“What Napa Cab should be all about”

The 2012 Cook’s Flat Reserve is one of GoodVitis’ most memorable wines from 2017: excerpted here:

2017’s Most Memorable Wines

By Aaron Menenberg, December 15, 2017

Last December (okay, January 4th, 2017), I did a post on The Best Reds, Whites and Values of 2016 that I came across in my wine escapades that year. It was an enjoyable post to write because it let me indulge in some great nostalgia, and I was excited to do it again for this year. This post was just as rewarding to write, and as the title implies, I’m taking a slightly different approach. What follows are the dozen most memorable wines I tasted this year.

The two questions I used to guide the formation of this list were (1) what are the wines from 2017 that I stand the best chance of remembering until I go senile, and (2) what wines from 2017 will guide my 2018 purchasing? Only after assembling the list did I look at the metadata contained within, and there are some surprises. First, a rose made the list. While I enjoy rose, I drank much less of it in 2017 than I did in previous years. This wasn’t for any conscious reason; it just played out that way. Second, in Good Vitis Land, it was the year of the white wine. Half of the list, and the largest component of it, are whites. Third, it’s a geographically diverse list: five U.S. states and six countries. And forth, unusual varietals came in at the #4 and #1 spots: mtsvane and Pedro Ximenez that was made into a white wine. What a cool 2017.

Without further ado, here are my twelve most memorable wines from the past twelve months.

#2: 2012 Smith-Madrone Cook’s Flat Reserve. Stu Smith and his family are some of my favorite people in the wine industry, and among the most generous I’ve met. He’s also one of the best winemakers in a state known for attracting many of the best winemakers in the world. Cooks’ Flat is his reserve wine, which he makes during good vintages. It retails for $225. Given the region, that’s a steal for a wine of this quality and, in one of many manifestations, evidence of his generosity. I’m not a lover of most California wine, and I don’t get the California Cult Cab thing with its focus on fruit and tannin. Stu could care less whether his wines were considered “cult,” but it certainly tops the list of cabernets from the Sunshine State that I’ve had. The fact that any California cab made my most memorable wine list is personally surprising, but that it landed at #2? It’s just that good.

Tasting note: December 7, 2017 – This seems to me to be what Napa cab should be all about. It hits the palate with a velvety lushness, and is followed by waves of red, blue and black fruit that polish a core of dark minerals and Earth that broadens the mid palate and adds depth to the wine. The acid is towards the higher end of the Napa range, adding juiciness to the fruit and levity to the body. Unlike many California cabs, the tannins are well-kept and aren’t allowed to dry the palate and prematurely kill the finish. This is elegant and refined wine. Given the price of reserve wines from Napa, the Cook’s Flat is a downright steel. 95 points.

https://goodvitis.com/2017s-most-memorable-wines/

 

Pioneers on the mountain

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

http://wineandcraftbeveragenews.com/smith-madrone-pursues-pioneering-spring-mountain-style-into-fifth-decade/#more-1885

 

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.”

Somm Journal comes for a visit

The Somm Journal came for a visit: this is in their December issue.

Download SOMM article (PDF 603mb)

Fred Swan describes not only the history but also the current releases, 2014 Chardonnay, 2014 Riesling, 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon and 2009  Cook’s Flat. Take a look!

“One hell of a good thing going…”

Mark Gudgel visited: here are his thoughts:

Charles, Stu, and Sam Smith have one hell of a good thing going high up in the Spring Mountain District of California’s Napa Valley. Last month my friend Zach, who manages Corkscrew, and I had the opportunity to visit them at their winery, and we agreed that the experience set a new bar for future winery visits.  Normally I take this short spot to recommend a wine, but after a visit to their winery, I’m recommending the entire Smith-Madrone portfolio. The Smiths (a Madrone is a tree) just don’t miss; their wines are some of the best I’ve had in recent memory, and if you haven’t already tried them, I strongly recommend that you seek them out.

