Slow Wine Guide takes a look

From Slow Wine Guide, published in January 2018:


Brothers Stu and Charles Smith arrived on Spring Mountain in 1971, when it was mostly still uninhabited though they soon discovered that the site that would become Smith-Madrone was planted to vineyards prior to Prohibition. More than 40 years later, theirs is still a two-man operation, with Stu overseeing viticulture and Charles running the winery. Total annual production hovers around 5,000 cases.

VINEYARDS: Ranging in altitude from about 1,200 to 2,000 feet and planted on steep pitches, the dry-farmed Smith-Madrone span 34 acres in various stages of production. The soils here are the Spring Mountain mix of volcanic and sedimentary rock, and the varietal mix includes 6 acres of Riesling, 10 acres of Chardonnay, 13 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon and small amounts of Merlot and Cabernet Franc. A majority of these vineyards exceed 40 years of age, and it shows in the profundity of the wines.

WINES: The Smith-Madrone line-up, and especially the Cabernet Sauvignon, leave no doubt that they have been crafted from old-vine, mountain grown fruit.

GREAT WINE: The 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon is a big, brooding wine with concentrated black and blue fruits framed by iron-shaving tannins and subtle oak spice (and, it should be noted, this powerful red easily outperforms Cabernets twice and three times its price).

The 2015 Chardonnay is 100% barrel-fermented and aged in new oak, boasting deep apple and pear fruit, a creamy texture and refreshing acidity.

The 2014 Riesling is a structured, unoaked, bone-dry expression of white peach, citrus and wildflowers underpinned by wet-stone minerality and bracing acidity. It, like the Cabernet, has shown a capacity for long aging.

“Loads of character,” as Corkscrew Report takes a look


by Johannes Marlena,  February 20, 2018

Are we out of line for calling Smith-Madrone a “hidden” winery of Napa Valley, considering it was established in 1971? No, not until the world recognizes there may not be a better $50 Napa Cab for the money than Smith-Madrone’s. Not to mention they also produce one of America’s most essential white wines.

What the heck kind of wine person goes out to California’s vaunted Napa Valley and says, “Yeah, I’ll make a Riesling?” Currently, there’s only 87 acres of vineyard dedicated to growing Riesling in Napa (there’s about 4,000 total acres of Riesling in California as compared to 98,000 of Chardonnay). Well, it happened—at the height of the hippie era, not that this necessarily has anything to do with anything. In 1970, Stuart Smith, 22 years old and armed with a B.A. in Economics from UC Berkeley, looked up to the mountains in the Spring Mountain District and bought the latitude 38.532437 and longitude 122.548480 vineyard property that is still the family’s today.

“Stu” Smith, in 1972, chose which varietals he would plant based on the exposures of the mountainous slopes of the vineyards (the peak height of the property reaches 1900 feet): east would be Riesling; north would be Chardonnay; and south and west would be Cabernet Sauvignon. And happily these grapes would grow among the 120-year-old olive trees, California black bears, and other wildlife that exists on the site. “These vines are our friends,” says Stu.

The vineyards of Smith-Madrone are dry-farmed, and Stu is a pioneer of this farming practice as applied to mountain sites.

Mountain Cabernet Sauvignons from Napa Valley can easily run you into the three-figures. “Handcrafted” is a shopworn term in the wine world, but in the case of mountain vineyards, good luck getting big mechanical harvesters not to tip over up there. What it takes to grow great grapes and make great wine around here is true grit. At $50 per bottle, the Smith-Madrone Cabernet is true grit at true value.

For those interested in tasting how a mountain Chardonnay is different in its expression than an archetypal Napa Chardonnay, the Smith-Madrone mountain Chardonnay is a must-have and, again, a relative steal.

And what about that Riesling? The Smith-Madrone remains one of the most inspirational products in American wine. There’s a retro-trendy belief nowadays that California’s terroir is one in which Riesling thrives. Riesling was actually one of the most popular white grape plantings of the Napa of the 1800s—pre-Phylloxera armageddon—and we are on the cusp of a new movement to define what “California Riesling” means today. But, to have a vision of the future of Riesling’s importance to the identity of Napa Valley in 1972 like Stuart Smith did—well, that makes him a kind of Nikola Tesla of the wine world. The Smith-Madrone Riesling is a contemporary American classic and stands as one of our most essential white wines—that everyone can experience at less than 30 bucks.

The three wines reviewed below—Riesling, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon—represent the core of Smith-Madrone’s lineup. And these wine represent what’s best about exploring the ‘hidden” corners of Napa Valley. No train or buses to get here… just go your own way.


