Two Guys From Napa visited….

Two Guys From Napa stopped by:

Winery Spotlight: Smith-Madrone Vineyards and Winery

February 9, 2019

Smith-Madrone Vineyards and Winery in Napa Valley is a hidden gem, offering outstanding wines and a nostalgic tasting experience in a beautiful natural setting. Founded by Stuart Smith, Smith-Madrone has been producing top quality wines since its first vintage in 1977. The winery sits on top of Spring Mountain in Northwest Napa Valley on steep slopes, with elevations between 1,300 and 2,000 feet, surrounded by a huge array of natural beauty and wildlife. Although Smith-Madrone Vineyards and Winery is on a 200-acre ranch, just a small portion of the estate is planted to grapes and the winery only produces about 4,000 cases per year.

Smith-Madrone Vineyards and Winery – The Story

Stuart Smith, with a partnership of family and friends, acquired the property which became Smith-Madrone Vineyards and Winery in 1971. Two years later, Stuart’s brother Charles Smith joined the winery and became its Winemaker. The name Smith-Madrone is a tribute to the Smith Brothers and the predominant tree on the ranch: The Madrone, an evergreen tree with red-brown trunk and branches that bear lily-of-the-valley-like flower clusters in the spring and orange-red berries in the fall. In 1972, Smith-Madrone planted its first vineyards with Chardonnay, Riesling, Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir (the Pinot Noir was eventually grafted to Chardonnay in 1989). However, the ranch was originally planted with vines in the 1800s by George Cook, the first owner of the property. Today, the vineyards consist of about 37 acres and Cabernet Franc and Merlot have been added to the plantings. Continue reading “Two Guys From Napa visited….”

Prioritising dry farming in a new book

We are included in a review of wineries around the world who dry farm:

Turn it off: Why the wine industry should prioritize dry farming

By Linda Johnson-Bell, January 25, 2019,

Wine or water? This is the choice that many of the world’s winemakers are currently facing as our most well-loved wine regions across the globe shrivel with heat and drought.

With the effects of climate change regularly making front pages, the wine industry is responding by moving beyond the scope of ‘organic’ and working towards a broader definition of sustainability. However, many sustainable wine programmes tend to overlook the use of freshwater irrigation, instead focusing on issues such as renewable energy, biodiversity and social equity.

Wouldn’t consumers be interested to know the impact wine production has on the world’s water supply?

Recent research found that over a third of consumers actively seek out brands and companies based on their social, environmental and ethical impact. The figure is even higher for millennials, with 75% of people in that age group willing to spend more on sustainable products. Continue reading “Prioritising dry farming in a new book”

Smith-Madrone the good steward

The Armchair Sommelier notices dry-farming and much more: please stop by the post to see the illustrations and photos for this piece:

Good Steward, Smith-Madrone

There’s a lot of chatter in the wine world today about viticultural practices — specifically organic, biodynamic, and sustainable practices.  Many vineyards are moving away from conventional practices (which have few limitations on pesticides and chemical fertilizers) and toward one or more of these guys.  All three share similar, broad goals — advocating environmentally responsible practices like soil conservation, habitat protection & restoration, and water & energy conservation.  However, they differ in specifics and limitations.

Here’s a neat a Venn diagram that illustrates the overlap:

In organic viticulture, grapes are grown without any pesticides, herbicides, insecticides, fungicides, or chemical fertilizers.  Organic growers use natural botanicals, cover crops to control weeds, and compost to build organic matter in the soil.  Organic viticulture is rigid in its limitations, and requires certification by a government regulating body (here in the US, it’s the USDA).

If organics are important to you, I should point out that a wine can be made from organically grown grapes, but still not be an organic wine.  All wines contain sulfites (because they occur naturally in grapes), but if a wine is made organically, additional sulfites cannot be added during the winemaking process.  Look for the acronym “NSA” (no sulfites added) on the label.

