Rick Fillmore takes a look at the current releases:
Meg Houston Maker takes a look at the 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon:
A fruit-scented Cabernet from Spring Mountain, estate-grown at 1,800 feet. It offers aromas of cassis, black cherries, and black raspberries, but also juniper leaf and cedar bark, a crackle of black pepper. The weight is light, with a blaze of red cherry at the mid-palate. There are more black fruit notes here, too: blackberries and their seeds, coffee, cedar-earth, savory black currant. The finish is grippy, vigorously so, but the wine has the acidity, tannic structure, and fruit to carry it forward, and the tea-staining of age will taste good on it.
Grape-Experiences takes a long look…..
The People, The Place, The Wines
Nestled on Spring Mountain Road, a mere 30-minute drive from St. Helena, is Smith-Madrone Vineyards & Winery, a 200- acre ranch partly planted as a vineyard over one hundred years ago. Where California black bears and other wildlife once flourished, gigantic 120-year-old Picholine olive trees now thrive on land that overlooks Napa Valley and Napa Valley State Park. World class vineyards do, too.
As an homage to the realized dreams of Stuart Smith, Managing Partner and Enologist and Charles Smith III, Winemaker, as well as the distinguished Madrone tree that grows throughout the estate, the name Smith-Madrone was given to this winery, one that is producing some of the finest examples of Riesling, Chardonnay, and Cabernet Sauvignon I’ve tasted.
The Eclectic Smith Family
But first. Who are the intriguing people behind these notable wines?
Having just received his B.A. in Economics from UC-Berkeley, a young Stuart Smith entered the wine industry as he took classes towards his Master’s in Viticulture and Enology at UC-Davis. Through a family friend, he discovered a forest on the most remote and highest point of Spring Mountain, an area that had not only been part of a vineyard but was a segment of the wagon trail route between Napa and Santa Rosa. In May 1971, Stuart Smith and a partnership of family and friends purchased that land now known as Smith-Madrone Vineyards & Winery. His leadership and expertise in the wine industry is legendary.
The Winemaker and “general factotum” for Smith-Madrone Vineyards and Winery is Charles F. Smith. In 1971, he obtained his teaching certificate after attending UC-Berkeley and San Francisco State University. But the wine life beckoned and Charles Smith joined his brother, Stuart, at Smith-Madrone in 1973.
Don’t assume that the wine industry consumes the time of these gentlemen; after reading about their everything-but-wine activities, I certainly won’t. Just as rich, broad, and interesting as their wines are the lives of these brothers.
Stuart Smith serves as auctioneer for the Omaha Nebraska charity auction each year and has chaired the 1986 and 2006 Napa Valley Wine Auctions. He served on the Napa River Watershed Task Force for many years and was appointed by the Board of Supervisors to sit on Napa County General Plan Steering Committee in 2006. He’s an avid canoeist, Boy Scout supporter, and family man with five children and two grandchildren, all of whom I hope do or eventually will appreciate good wine.
In his “wild oats years” (his words, not mine!), Charles Smith held jobs as a probation officer, a furniture mover, and taxi cab driver. He’s a top-notch croquet player who has represented the United States in international competitions. Apparently, his dubious claim to fame is that he was a co-participant in the longest single game (over 7 hours!) in the history of the World Croquet Federation, a game that was played against the Japanese champion in the 1992 World Championships.
Sam Smith, Assistant Winemaker, holds a degree from UC-Santa Barbara. Prior to his stint at Smith-Madrone, Sam traveled extensively, worked harvests at a variety of wineries, and held positions as a sommelier at international restaurants. A Napa Valley native, his athletic background on the football field, tennis court, and golf course allows him be a crucial player on the winemaking team at Smith-Madrone.