Upon our arrival, Sam was outside cleaning up and Charles was inside putting pen to ledger. He stopped working when he saw us and immediately engaged us in conversation; he appeared as interested in us as we were in him, asking all sorts of questions about where we were from and what we did for a living. When Sam came inside, he, Charles, Zach and I each grabbed a glass of Chardonnay and struck out side-by-side to tour the 200-acre estate, 40 of which is planted.  Sam expertly navigated the rough, dusty trails, occasionally shifting into four-wheel-drive, while Charles pointed out the different vineyards, changes to the soil composition, and recognizable landmarks on the Valley floor far below. We maneuvered under stands of what he referred to as “young” redwoods, some 150 years in age, until we found our way to the spring. Sam stopped to pick fresh bay leaves and we chewed them on the way back, our Chardonnay long since having been imbibed or spilled.

Upon our return, we tasted different vintages of their wines and chatted about life.  Sam grabbed a thief and pulled a few tastes from a barrel that got us excited about the years to come. When the evening began to wind down, Charles checked the time. “No sense leaving now,” he informed us. “The highway will be backed up for miles.” We took the cue, and spent another hour out front in folding chairs, sharing stories.  We discussed everything from the season finale of Game of Thrones, to killing rattlesnakes, to Sam’s post-LSAT decision to skip law school and join the family business.  All the while, Charles made a strong case for Hamlet as the best of the Elizabethan revenge tragedies, and we laughed and told jokes for quite some time. A new friend of mine often says that the personality of a winemaker invariably comes through in their wines. I would suggest that this is likely what makes the wines of Smith-Madrone so wonderful.

The best place to look for Smith-Madrone wines in Omaha is The Winery, where fellow Smith-Madrone junkies are known to congregate. Below is a brief run-down of what’s currently available:

Riesling: Think Alsace. This is the kind of Riesling you can pair with steak, lay down to age for a few decades, or both.  I’ve had dozens of Rieslings from California, and this one is the best I’ve tried, period.

Chardonnay: Far more reminiscent stylistically of Chablis than of the Napa Valley from whence it hails, this is what subtlety tastes like. Lovers of cougar juice need not inquire.

Cabernet Sauvignon:  In a place where Cab of this caliber can easily cost over $100/bottle, this is a solid QPR. Thanks to the generosity of some wonderful people, I’ve tasted vintages dating as far back as 1995 and can attest that this Cab drinks very well now but is also extremely age-worthy.

Cook’s Flat Reserve: Charles probably put it best: “We make this wine because it makes us really happy.” It made me really happy, too. A blend of 64% Cab Sauv, 22% Cab Franc, and 14% Merlot, this wine gets the best of everything during the winemaking process, and you’re sure to love it the next time you’re splurging.

There were less than 25 wineries in the Napa Valley when the Smith brothers started theirs. There had not yet been a “Judgment of Paris” to put the valley on the wine world’s radar, and the area was still planted primarily to fruit and nut orchards when their vineyards went in.  Today, the short drive up from the valley floor is barely enough time to forget that below, the glitz and glamour of the wine industry is in full bloom, but at the somehow timeless Smith-Madrone Winery, you can experience the Valley for what it once was, and what it still so clearly wants to be.

Stu typically comes to Omaha every spring for Vin Nebraska, but that’s half a year from now. Until then, picking up a stock of their wines at The Winery would be a terrific introduction to Smith-Madrone (you’ll have to race me to the rest of the ’13 Riesling), however don’t stop there. With flights in the $300 range right now, a visit to Spring Mountain would be the perfect fall getaway, and in case the Smith’s outstanding wine isn’t draw enough, they’re pretty damn charming people to boot.

Wine(ry) Recommendation: Smith-Madrone

What makes Smith-Madrone’s wines so wonderful, explains Food & Spirits

Mark Gudgel reports on his visit to the winery in the summer issue of Food & Spirits Magazine: 

Click to access FSM24_LR.pdf

Charles, Stu, and Sam Smith have one hell of a good thing going high up in the Spring Mountain District of California’s Napa Valley. Last month my friend Zach, who manages Corkscrew, and I had the opportunity to visit them at their winery, and we agreed that the experience set a new bar for future winery visits. Normally I take this short spot to recommend a wine, but after a visit to their winery, I’m recommending the entire Smith-Madrone portfolio. The Smiths (a Madrone is a tree) just don’t miss; their wines are some of the best I’ve had in recent memory, and if you haven’t already tried them, I strongly recommend that you seek them out.

