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http://www.vineration.com/california/smith-madrone

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

HIDDEN NAPA VALLEY | SMITH-MADRONE WINERY

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.

RIESLING 2014

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.

CHARDONNAY 2014

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.

CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2013

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.

http://corkscrewerreport.com/hidden-napa-valley-smith-madrone-winery/

“If you want to THINK about your Chardonnay…”

From SoifKnows, Stephen McConnell, January 11, 2018:

Golden yellow throwing big petrol coal-fire and rich melon fruit into your face. Dusky petrichor, smoky brittle, dense and filthily fruited with all the sultry nectar chalky nuance and bitter applesauce a wine can muster. Buttery and dense in the nose, with the acid bite apparent before the first taste.

One of my favorite Napa Valley chards, and the REASON IS: it goes with red meat better than a lot of red wines. I have trotted this out on several occasions to represent the main course and–amid much rolling of eyes–it cuts through savory steak and rich reductions better than some of the mainstay reds on the table.

In the mouth, bitter applesauce and persimmon personify the flinty bite of superbly crafted unctuous fermented white–rich but not fat, concentrated but not cloying–and the sultry points of the persimmon and melon complement both the rich fruit nuances of said, but also the vibrant edginess of each.  The sharp acid visible in the bouquet translates firmly mid-palate, where the slow burn of alcohol and tannin prepare you for a decades-long finish reverently awash in sweet fruit and shockingly packed with bitter structure.

If you want your Chardonnay syrupy and collapsing on itself with butter and oak, this is the WRONG bottle to buy. But if you want to THINK about your Chardonnay: a spicy nectar so alive, so focused on mountain typicity and brilliantly churning decadent fruit balanced with terroir, minerality and citrus you might only see in Chablis, THIS is your beast. If you’ve eye-rolled too many times and somewhat given up on California Chardonnay, this is your bottle.

https://soifknows.com/2018/01/11/chard-goals/

“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

 

“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 http://www.smithmadrone.com and see about purchasing these wines online. Cheers from WineSplashing!

https://winesplashing.com/2017/10/02/smith-madrone-napa-valley-wines/

2014 Chardonnay’s ‘great structure and length’

NittanyEpicurean takes a look at the 2014 Chardonnay:

A newcomer to my ongoing series of discovery of some of the great wines of California is the Napa winery, Smith-Madrone.

This wine is 100% chardonnay from Napa’s Spring Mountain District. The wine was barrel fermented and aged in French oak barrels. The wine was oak aged for 9 months prior to bottling. It comes in at 14.2% ABV.

The wine showed a golden color. Apple, lemon, honey, buttery oak and slate were each discernible on the nose. Apple, lemon candy, honey, oak and hay followed on the palate where the apple and citrus flourished on the oaky stage. The wine exhibited good acidity and balance, along with great structure and length. This wine would do well as an aperitif and would pair classically with a roast turkey breast.

https://nittanyepicurean.blogspot.com/2017/10/2014-smith-madrone-chardonnay.html

Really delicious mountain Chardonnay

TheWineGuys taste the 2014 Chardonnay:

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Smith-Madrone | 2014 | Chardonnay | When you think of Spring Mountain, usually you're not thinking of Chardonnay, but there's nothing wrong with it, especially when it's tasty! Notes of lemon, lime peel, yellow apple, toasted almonds, white florals, crushed rocks, and tropical stone fruit. Incredible mineral-dustiness on the nose, that streamlines through the entire palate. Good weight on the mouthfeel but not overbearing in oak, even though it is very much present and creamy. Good focus and crispness with that huge backbone of minerality and acidity. Really delicious and unique mountain Chardonnay, enjoyable now over the next 5-7 years. Won't break your bank either, don't serve too cold. | 93 points | $32 |

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Grape-Experiences takes a long look…..

 

Fascinating Smith-Madrone:

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.

http://www.grape-experiences.com/2017/08/fascinating-smith-madrone-the-people-the-place-the-wines/