The Unique Vineyards
34 acres of estate vineyards, some dating to 1972, are at elevations between 1300 and 2000 feet on the steep slopes of Spring Mountain. For the most part, the rocky soils are deep-red Aiken Stoney Clay loam that are volcanic-based, well-drained, and deep. I found it interesting (and the soil geek in me was thrilled) that the geology of the area is the Franciscan Assemblage that includes “altered mafic volcanic rocks, deep-sea radiolarian cherts, sandstones, limestones, serpentines, shales, and high pressure metamorphic rocks, all of them faulted and mixed in a seemingly chaotic manner as a result of tectonic plate activity”.
To establish a vineyard, the team employs drip irrigation. Yet, Stuart Smith pioneered dry farming in the area and now, older vines “send their roots deep to search for water and nutrients, only producing the precise amount of fruit exactly appropriate for their vigor, small berries with a large skin-to-juice ratio” is used. Stuart Smith explains…
The Exceptional Wines of Smith-Madrone
All wines are produced from grapes cultivated in the estate vineyards surrounding the winery atop Spring Mountain. Stuart Smith chose specific slopes with differing exposures for each varietal: Riesling grapes are planted on east facing vineyards, Chardonnay can be found on cool, north-facing slopes, and Cabernet Sauvignon thrives on flat parcels with southern and western exposures.
At Smith-Madrone our goal is to make artisanal wines which are distinctive and are an expression of both the vintage and us, as vintners, but above all else, are wines which bring pleasure to the senses. Every year our wine is made from the same vineyards, pruned by the same people in the same way, cultivated in exactly the same manner and harvested at similar levels of maturity, yet Mother Nature stamps each vintage with a unique set of flavors, senses and character. Vintage dating is a celebration of that uniqueness and diversity. Smith-Madrone Vineyards & Winery
If the goal of those at Smith-Madrone is to craft wines that bring pleasure to the senses, these incredible wines deliver and that mission is achieved.
Smith-Madrone Riesling 2014 – Absolutely delicious, this bright and lively 100% Riesling prompted several “Wows!” and more than a few “Riesling from Napa?” remarks when I poured tastes for friends. All of us were delighted and rightly so. Fresh aromas of lemon, yellow flowers, orange peel, stone fruit, and minerality burst from the glass. Clean and gracious, notes of juicy citrus and minerality, zesty acidity and a round mouthfeel were dominant with each sip. The finish on this crisp, dry Riesling? Long and luscious.
Smith-Madrone Chardonnay 2014 – I was blown away by the taste sensations of this glorious Chardonnay that spent nine months in 100% new French oak. Elegant aromas of lemon, juicy citrus, apples and pears enticed and I was anxious for that first sip. On the palate, I discovered notes of tropical fruit such as melon and citrus, brilliant acidity, oak, and a creamy, buttery texture. All led to an exceptionally long finish and I savored every moment.
Smith-Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 – Bold, yet light and refreshing, I remarked after a few velvet-like sips that this luscious Cabernet, aged in French oak for 18 months, is one that I could drink anytime, anywhere, with or without food. Consisting of 82% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Cabernet Franc, and 6% Merlot, I was mesmerized. Intense aromas of deep rich black cherries, freshly picked blueberries, vanilla, and a dash of black pepper led to flavors of dark fruit compote, baking spice, wet earth, and savory herbs. Of course, soft tannins and lively acidity provided the foundation to a wine that should be in everyone’s glass.
A tour and tasting at Smith-Madrone Vineyards & Winery, with one of the Smith brothers as your guide, should be on your must-see list when you’re planning a visit to Napa Valley. (You can make an appointment here.) Be sure to savor a bit of Napa Valley history, the stories that Stuart or Charles will share, and each sip of some outstanding wines.
The July issue of The Wine Enthusiast looked at Napa Valley’s mountain wine growing regions.
The 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon was reviewed:
93 points: From dry-farmed estate vines, this savory, classically styled red is dusty in cedar, dried herb and peppercorn, incredibly inviting and nuanced. It speaks quietly of the forest which surrounds its estate, a complex, balanced landscape of subtle, elegant flavor and intriguing length. Editors’ Choice.