Upon our arrival, Sam was outside cleaning up and Charles was inside putting pen to ledger. He stopped working when he saw us and immediately engaged us in conversation; he appeared as interested in us as we were in him, asking all sorts of questions about where we were from and what we did for a living. When Sam came inside, he, Charles, Zach and I each grabbed a glass of Chardonnay and struck out side-by-side to tour the 200-acre estate, 40 of which is planted. Sam expertly navigated the rough, dusty trails, occasionally shifting into four-wheel-drive, while Charles pointed out the different vineyards, changes to the soil composition, and recognizable landmarks on the Valley floor far below. We maneuvered under stands of what he referred to as “young” redwoods, some 150 years in age, until we found our way to the spring. Sam stopped to pick fresh bay leaves and we chewed them on the way back, our Chardonnay long since having been imbibed or spilled.

Upon our return, we tasted different vintages of their wines and chatted about life. Sam grabbed a thief and pulled a few tastes from a barrel that got us excited about the years to come. When the evening began to wind down, Charles checked the time. “No sense leaving now,” he informed us. “The highway will be backed up for miles.” We took the cue, and spent another hour out front in folding chairs, sharing stories. We discussed everything from the season finale of Game of Thrones, to killing rattlesnakes, to Sam’s post-LSAT decision to skip law school and join the family business. All the while, Charles made a strong case for Hamlet as the best of the Elizabethan revenge tragedies, and we laughed and told jokes for quite some time. A new friend of mine often says that the personality of a winemaker invariably comes through in their wines. I would suggest that this is likely what makes the wines of Smith-Madrone so wonderful.

The best place to look for Smith-Madrone wines in Omaha is The Winery, where fellow Smith-Madrone junkies are known to congregate. Below is a brief run-down of what’s currently available:

RIESLING:

Vintages presently available: 2013, 2014 – Price: $29.99

Notes: Think Alsace. This is the kind of Riesling you can pair with steak, lay down to age for a few decades, or both. I’ve had dozens of Rieslings from California, and this one is the best I’ve tried, period.

CHARDONNAY:

Vintage presently available: 2013 – Price: $34.99

Notes: Far more reminiscent stylistically of Chablis than of the Napa Valley from whence it hails, this is what subtlety tastes like. Lovers of cougar juice need not inquire.

CABERNET SAUVIGNON:

Vintage presently available: 2012 just sold out. 2013 will be released this fall. – Price: $49.99

Notes: In a place where Cab of this caliber can easily cost over $100/ bottle, this is a solid QPR. Thanks to the generosity of some wonderful people, I’ve tasted vintages dating as far back as 1995 and can attest that this Cab drinks very well now but is also extremely age-worthy.

COOK’S FLAT RESERVE:

Vintage presently available: 2009 – Price: $200.00

Notes: Charles probably put it best: “We make this wine because it makes us really happy.” It made me really happy, too. A blend of 64% Cab Sauvignon, 22% Cab Franc, and 14% Merlot, this wine gets the best of everything during the winemaking process, and you’re sure to love it the next time you’re splurging.

There were less than 25 wineries in the Napa Valley when the Smith brothers started theirs. There had not yet been a “Judgment of Paris” to put the Valley on the wine world’s radar, and the area was still planted primarily to fruit and nut orchards when their vineyards went in. Today, the short drive up from the Valley floor is barely enough time to forget that below, the glitz and glamour of the wine industry is in full bloom, but at the somehow timeless Smith-Madrone Winery, you can experience the Valley for what it once was, and what it still so clearly wants to be.

Stu typically comes to Omaha every spring for Vin Nebraska, but that’s half a year from now. Until then, picking up a stock of their wines at The Winery would be a terrific introduction to Smith-Madrone (you’ll have to race me to the rest of the ’13 Riesling), however don’t stop there. With flights in the $300 range right now, a visit to Spring Mountain would be the perfect fall getaway, and in case the Smiths’ outstanding wine isn’t draw enough, they’re pretty damn charming people to boot.