Biodynamic viticulture is a hot-button topic in the wine world.  It’s based on the ideas of Austrian esoteric (read as: wack-a-doodle), Rudolf Steiner.  To provide a little context, Steiner believed mistletoe could cure cancer, and that left-handedness was a weakness resulting from a former earth-life in which the individual has overtaxed himself either physically or emotionally.  And it should be corrected.


Essentially, biodynamic viticulture is organic viticulture, with metaphysics and astrology added sprinkled on top.  Wine writers and sommeliers gush about biodynamic wines, and there’s no denying that there are some kick-ass wines made using biodynamic techniques.  And I respect the sincerity of folks who are committed to biodynamics.  But I remain unconvinced that stuffing the manure of a female cow into a cow horn, burying it for six months, digging it up again, and then spraying it on your vineyard during a descending phase of the moon . . . is anything other than viticultural voodoo.

Sustainability is a practice I can wrap my brain around — because it’s rational and reasonable.  It’s sensitive to both the environment and the community, and it’s balanced, too.  Sustainable practices allow for minimal interventions when necessary (and you don’t have to consult astrological charts).  At its core, sustainability means being a good steward of the land . . . and a good neighbor.

Meet good steward and neighbor, Stu Smith.

Brothers Stu and Charlie Smith founded Smith-Madrone Winery (in the Spring Mountain District of Napa Valley) in 1971.  The Spring Mountain District is a cool climate, mountain appellation — the vineyards there are planted on the eastern slopes of the Mayacamas Mountains (the range separating Napa Valley from Sonoma Valley).  Elevations in the Spring Mountain District range anywhere from 400 to 2,600 feet.  And the Spring Mountain District is small — there are only about 30 wineries (there are 400+ wineries in all of Napa Valley).  Napa Valley produces about 4% of all California wine, but the Spring Mountain District makes up only 2% of that figure.

The vines at Smith-Madrone are dry farmed, which means (very simply) that the vines get only the water Mother Nature chooses to give them.  Dry farming is completely sustainable, and was actually the norm in Napa Valley until the late 1970s, when drip irrigation was introduced to the region.  Before then, farmers and vines alike adapted to whatever Mother Nature gave them.  They did more, with less.

Historical sidebar:  The California wines that won the Judgement of Paris wine competition in 1976?  Dry farmed.

As California begins to emerge from an epic multi-year drought (check out this really, really, really cool drought map), good steward farmers continue to look for ways to conserve and protect water resources.  Stu Smith points out, “wine grapes use the least amount of water than any other agricultural product.”  (Almonds and rice are notorious California water hogs.)  And dry farming can save as much as 16,000 gallons of water per acre annually.

Is there a downside?

Dry farming does lower overall crop yields, but it also increases grape quality.  Dry farmed grapes produce smaller berries, with a higher skin to juice ratio, which means you have a more intensely flavored grape.

Quality over quantity.

Dry farming is more than just praying for rain, though.  You need the right kind of soil (the kind that absorbs and retains moisture), the right kind of vines (drought-resistant deep rooting vines), and the vines must be properly spaced so there’s not too much competition for scarce water.

There’s also technique to dry farming — the first few inches of soil are broken-up in the springtime, when there’s moisture in the soil, leftover from winter rains.  Then, the soil is compacted, forming a dry crust (sometimes called dust mulch) that seals in the moisture.  Deprived of consistent surface moisture (irrigation), the vine roots quickly adapt, and grow deep into the soil (sometimes 20 or more feet) to find and absorb moisture.

I found this fantastic graphic from Emeritus Vineyards and Forbes Magazine that visually explains how vine roots adapt to dry farming:

So, how do dry-farmed, mountain wines taste?

2014 Riesling  /91
Made from 42 year old vines.  Fermented entirely in stainless steel.  Beautifully dry and just plain clean, this might just be my favorite Napa Valley Riesling.  Bright, sassy acidity.  Loaded with minerals, wet rocks, green apple, lemon rind, and pears.  A long, rewarding finish ends with a hint of honey.  This Riesling has aging potential in spades.  12.8% ABV.  $30.