Here is an excerpt from the article:
Mastering Napa’s Mountain Appellations
Discover what links Cabernet Sauvignons from Napa Valley’s highest mountains: Howell, Diamond, Spring, Mount Veeder and Atlas Peak.
BY VIRGINIE BOONE
Early in the history of the Napa Valley, before the absurdity of Prohibition, grape growers raised their sights. With many hailing from Europe, they understood how wine grapes love to dig deep into hillsides and mountains.
Those pioneers—Jacob Schram, the Beringers, Charles Lemme and the Christian Brothers—gave way by the 1950s to a new generation. Such innovators as the McCreas, Al and Boots Brounstein, Dr. Jan Krupp, Piero Antinori, the Smith brothers, Bob Travers, Sir Peter Newton and others believed there should be distinct appellations for five of the Napa Valley’s highest mountains: Howell, Diamond, Spring, Mount Veeder and Atlas Peak.
After decades—sometimes centuries—of toil, the Cabernets from these hard-to-work vineyards are now reaching their peak potential.
What links the Cabernet Sauvignons from these mountains are their intensity and structure. Mountain fruit is often compact and concentrated, its berries tiny from seasons of struggle and loaded with powerful tannins that take time to unravel. There’s also a distinct spectrum of earthiness in these wines, a product of their wilderness of forest and rock.
Mountain harvests tend to happen later, which allows winemakers to pick for flavor and at maturities that are ideal for Cabernet Sauvignon. Here’s how these mountain appellations within the Napa Valley differ, and how they don’t.
Spring Mountain District
Hidden in plain sight above the town of St. Helena on the eastern side of the Mayacamas, the Spring Mountain District became an official appellation in 1993. The thick presence of forest and the springs throughout the mountain give the area its name and personality, a world away from the valley below.
The appellation lies mostly along the winding Spring Mountain Road, definitely off the beaten track. At its top, it connects with the border of Sonoma County, near the home of Pride Vineyards which straddles both Napa and Sonoma.
The region’s Cabernet Sauvignon roots run deep. It’s said that La Perla Vineyard was the first planted here, by Charles Lemme in 1874. The land has been continuously farmed, and even withstood Prohibition because it was hidden so far up in the woods. It’s now part of Spring Mountain Vineyard, and the original stone La Perla Winery still stands.
The Beringer brothers planted nearby in the 1880s. But phylloxera and Prohibition put a stop to Spring Mountain’s rise until the 1940s and ’50s, when the McCrea family founded Stony Hill Winery. They planted on steep hillside vineyards terraced between thickets of trees, a common theme.
Spanning 500 to 2,600 feet in elevation, the appellation is 5,000 acres. Less than 10 percent of that acreage is planted to grapevines; most is steep and forested. Sedimentary and volcanic loam soils are the norm, typified by high drainage and low fertility.
Newton, Cain, Keenan, Barnett, Smith-Madrone, Terra Valentine, Spring Mountain Vineyard and York Creek Cellars are among the longstanding adventurers here. Lokoya now bases itself here in a grand tasting estate that surrounds its Yverdon Vineyard at 2,100 feet above sea level.
“Complex and textural would be my summary,” says Newton Vineyards’ Rob Mann of the Cabernet here. “Spring Mountain has an incredibly diverse combination of soil types, aspect, slope, altitude, varietal mix, planting density and vine age. Within one vineyard, depending on the site, you may have four weeks difference in ripening from one plot to the next, planted to the same variety.”
West-facing slopes can be barren and dry, supporting low scrub and live oak, and winemakers must be careful not to let fruit cook in these areas. An adjacent east-facing slope 100 feet away can be cooler and more humid, supporting oak and redwood trees. Slopes are often too steep and cool to ripen red grape varieties.
“The wines are rather intellectual and red-fruit based, with an alluring textural and savory structure, and can be incredibly complex,” Mann says.
In addition to Cabernet Sauvignon and other Bordeaux reds, the land is planted to such varieties as Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Sémillon, Petite Sirah and even traditional Port grapes like Touriga Nacional, Tinto Cao and Tinta Roriz.
