Fir trees and framed with 120 year old Picholine Olive trees, feels like a throwback in time.  Charlie and Stu are a bit of a throwback in time as well, sporting beards and UC Berkeley educations in the late 60’s.  They are direct descendants of German farmers, the Fetherolf family, who came to America in 1730, and are continuing the tradition with Assistant Winemaker Sam Smith, Stu’s son.   Each portion of the vineyard is carefully selected to optimize the best of each grape varietal.  Currently there is close to 40 acres under vine.   Riesling is planted on 35 degree slopes facing east, chardonnay faces the cool north, cabernet sauvignon faces the south and west to optimize sun exposure and merlot and cabernet franc are dispersed accordingly to maximize the cool, mountain climate.

There is something unique about the lay of the land and the spacing of the vines, something that is sought after, but can only be achieved by authentic farmers and longevity in the business.  Smith-Madrone captures that and more, as evidenced by their superior wines and highly sought after Cook’s Flat Reserve.  Charlie revved up his 4 wheeler high-speed golf cart and took us around the property with Curly close behind…for a while.  There is a unique 8 acre block of vines known as Cook’s Flat (named after George Cook, the first owner of the property) where a small production of the best of the best mountain fruit is grown.  Cook’s Flat was replanted in 1972 and the result is a very special Cabernet Reserve that will only be crafted in small batches and only in the best years.  Each Cook’s Flat Reserve bottle is wrapped in tissue which has been printed with a copy of the U.S. Land Office Patent granted to George Cook and signed by President Chester Arthur in 1885.  The original is on display at the winery.

All of Smith-Madrone wines are estate grown and estate bottled.  So what is the secret?  Is it the Red Aiken soil?  The vineyard orientation?  Canopy management?  Altitude?  Or is the secret in the winemaking itself?  Age and experience really is a virtue.  So back to the tasting barn/winery where the second half of the journey picks up.

2014 Chardonnay is 100% barrel fermented and aged in 100% new French oak for 9 months and yet it is so refined and delicious that it’s as if some magic has occurred, but don’t tell Stu about pixie dust…this is all raw talent. Spice and apples with tropical papaya, lush mango, pear and almonds with a big mouthfeel and long lingering finish.  It’s big and buttery with just the right amount of oak.

2012 Cabernet Sauvignon is a hidden gem and the perfect wine for your barbecue.  Open up and decant while you wait for your medium rare ribeye or peppercorn crusted lamb to grill.  Rich red and black fruit with notes of savory clove and smoky cigar box.  Mocha, black pepper and green olives show on this terroir-driven, meaty Cabernet Sauvignon, yet like all the Smith-Madrone wines tasted, it is well balanced with a lingering finish.

2010 Cook’s Flat Reserve is a highly allocated 75% Cabernet Sauvignon and 25% Cabernet Franc reserve wine that displays generous dark fruit, cassis and tobacco leaf.  It has solid tannins and is exceptionally poised to lay down for another 10 plus years.  But this wine is drinking fabulously right now.  Upon commenting on the rich style and finesse in which this wine was crafted, Charlie replied, “Oh Hell, let’s break open a bottle of the 2009”, and thus a new love entered my life.

2009 Cook’s Flat Reserve also highly allocated and held back, released after the 2010, is pure gold.  64% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Cabernet Franc and 14% Merlot, it sees 18 months in new French white oak, and is layer upon layer of dark fruit, black cherry, blackberry, cocoa, espresso and baking spice.  It’s more fruit-forward, but exceptionally integrated, and can lay down another 20 years, but I’m not going to chance it.

2014 Riesling is “a dry Riesling that has been grown and produced from the same vineyard, pruned by the same people in the same style and left to Mother Nature to impart annually distinct flavors, scents and character”.  The Smith brothers have been growing and producing Riesling since 1983 (about 17 years before the rest of California attempted to jump on the bandwagon).  It has been hailed as one of the 50 best wines in the world according to Stuart Pigott, author of “The Best White Wine on Earth:  The Riesling Story”.  Orange blossom, jasmine and honeysuckle with lemon zest and crisp minerality, followed by white peach and pear with a creamy, lingering finish.  Perhaps this is the best Riesling on Earth and why Charlie saved the best for last.

Smith-Madrone graciously hosts tastings by appointment only on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday at 11am and 2pm.  Located at 4022 Spring Mountain Road, it’s a little off the beaten path, but well worth a visit and an experience that will linger long after the wine is gone.  There is a chalkboard sign in the winery bearing the poetry of Eduardo Galeano:  “We are all mortal until the first kiss and the second glass of wine”.  Yes, please!

A day on the mountain with PullThatCork

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….”



A Nobel Prize for Charles and Stuart

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.