2014 Chardonnay   /91
Made from 42 year old vines.  100% barrel fermented for nine months in new French oak.  This wine underwent bâttonage (lees stirring), which, in addition to being really fun to say, gives a wine irresistible flavors of biscuit and dough.  Beautiful nose of green apple, lemon and buttered brioche.  Dry and highly textured, with flavors of yellow apple, pear, butterscotch, vanilla and biscuits.  The oak is present to support, but not overpower, the fruit.  The finish lingers with a passing almond.  14.2% ABV.  $32.

2013 Cabernet Sauvignon   /91
Made from 41 year old vines.  A blend of 82% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Cabernet Franc and 6% Merlot.  Aged in both new and one-year-old French oak.  The nose is a glorious menagerie of bramble, cigar, lavender and cloves.  Dry, elegant, and restrained, with flavors of blackberry, black currant, white pepper, graphite, nutmeg.  The tannins are young, but well integrated.  14.2% ABV.  $50.

Smith-Madrone wines are made from well-tended, well-loved, dry-farmed vines:

These vines are our friends.  We walk these rows year-round and know all their personalities.  ~Stu Smith

The resulting wines are a lean, elegant, and focused expression of cool climate, mountain terroir.  They reflect a consistency and keen sense of place . . . and good stewardship.


Gargantuan Wine looks at rootstocks and the 2011 Cab

Discussing rootstocks, dry farming and more, including the 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon: “…it’s a wine that wears its 14.3% ABV nobly, and beckons you to keep drinking until there’s none left….”

And “…if you’re typically a drinker of Old World wines who won’t touch Napa Valley with a ten foot pole — or someone who pines for old California Cabernet — the dry farmed wines of Spring Mountain will dazzle you….”

Stop by Gargantuan Wine for more:


Stu talking about climate change in The San Francisco Chronicle

Stu is quoted several times in The San Francisco Chronicle discussing how climate change is affecting the wines of the world. Esther Mobley’s piece is online and will be in the April 3 print edition.

Some excerpts:

Has global warming been improving the wines of France over the last few decades? That’s part of the claim being made by a new study by NASA and Harvard University. However, the study warns that the upswing in quality may not last forever, and a hotter planet looks like bad news for French vineyards in the long run. In California, meanwhile, the relationship between climate change and wine quality is not nearly as straightforward as what the study authors observe in France.

It’s harder to draw clear patterns from the climate data of California’s North Coast wine regions over the last decades. “In the 45 years I’ve been here, I’ve seen every extreme,” says Stu Smith, owner of Smith Madrone Vineyards on Napa’s Spring Mountain. At Smith’s site, “the biggest drought was in the mid-’70s, and the warmest decade was the ’80s, and the coldest three years were 2009, 2010 and 2011.”

Smith has observed that his vineyard is rarely frost-prone now, whereas frost was a major concern for him in the ’60s and ’70s. (Frost pressure varies across different areas of Napa.) “But as far as some kind of linear progression where you can make some kind of prediction, I think the only thing you can predict is it’s helter-skelter,” he says.

So in this increasingly erratic California wine landscape, could climate change threaten the quality of our wines, as Cook and Wolkovich suggest it might eventually in France?

“Frankly, from my point of view, I hope it never gets normal,” says Smith. “Because that is the joy of wine. That’s why we vintage date, to celebrate the diversity of the vintages.”

Stu talks about dry farming at a San Francisco panel discussion

On February 22 Stu was one of the panelists at How Green Is Your Wine? in San Francisco.

Here is the audio link for the panel discussion:

In this panel discussion co-sponsored by Community Alliance for Family Farmers and CUESA, hear California vintners and wine grape growers discuss organic and biodynamic vineyard practices, dry farming techniques, and what actually goes into their wine bottles. Dry farming was common in California until the 1970s, when drip irrigation enabled growers to irrigate hillsides. In this era of drought and climate change, will dry farming make a comeback? Discover how wineries are producing top-quality wines by reintroducing dry farming and practicing environmental stewardship.