Smith-Madrone’s Stu Smith and his brother, Charlie, settled on Spring Mountain in 1970, intrigued by mountain grapes. They were preceded by Stony Hill, which set up shop in 1943 off Highway 29. Around 1952, it added a commercial winery to the property, planting Chardonnay, Riesling, Gewürztraminer and Sémillon, varieties the family still tends.
RockinRed blog ponders Napa Valley Cabs:
Why Cabernet Sauvignon is the King of Napa Valley
Cabernet Sauvignon is the king of the red wine jungle. Bordeaux may reign supreme in old world wines, but when it comes to new world Cabs, Napa Valley is tops. The first grapes were planted in Napa Valley by George Calvert Yount in 1839. Charles Krug is credited with establishing Napa’s first commercial winery in 1861. Napa experienced ups and downs in the early years due to phylloxera, Prohibition, etc; however, in 1944 seven ambitious Napa Valley vintners realized unity was their way to global recognition. These seven Napa Valley icons signed a formal agreement establishing Napa Valley Vintner and in so doing drafted another declaration of independence; a statement to the Bordeaux loving world that the US also produces first class Cabernet Sauvignon wines.
It took the world 32 more years to recognize Napa Valley as a top wine producing region. In 1976’s Judgement of Paris, the French judges not only awarded both a Napa Valley Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon as best in class, beating out a Burgundy and Bordeaux respectively. In 1985, famed wine critic Robert Parker awarded a 1985 Groth NV Cabernet Sauvignon 100 points, from that point on Napa Cabs have been an ongoing success story.
So why does Cabernet Sauvignon, and other Bordeaux varieties, perform so well in Napa Valley? Cabernet Sauvignon is a black grape variety containing high acidity and tannins. Typical aromas and flavors include black fruits, herbaceous notes, and additional oak driven earthiness such as tobacco, licorice, spices, and vanilla. It grows well in moderate to hot climates and has the potential for great age-ability. Napa Valley’s climate is influenced by its proximity to the Pacific Ocean and the ranges of mountains that surround it. It experiences a long growing season of sunny, warm days with cool nights, allowing the grapes to ripen slowly and evenly. Within Napa Valley lie an array of microclimates that vary greatly depending on geographic location and elevation. In addition to the many microclimates, Napa Valley also contains a mosaic of soil types. Soils range from volcanic to marine origin, in total the Napa Valley Vintners report the AVA contains half the world’s soil orders, with more than 100 variations! This is why Cabernet Sauvignon accounts for 40% of Napa’s total production and 55% of crop value.
The diversity within Napa Valley is recognized through sub-AVAs. Each of the 16 sub-AVA represents a unique microclimate within the greater Valley. I wish I had 16 wines to share with you to highlight the unique qualities of each sub-AVA. Instead, below are six Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignons that are examples of the quality style produced in Napa.
2014 Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley USA ($58)
2013 Chateau Montelena The Montelena Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley USA ($160)
2014 Grgich Hills Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley USA ($63)
2014 Rombauer Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley USA ($55)
2013 Smith-Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley USA ($50): Crafted of 82% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Cabernet Franc, and 6% Merlot from grapes grown in Spring Mountain District estate vineyards; medium+ ruby; pronounced aromas of fresh picked violets, fresh picked blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, currants, and plums, dried mint, forest floor, cassis, black pepper, sweet tobacco and spice notes, licorice, minerality, and vanilla; incredibly balanced wine that meets the palate with silkiness of juicy fruit, as it moves across the palate the silkiness morphs into a dusty earth with medium+ acidity and dusty tannins, the influences of the volcanic soil are evident, elegance and restraint are axioms at Smith-Madrone this wine is no exception, full body, long finish, drink now with a decant or cellar properly and enjoy in a few years.