Rapturously rich, with ripe tropical fruit (lychee, mango), peach nectar and orange blossom notes and a touch of flintiness and minerality. Grapes are grown on steep hillsides, like they do in Germany and Alsace—home to the world’s greatest Rieslings. Man, this is the sophisticated, structured and vivid stuff of dreams. Dry and focused, but also warm, ripe and finishing on the vibrant acidity of citrus—great mouthfeel from beginning to end. This is Riesling going for character and longevity versus quick-pleasing and obvious, like too many American Rieslings of yesterday. Iconoclastic, singular and fiercely independent expression of American Riesling from a place you don’t expect Riesling to be made.


Mountain Chardonnay that’s vivacious, rich and footloose and free. Its color is a brilliant goldenrod, its character broad, buttery smooth, full-bodied and overflowing with flavor, with notes of jackfruit, ripe pineapple, wax, lemon verbena and toffee. Just a ton of personality. Impressively big and bold while structurally solid and high class. The wine’s finish is lengthy with broad tannins—stone fruit notes linger well into the next sip. A Napa Chardonnay that far, far exceeds in quality to its price point.


When you find mountain Napa Cab that doesn’t run into the three-figure dollar amount and is this good, you celebrate. Yes, you celebrate by opening a bottle, but more importantly, you celebrate that this kind of gift exists for mankind. Oh, that great mountain nose of rich, fleshy plum, wild dark berries, violets and lavender. These notes carry through onto the palate—again, rich, sumptuous and fleshy—with additional notes of coffee, dark chocolate and black pepper emerging. Smooth, oily texture and super-fine tannins along with that familiar mountain Cab savoriness. Loads of character here, and a quiet, rugged passion behind the wine is palpable.

2013 Cabernet…one of California’s great wines

Nittany Epicurean considers the 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon:

….Smith-Madrone…part of my ongoing series of discovery of some of the great wines of California was for a white wine from the 2014 vintage. The 2014 Chardonnay grown, produced & bottled by Smith-Madrone demonstrated a deft balance between oak and fruit. Let’s head back to Smith-Madrone now for a red wine from the prior vintage:

2013 Cabernet Sauvignon produced & bottled by Smith-Madrone (St. Helena, California).

This wine is mostly cabernet sauvignon (82%) blended with cabernet franc (12%) and merlot (6%). The fruit was grown in Napa’s Spring Mountain District. Following fermentation, the wine was aged in French oak barrels (75% new) for 18 months. It comes in at 14.2% ABV.

The wine showed a dark ruby color. Blackberry, raspberry, currant, mossy earth and oak all arrived on the nose. Blackberry, raspberry, black cherry, licorice, oak and eucalyptus followed on a palate dominated by dark berry fruit. The wine exhibited good structure and length, along with soft tannins. This wine would do well paired with a marinated and grilled flank steak.

While this wine* is no longer available at the winery, it can still be purchased from retailers for $45-$60/bottle. You can purchase the 2014 vintage of this wine for $52 at the winery or directly from the winery’s website.

“Gangbusters” and “lip-smacking”

The Drunken Cyclist takes a look in a blog post from December 14, 2017:


Over the past couple of years, I have seen a decided shift in my approach to California wine. Up until relatively recently, I kept an open mind to all wines from the Golden State as long as they were not from Napa. I had become convinced, with ample justification, that wineries in Napa Valley had jumped the proverbial shark, commanding $200-300 a bottle (or more) for wines that were made to largely impress the critics.

More recently, I have tasted more wines from this country’s “premier” wine growing region. Wines that, while certainly not “inexpensive”, did not require a significant dent in the savings to purchase.

The first of those was Smith-Madrone:

2014 Smith-Madrone Riesling Napa Valley Spring Mountain District: OK, that’s it. This is the fourth or fifth American Riesling that I have had in recent weeks that proves my theory—American Riesling producers have caught up to the Old World. Perhaps more than any variety, makers of Riesling in this country seem to get it: it is all about the acidity. This Smith-Madrone (one of the most under-rated Napa producers) has great citrus, melon, and a touch of petrol (ever-so-slight) followed by lip-smacking tartness and a weighty  mouthfeel. Gangbusters. Outstanding. 91-93 Points.

2014 Smith-Madrone Chardonnay Spring Mountain, Napa Valley:  For some stupid reason, I have never visited Smith-Madrone. Perhaps it is because it is a relatively new winery (that comment is dripping in sarcasm, it was founded in 1971). Maybe it is because I essentially gave up on Napa Valley several years ago as monstrosity after McWinery was constructed along Route 29. Recently, I have found a few reasons to reconsider the Valley that made the world notice American wine, and Smith-Madrone is right there at the top of the list. This is decidedly a California Chardonnay with plenty of fruit, and plenty of oak (100% new French), but this wine can handle it. Why? Well, it is grown on a mountain where there is a significant diurnal shift, thus maintaining considerable acidity, putting all that oak in its place. Great lemon curd, buttered popcorn, and wet rock. This might not be the ideal wine for the ABC crowd, it is certainly delicious. Outstanding. 90-92 Points.