Come listen to Stu as a panelist at How Green Is Your Wine in San Francisco on February 22

St. Helena, Napa Valley and San Francisco, February 2016—-Stu Smith, Enologist/General Partner at Smith-Madrone Vineyards & Winery, will be a panelist at Community Alliance for Family Farmers’ panel discussion—“How Green Is Your Wine?”—and tasting on February 22. Organized by Community Alliance for Family Farmers (CAFF) and The Center for Urban Education on Sustainable Agriculture (CUESA), the event takes place from 6:00 p.m. to 8: 30 p.m. at the Ferry Building (Port Commission Hearing Room, 2nd floor, 1 Ferry Building, San Francisco 94111).

The evening will begin with a panel discussion and then continue to a walk-around wine tasting which includes farm-to-table small bites from The Ferry Plaza Farmers Market. Tickets are $20 a person and can be purchased at .

The event celebrates wineries who grow their grapes in dry farmed vineyards and use other sustainable methods. “You may eat at farm-to-table restaurants and buy local, organic produce at farmers’ markets, but what about the wine you drink? Come hear California vintners and wine grape growers discuss organic vineyard practices, dry farming techniques, and what actually goes into their wine bottles. Dry farming was common in California until the 1970s, when drip irrigation enabled growers to irrigate hillsides. In this era of drought and climate change, will dry farming make a comeback? Discover how wineries are producing top-quality wines by reintroducing dry farming and practicing environmental stewardship,” explains one of the event coordinators, Sayla Kraft of CAFF.

Stu Smith of Smith-Madrone is the only panelist from the Napa Valley. The other panelists are Jason Haas (Tablas Creek Vineyard), David Gates (Ridge Vineyards) and Steve Gliessman and Roberta Jaffe (Condor’s Hope).

Wineries participating in the tasting following the discussion are Smith-Madrone, AmByth Estate, Captain Vineyards, Condor’s Hope, DaVero, Frog’s Leap, Porter Creek, Preston Farm and Winery, Quivira Vineyards, Ridge Vineyards and Tablas Creek Vineyard.

CUESA (Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture) is dedicated to cultivating a sustainable food system through the operation of the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market and educational programs.

CAFF (Community Alliance with Family Farmers) builds sustainable food and farming systems through policy advocacy and on-the-ground programs which create more resilient family farms, communities and ecosystems.

Smith-Madrone is one of Napa Valley’s authentically artisanal wineries, founded in 1971 by Stuart Smith. Winemaking and grape-growing are handled entirely by the two brother-proprietors, Stuart and Charles Smith, iconoclasts known for their staunch adherence to dry farming on their mountain vineyard, and Samuel Smith, Assistant Winemaker. All of Smith-Madrone’s wines come from the 38 acres of estate vineyards surrounding the winery, planted 45 years ago by Stuart and Charles. The vineyards extend across steep mountainsides, at elevations between 1,300 and 1,900 feet, on slopes angling up to 34%. Total production each year is less than 4,000 cases; the winery makes Chardonnay, Riesling, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cook’s Flat Reserve. More at


James The Wine Guy stopped by….

James Melendez came by for a visit: here’s his complete story

And below an excerpt:

….I want to highlight my visit to Smith-Madrone in Spring Mountain District; getting off of Highway 29 or Silverado Trail can be both exciting and adventuring to producers off the beaten path.  The windy road to Smith-Madrone was an exquisite ride gorgeous evergreen scenery.  Getting to the top of the hill was to navigate where Smith-Madrone was—mobile phone service was not there to help–thanks Siri–hence all numbering conventions can be thrown out the door–they are not as intuitive as you might think.

I finally found the path and glided down in the beautiful, ethereal mid-autumn season in Napa.  Autumn and winter my absolutely favourite seasons–even though there is a bit of warmth in the air the breeze sends a different signal…..