 

Wonderful wines & winemakers, says “The California Girl”

“The California Girl” and “The Brit” came to visit: read on:

 

Before we start this post, we would like to note that this is officially our 100th posting on our blog. Thank you all so very much for reading, sharing, liking and commenting on our Blog, our Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts. The love we have had from all of you has made this really fun for us both. We couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate our first milestone than by talking about the wonderful Smith-Madrone Winery and Vineyards.

When we were invited to Smith-Madrone, neither of us knew what to expect. We were impressed by the entire experience from start to finish.

This place isn’t one of the commercial mega-wineries you get in Napa Valley. Instead it is a truly personal and family run business that has been around since the 1971. The brothers who founded it still work the land themselves and they put their heart and soul into what they produce. It was an immense pleasure to spend time with the brothers Stuart and Charles Smith, talking with them over glasses of wine. We really enjoyed ourselves.

They don’t have a fancy tasting room with shiny decor and slick young hosts. Instead, they personally bring visitors into their rustic barrel room and let them taste the wine. I enjoyed the simplicity of it. It felt honest rather than a Hollywood version of what a winery should be.

One of the things that struck me is that they strive not to have a style when making their wines. Instead, they work with the crop they harvest that year and make the wine the best they can produce from it. They also aren’t worried about what style of wine is in fashion, or what the critics like. They make wine that they like and hope everyone else will like it too. How refreshing is that?

We started our tasting with the 2013 Chardonnay. It was a very balanced wine. It tasted creamy and rich with a decent amount of acidity. Oak, butter, and fruit were all in complete balance. But I have to say, that for me there was nothing “special” about it. If I were drinking it, I would drink the entire glass with zero complaints, but it wasn’t something I thought WOW.

The Brit comments: I agree and disagree with California Girl on her statement about this wine. I was impressed when I tasted it, but once we tasted the next year’s Chardonnay it paled in comparison. It was interesting to note that despite all of their Chardonnay being in 100% casks, the fruit is not overwhelmed by the wood and all three Chardonnay’s we tasted exhibited great balance between fruit, acidity, and vanilla from the oak.

 

We moved on to the 2014 Chardonnay. Interestingly with this wine they made it same way as with the 2013, but they made one change. They stirred the wine in a process called Batonnage. (They stir it with a special paddle like device while its in the barrel to keep the wine in contact with the lees while maturing rather than the lees sinking to the bottom of the barrel. It creates a much richer flavor.) This wine had my taste buds singing. The flavor was amazing! Creamy rich notes of vanilla, full of fruits, wonderful in the mouth with medium acidity. I absolutely loved this wine. We had to purchase bottles of this beauty. Fantastic.

The Brit comments: The Chardonnay was superb, but it helps that Smith-Madrone were not serving their wines chilled. I am amazed at how many wineries cool their white wine to a point where the cold suppresses the aromas and flavours. Here the wine was served at barrel room temperature.

We were lucky enough to be treated to a special tasting of the 2015 Chardonnay which has yet to be bottled or released. It wasn’t quite ready, but boy, oh boy we could tell it is going to be an amazing wine. It has a slightly acidic kumquat finish, with honeysuckle and melon on the nose. We would have bought bottles of this if it were possible. We will be revisiting just to do that when it comes out. I can’t wait to experience the finished product. Charles seemed pleased with it as well.

We moved on to the 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon. It has a nose of oak and summer berries. There are very soft tannins which are pleasant on the palate with a flavor of forest floor, cloves, and those summer berries. Delicious. I thought it was priced very reasonably for the quality and the character of the wine. The mix is 82% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc and 8% Merlot.

The Brit comments: As with all of their wines, the grapes are all estate grown. They change the balance each year and despite its youth this wine is already drinking well.

The 2009 Cooks Flat Reserve is one of those special bottles of wine you don’t drink every day. Priced at $200, per bottle this beauty is really what you would hope for in a mature Cab. Rich berries on the nose and palate, baking spices, weighty and rich in the mouth. We both loved this wine. It will continue to age beautifully for at least 10 years if not more. I would love the opportunity to taste it then. I think that this is one of my favorite quality Cabs I have experienced. It is a wine to be savored and experienced rather than simply consumed.