Other than The Montelena Estate Cab, these are reasonably priced Napa Valley Cabernets. Land and grapes come at a premium in Napa; however, you can enjoy these more wallet friendly wines (depending on your budget) to experience the quality that Napa Valley delivers in Cabernet Sauvignon.
On June 30 The International Wine Review looks at the current releases:
Smith-Madrone is a small winery located in the Spring Mountain District of Napa Valley. Founded in 1971 by Stuart Smith, managing partner and enologist, the winery’s vineyards, which are part of a 200-acre ranch sit at between 1,300 and 2,000 feet on steep slopes which range up to 34%. Its vineyards are dry-farmed and produce about 4000 cases of estate-bottled wine annually.
Brothers Stuart and Charles Smith are the vineyard managers and winemakers of Smith-Madrone Winery. Stuart studied viticulture at UC Davis and developed special expertise in dry-farming. Originally a K-12 teacher, Charles joined his brother in the vineyard in 1973.
Smith-Madrone wines are well made and pleasant drinking. Their portfolio consists of four wines: Riesling, Chardonnay, and Cabernet Sauvignon and the super premium Cook’s Flat Reserve. This is the IWR’s first review of three of these wines, and we are impressed with the quality of winemaking. Cook’s Flat Reserve, not reviewed here, is their top-of-the-line super premium proprietary Bordeaux blend made in tiny quantities in selected vintages. The next vintage of Cook’s Flat Reserve, which is not yet released, will be 2012.
Smith-Madrone 2014 Riesling Napa Valley: 90 points: The 2014 Riesling from Spring Mountain is light straw in color and highly aromatic with a floral nose, stone fruit and up front tropical fruitiness. Medium-weight with good density, it is easy drinking and offers considerable pleasure.
Smith-Madrone 2014 Chardonnay Napa Valley: 92 points: The 2014 Chardonnay is a delicious wine, perfectly balanced, lean and beautifully sculpted with a rich mouth feel. It seamlessly combines ripe orchard fruit and toasted oak in a lovely format that is very food friendly.
Smith-Madrone 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley: 93 points: The 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon is sourced from the Smith-Madrone Spring Mountain estate. It exhibits dense, rustic, lush mountain flavors of black currant and cassis with hints of red berries. A beautifully crafted wine, it reveals firm round tannins and a persistent finish. It is drinking well now but will improve with age and last up to a decade.
June 20, 2017: Bill Eyer at Cuvee Corner takes a look at the wines:
WINES OF THE WEEK: SMITH-MADRONE UNCORKED
“You can crash my car, You can strip my break, You can make me holler, But don’t forget to make me shake” ~ Les Paul and Friends, Beth Hart
There’s no doubt I’m a fan of substance, soul, and terroir driven wines. There’s also no doubt that I’m a huge fan of the blues. Beth Hart delivers a performance that will not only make you holler, it will also make you shake. I’m also a big fan of mountain wines from the Napa Valley, like the two pictured above from the Spring Mountain District. I’ve been wanting to sample Smith-Madrone for quite some time now, since the day when I was the Wine Steward for the Vons in La Jolla, continuing to offer this wine to the customer base I built.
Smith-Madrone, founded in the early seventies, is a small production winery, making just about 4000 cases or so each year. As pioneers of dry-farming, all wines produced are estate grown and are estate bottled. SM is a 200-acre ranch in the Spring Mountain District. They can be found in the Saint Helena zip code, in the Spring Mountain District, with vineyards found at elevations of 1300 feet and 2000 feet. All tasting are by appointment only and are limited to just a few folks each available day, tours are hosted by a member of the Smith family. Their wines can be purchased via DTC, they’re found in a few select top tier wine shops, and chain stores via their distributor Maddalena Vineyard Brands. I’ll have to visit the next time I’m in town, it looks amazing.