I got a driven tour of the site–varies greatly from 1,300 to 2,000 feet above sea level–the steep grade is a great incentive for drainage and strong and forthright root development.  The site has a specific orientation for the three bottled varieties–eastern facing is the Riesling–it’s cooler.  Southern and western facing is for the Cabernet and a northerly orientation for Chardonnay.  Beautiful red soil of clay loam, sandstone and limestones amongst others.

After the site tour Stu and I sit down and tasted the latest vintages of Cabernet Sauvignon, Riesling and Chardonnay.  I felt immediately comfortable talking with Stu about everything from the then always-top-of-mind drought, current vinicultural trends–namely the concrete egg, his early years of winemaking and no vineyard stone was left un-turned in our conversation–it was a conversation not an interview.  Stu has an authentic view–and his view of both vini and viticulture are not old fashioned but centered–Stu is well educated and has a long time perspective of being a wine producer, a long time resident of Napa Valley.  There is something comforting in knowing that a family like Charlie and Stu are committed to their namesake label and site; where in Napa Valley constants, commitments and being a vanguard are becoming rarer. ….For a great down-to-earth and genuine experience of tasting fine Spring Mountain wines, find these wines and also find time to visit…..

Did you know Smith-Madrone dry-farms?

Smith-Madrone is included in a list of dry-farmed vineyards:

Community Alliance With Family Farmers: Dry-Farmed Vineyards

Dry-farmed vineyards do not receive any irrigation. Water held in the soils from winter precipitation provides the necessary water for vine growth. Many dry-farm growers do minimally irrigate new vines for the first 1 to 3 years of production to help establish the rootstock and the vine. To learn more about dry farming practices, visit the California Agricultural Water Stewardship Initiatives’ Dry Farming Practice Page.
Included in this list are a few vineyards that may receive supplemental winter irrigation. In some dryer areas of CA, there are years when winter rains are insufficient to fill the soils with the necessary water to support dry-farmed vines. CAFF has spoken with growers who, depending on the year, will irrigate vines in the winter dormant period to help fill the soils. Although these vineyards are not technically dry-farmed every year, CAFF has included them because there is no irrigation during the growing season, and growers are using valuable dry-farming techniques. If a vineyard may receive winter irrigation, it is clearly stated in the description of the vineyard.

Dry-farmed vineyards can be found throughout California. Below is a list of vineyards by area.

Smith-Madrone Vineyard, Napa Valley
This dry-farmed vineyard was established in 1972 as 20-acres of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Riesling. Vines were planted on their own roots and on steep slopes some with over a 30% grade. Over the years, the vineyard has developed and is now 34-acres comprised of 6.25-acres of Riesling, 10.25-acres of Chardonnay, and 13-acres of Chardonnay. Read more about wines from Smith-Madrone and watch of Stu Smith explaining their dry-farming practices.

Yes, we dry farm!

Are The Best Tasting Wines Dry Farmed?

By Katie Kelly Bell, March 12, 2015

When talking about wine, the term dry farmed might not be the kind of descriptor that inspires passion, curiosity or thirst. Yet, if you like wine, the term is probably a descriptor you should know about. Why? In short, dry farmed wines are not irrigated and many argue that practice yields a big difference in taste. …Essentially, a wine that is dry farmed only gets the water that Mother Nature sees fit to give. The vine is then left to struggle for water during dry spells, which can often mean much of the growing season. This aspect of struggle requires the vine’s roots to dig deeply in search of water. The deeper a vine’s roots, the more exposure it gets to native terroir, not just the top layer of soil. Also, many argue that dry farmed wines have greater flavor because the grapes tend to be smaller and more concentrated….Without a doubt, dry farming grapes requires an attentive winemaker to ensure the grapes ripen properly. The winemakers forgoing irrigation are indeed crafting some amazingly elegant wines.

Some Dry Farmed Wines/Wineries to sample now:

Smith-Madrone Vineyards, Napa—Brothers Stuart and Charles Smith dry farm the grapes for their cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay and riesling wines. Vines grow on steep hillsides in the northern end of Napa Valley, yielding concentration and finesse.