Our favorite pick out of the lineup though is the 2014 Riesling. This is a WOW! Pear, grapefruit, and melon on the tongue; a perfect sip, not too dry, not too sweet. Honestly, I should have purchased more bottles. The quality of this wine for the price is outstanding. The Brit however warned me that we are lacking space in our white wine fridge and not to buy too much until we go through some of what we have in stock now. It just gives me a good excuse to make another visit to Smith-Madrone to get more. I loved it that much.

The Brit comments: I admit that I used to avoid Riesling, associating it with poor quality overly sweet German wines that used to be consumed in the UK. I now realize that it is a very versatile grape that can be used to make dry white wines with complex flavour profiles. Smith-Madrone’s Riesling is a superb example of the grape at its best.

Aside from the wonderful wines and the very interesting wine makers, Smith-Madrone is well worth the visit for its beauty and the views. I felt like I didn’t have enough time to focus on my photos while I was there, and I would have liked to be there in better light so my pictures could have really reflected its beauty. Maybe they will invite us back. I sure hope so.

http://napafoodandvine.com/2016/08/16/smith-madrone-winery-and-vineyards-tasting-notes-post-100/

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: http://www.liveleft.com/napa-and-sonoma/ 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!

Purely Domestic Wine Report reviews the current releases

Doug Wilder at Purely Domestic Wine Report reviews the current releases in Issue 3.5, January 2015:

It was in 1971 when not much existed in the way of Napa Valley wineries when Stu and Charles Smith planted their first vineyards on Spring Mountain and over the years and over the years developed a devoted following for wines that eschewed the push toward higher alcohols. They are beautiful expressions of terroir and generally well priced. The relatively rare Cook’s Flat is a different aspiration altogether and stands apart from the core wines.

2012 Chardonnay shows a nose of anise, almonds, dried lemon, vanilla pod, conifer and salt. The palate is rounded, dry fruit, apricot, nectarine and pineapple with pronounced acidity in the mid-palate. Nicely balanced, it only spends 8 months in new French oak. Drink 2015 – 2020.

2013 Riesling is a delicious throwback to a nearly forgotten variety. There are scant Napa wineries using it and those who bottle estate could be counted on one hand. A nose of sweet spice, white blossoms and sun-warmed white peach. The palate is lush, pure and bright yellow stone fruit, crisp in the mouth-watering core. Drink 2015 – 2018.

2011 Cabernet has a nose of fig and slightly dried plum, spiced with an undercurrent of tobacco, black currant and blueberry. The palate is seamlessly saturated loam, black fruits, chocolate powder, all in a silky mouth-coating texture. Drink 2015 – 2025.

2010 Cook’s Flat Reserve is a single eight-acre block on the estate replanted in 1972. After 19 months in oak, the wine is bottle aged for up to three years prior to release. The nose is subtle cedar, plum and nutmeg. The palate entry is dry cherry, notes of florals, and earth in a round and deeply textured way finishing with lively acidity. Drink 2016 – 2025.

2010 Cook’s Flat Reserve is Released

Cook's Flat Reserve
Smith-Madrone is delighted to announce the release of our 2010 Cook’s Flat Reserve.
Photo of Cook's Flat Reserve bottles
2010 Cook’s Flat Reserve

This is a limited production wine of 140 cases, created by the careful selection and blending of a small group of the best barrels from our Cook’s Flat vineyard block. In 2010 this means the wine is 75% Cabernet Sauvignon and 25% Cabernet Franc, aged for 18 months in new French oak barrels. Each bottle of Cook’s Flat Reserve is individually numbered and tissue-wrapped and represents our uncompromising pursuit of perfection in winemaking.

The wine opens with an intense, seductive aroma of dark fruit – black currant, blackberry, black cherry – tinged with mocha, spice and licorice. This is a sumptuous wine, rich and creamy in texture and crammed full of delicious dark fruit. The layered mid-palate moves seamlessly to a finish tinged with raspberries and cherries and is marked by exceptional length.

Cook’s Flat is a small section of the original 19th century vineyard which became part of Smith-Madrone when we established the winery in 1971.