Smith-Madrone Riesling 2014: The vines are grown on Eastern exposures, honoring the international steep slope tradition. The age of the vines is 42 years, very mature, giving outstanding depth and complexity, in my opinion, not achievable by vines in their early leaf years. A wine that is found widely in distribution, all along the west coast in chain stores, with an upper price range, most consumers are not willing to splurge to obtain. I found the color in the glass to be light, slightly greenish to yellow hay, clear clarity. The aromas were aromatic and delivered the classic Riesling characteristics. A good amount of petrol, a bit carbonated, stone fruits like apricot, lime rind, wet stone, and white peach flesh. The taste was a bit off-dry, tho the acidity was crisp, the body was medium and the tannins were moderate, well-integrated. On the palate, kiwi slices, grated lime rind, wet stone minerality, stone fruits, apricot, peach, and nectarine. The finish was long and persistent. I could recommend this wine, especially those seeking to pair this wine with spicy cuisines, like Thai food. This wine is recommended, my score, 90 points.
Smith-Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon 2013: The Cabernet Sauvignon vines are grown across southern and western exposures, 1800 foot elevation, 40 plus-year-old vines. This wine sporting a left-bank blend, 82% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Cabernet Franc, and the balance is Merlot. In a few words, this wine is a masterpiece of winemaking and terroir-driven distinction. Solidly a wine you could lay down for the long-term, but immediate enjoyment is within reach, with just a few years in the bottle. You really can’t wine much better than this, and their 2013 effort is rock solid great. This wine is one spectacular ride to tasty town; one where you’ll be quite sad once the last drop has fallen from the bottle.
Even though this bottle I had sampled this wine over a couple of days, [then spit] had been opened the day before, but was never decanted, however, I’d recommend decanting to fully enjoy all this wine’s generous charms. Soul and substance in spades. Nothing but silk, lush but not ripe, structured but not rigid, this wine is like a painting, it takes time for it to evolve in the glass. It could still easily go another 10 years if you wanted to lay it down for a few more years. This wine had unbelievable depth and elegance, like so few wines, do. The finish is long and lasting. So yes, in this case, this wine is well worth the price of admission. This wine is highly recommended, my score is 94 points.
The next time you find yourself in the Napa Valley, you should make a point to discover the wonderful Mountain appellations like Spring Mountain, and their neighboring Diamond Mountain and of course what would a mountain-top experience be like without making an appointment with a few producers on Howell Mountain as well. Once you visit of any these AVA’s you may find it hard to go back to the wineries who simply dwell in the valley. Until next time folks, sip long and prosper cheers!
SoifKnows tastes the 2013 Cabernet:
One whiff of this and I knew I was in old-school territory. Creamy mountain conifer, madrone and eucalyptus. Loamy red soil and mint. An apple core–browning–and worn gloves in the cab of a truck unfit for town many years ago. Deep cherry and pomegranate roll off in clouds of tapenade and horse-hair with a clear, steely breeze these mountain appellations pack in so effortlessly. Fresh and alive, I nailed it at 14-2, the bright brilliance of such numbers complementing and caressing the rich ripe underpinnings of a wine mind-bogglingly good, palate-stimulating, and effortless to drink at the same time. Spring Mountain–tiny as it is–represents AGAIN… as I have found them to do over and over.
The 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon was reviewed in the August issue of Wine & Spirits Magazine:
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.
Rich Cook at WineReviewOnline considers the Cabernet Sauvignon and Riesling:
95 points: Classic Cabernet from masters of the art, and priced way under its competition. Blackberry, cassis, dried herbs and hints of pepper and clove are already clear in aroma and flavor profiles, and serious backbone promises to make for graceful aging — much like its makers.
94 points: Smith-Madrone sticks with their Riesling planting because they love what it does, and you should love it as well. Pay no mind to the California Riesling haters — this is the real deal, delivering fresh pear, stonefruit, white flowers and mixed citrus in a crisp, dry, refreshing package that will make you wonder why every California winery isn’t making and promoting Riesling. Those in the know can tell you that dry Riesling goes with just about anything at the table — and that it ages well. Cheers to the Smith brothers for ignoring alleged market trends and continuing to make this stellar wine.