2013 Smith-Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon Spring Mountain Napa Valley: 82% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Cabernet Franc, 6% Merlot. As I mentioned above, I have never visited the winery, yet I am a huge fan of Smith-Madrone. Why? Simply, they over-deliver. Great wines, modest prices. This is a good example: all kinds of pepper on the nose (white, black, red, and green) with plenty of fruit on the palate, but balanced with acidity and earth. In the age of bombastic Napa Cabs, Smith-Madrone seems to realize that wine is part of the meal, not the sole focus. Outstanding. 91-93 Points.


Continuing to Embrace Napa with Smith-Madrone and Addendum


2013 Cab in a Forbes Top 10 list

Katie Kelly Bell chooses her favorite wines of 2017:


Americans are drinking more wine than ever before (and with the daily news feed it isn’t hard to understand why). Consumption spikes during the holiday season–duh, but it is worth noting that last year alone we guzzled almost 239 million bottles from the week of Thanksgiving through the week of Christmas. Reds and red blends are most popular and they dominate my list of the ten best for 2017. This year’s list features two wines from the East Coast, one Aussie, a life-changing Gewurztraminer and two terrific wines for less than $25. This is always a hard list to edit because I tasted more than ten stunning wines this past year (in fact I tasted close to 1000 wines in 2017), but in an effort to be useful to readers, I endeavored to cite wines that are still available online or in stores.


Smith-Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa, CA, 2013: Brothers Charles and Stuart Smith are chief cook and bottle washers at Smith-Madrone—managing the winemaking and grape-growing–they tend smaller estate plots high atop the steep terrain of Spring Mountain in Napa. Blended with 12% Cabernet Franc, this wine from an epic California vintage shows supple, smooth tannins threaded with almost juicy-savory black cherry and warm spices, while currant and cassis sing in the background. Authentic and a trifle rustic. The almost entirely dry-farmed vines grow on steep slopes at elevations of 1,400 to 1,900 feet. Lovers of Smith-Madrone should also look for their reserve label: Cook’s Flat Reserve.

2013 Cabernet is ‘noteworthy’

TheFermentedFruit chooses favorite Cabernet Sauvignons:

As the vestiges of summer become nothing more than warm fading memories, what do you look forward to most? For me, the cooler weather brings with it a few of my favorite things. From watching the spectacular fall foliage transform the landscape, to sipping warm chai lattes in the brisk sunny weather or scouring the pumpkin patch with my girls for the finest specimens possible. But there’s yet another pastime of paramount importance to me… hunting for the Best Cabernet Under $100!

As the holiday season kicks off in earnest (can you believe it’s almost December?!) and we transition from crisp, refreshing whites to robust, warming reds, I thought readers might be wondering which Cabernets were worthy of their consideration. I hope you’ll find this compilation of the best Cabernet under $100 resourceful as you celebrate with friends and family this season – there’s something for every budget!

Smith-Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2013

A consistent overachiever, Smith-Madrone’s Cabernet Sauvignons are noteworthy for their uncommon combination of terroir-driven restraint and sheer value. Founder Stu Smith is a pioneer of dry farming, and his 200 acre property boasts 34 acres of vines planted in the rocky, hillside soils of Spring Mountain at elevations ranging between 1,300 and 2,000 feet. I wrote about how much I enjoyed Stu’s stylish 2011 Cabernet here, and the 2013 is even better. Boasting more density and extract, the rich core of black cherry and anise remains grounded by savory notions of sage, graphite and white pepper, with just enough acid to maintain ideal balance. This remains one of the finest Cabernet values in Napa.

2013 Cabernet one of Wine & Spirits’ 100 Best Wines

Honored that the 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon was chosen as one of Wine & Spirits Magazine’s 100 Best Wines in their Winter 2017 Buying Guide:

95 points: The Smith brothers hit a home run with their 2013, their mountaintop vines producing a cabernet that rises far above the grapey purple fruit and chocolate-oak richness of so many wines of the vintage. Instead, it tastes like freshly picked raspberries, their bright flavor structured by mountain-grown grape-skin tannins. There’s a pear-like shape to the wine, plump and delicious as it fills the mouth with flavor. Here’s a Napa Valley cabernet to make you smile, whether you open it now or any time over the next ten years. (1,388 cases).

“Impressive” are our current releases

WineSplashing tasted….

A winery name that may not be familiar with….yet! But a name you will remember once you put these wines to your lips and palate. Smith-Madrone Winery is located about 30 minutes outside of St. Helena, California, and worth the drive to taste the wonderful nectar of the gods here! This winery is not the new kid on the block and was actually founded in 1971 by owner Stuart Smith and is still family owned and operated to this day. Charles F. Smith III is the Winemaker and Sam Smith is the Assistant Winemaker here. The vineyards here are all “dry farmed” so there is no irrigation and Mother Nature is allowed to take her course allowing the varietals to grow bold and concentrated. We sampled all 3 Smith-Madrone varietals and all were amazing!

2014 Napa Valley Riesling – This beautiful Riesling is all estate grown in the Spring Mountain District using 42 year old vines. It is 100% varietal and fermented in stainless steel tanks. Aromas of honeysuckle, orange blossom, lychee and citrus fruits. Medium bodied across the palate with a bright acidity. Ripe flavors of white peach, Asian Pear, citrus and a hint of minerality at the finish. Pair with Asian foods, fresh salads, baked chicken or ham, and seafood. 94 Points!

2014 Napa Valley Chardonnay – An elegant, exotic Chardonnay that was all estate grown in the Spring Mountain District using 42 year old vines. This Chardonnay is 100% varietal and was fermented 9 months in new French oak barrels. Wonderful aromas of bright pear, apple, almonds and toffee. Medium to full bodied across the palate with a creamy mouthfeel. Enticing flavors of tropical fruits, citrus, hints of coconut, vanilla and a long, toasty oak finish. Pair with Chicken Alfredo, grilled chicken or seafood, pasta’s with cream sauces, and medium to strong cheeses. 94 Points! .

2013 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon – This wine is actually a blend of 82% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Cabernet Franc, and 6% Merlot. It is 100% estate grown in the Spring Mountain District and was fermented in French oak for 18 months. Garnet to violet color in the glass. Aromas of blackberries, black pepper, ripe cherries, and hints of oak and baking spices. Full bodied across the palate with good, grippy tannins. Robust flavors of black cherries, blackberries, red berries, savory herbs, pepper, and a long vanilla oak finish. A very refined and distinguished wine with a good tannin structure. Pair with grilled red meats, beef, pasta with hearty tomato based sauces, filet mignon, and stronger cheeses. 93 Points!

All 3 of these Smith-Madrone wines are very impressive and wines that I would purchase again and again! Perfect for any occasion from black tie affairs, to family get-togethers, or a great gift for the wine lover. If your local store does not carry these wines, ask them to bring them in for you. Or check out the winery’s website at and see about purchasing these wines online. Cheers from WineSplashing!

2013 Cabernet gets a ‘big recommendation’

Dave Razzari tastes the 2013 Cabernet:

Settling into my Saturday with this 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon from the Spring Mountain District of Napa Valley. This is an old school family winery that was founded in 1971 by brothers Stuart and Charles Smith. Tastes of black currant, mocha and earthy tobacco are led to by a nose of pine forest, black cherry and a cigar box. Smith Madrone holds tastings by appointment in St Helena so book one and visit. This is a big recommendation of mine!

Vinography looks at the Chardonnay and Cabernet

Vinography Unboxed: Week of August 6, 2017

Hello, and welcome to my periodic dig through the samples pile. I’m pleased to bring you the latest installment of Vinography Unboxed, where I highlight some of the better bottles that have crossed my doorstep recently.

This week’s wines included a couple of very interesting wines….

The real star this week, however, was the current release Cabernet from Smith-Madrone, a small producer high on the slopes of Napa’s Spring Mountain, where Stu and Charlie Smith craft honest, unpretentious wines with an old-school approach. The perfection of the 2013 vintage helps take what is usually an excellent wine and push it into outstanding territory. Truly fantastic, if you appreciate Napa Cabernet with poise and restraint, you’ll swoon over this elegant bottling. Highly recommended.

2014 Smith-Madrone Chardonnay, Spring Mountain District, Napa, California
Light yellow-gold in color, this wine smells of buttered popcorn and cold cream. In the mouth, brilliantly juicy flavors of lemon and pink grapefruit are shot through with the saline notes of melted butter and kelp. Lovely pink grapefruit pith lingers with a salty snap in the finish. Great acidity. 14.3% alcohol.

2013 Smith-Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon, Spring Mountain District, Napa, California
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cherry and tobacco and espresso with a touch of green herbs. In the mouth, beautiful cherry and tobacco leaf flavors bounce with excellent acidity. Hints of graphite and leather and mint swirl in the billowy cloud of fine grained tannins. Poised and elegant, this is a wine that will go two or three decades without blinking. Fantastic. 14.2% alcohol.