Slow Wine Guide takes a look

From Slow Wine Guide, published in January 2018:


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

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

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

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

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

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

2014 Riesling is ‘impeccably balanced’

Wine Of The Day: 2014 Smith-Madrone Riesling

on Enofylz, Martin Redmond, March 28, 2018

This impeccably balanced Riesling is among the best I’ve had!

This wine is crafted from 100% estate fruit from 42 year-old vines at 1,800 ft elevation. The dry-farmed vines are planted on very steep slopes (up to 35%), thereby honoring the international tradition of Riesling which thrives on steep hillsides.

My tasting notes follow:

Color – Very pale green with yellow highlights
Aromas – Appealing and aromatic with petrol, orange blossom, pear, lemon and lime zest, and wet stones
Body – Light-bodied, dry, and impeccably balanced with very refreshing acidity and a great mouthfeel
Taste – White peach, pear, lemon-lime, and honey flavors with a hint of apricot gelée and very appealing minerality.
Finish – Long

Pair with: We paired with take-out Thai, but this is such a food friendly wine consider pairing with fried or baked fish, simple seafood dishes, cream sauces, butter sauces, sauteed mushrooms, roast
chicken, grilled pork chops, or charcuterie.

Smith-Madrone Vineyards, a family run, estate-bottled winery located in St. Helena, California was founded in 1971 by brothers Stuart and Charles Smith who are the Managing Partner/Vineyard Manager, and Winemaker respectively.  The name of the winery is a tribute to the Smith brothers and the predominant tree on the ranch. The Madrone is an evergreen with a red-brown trunk and branches.

When the Smith brothers purchased the 200 acre ranch in 1971, it included a vineyard that had been planted over a century before.  But the forest had reclaimed much of the land. The brothers had to call in loggers to clear patches of land that would become vineyards.  There remain numerous historical sights on the ranch, as well as the huge array of natural beauty and wildlife.

All their wines are produced exclusively from their 34 acres of hillside vineyards planted by the Smith brothers.  The vineyard is planted to 6.25 acres of Riesling, 10.25 acres of Chardonnay and 13 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon, with the Merlot, and Cabernet Franc available for blending.

The vineyard sits high atop Spring Mountain, west of St. Helena in the northern Napa Valley. The vineyards sit at elevations between 1,300 and 2,000 feet, on steep slopes which range up to 35%.

Smith Madrone offers four wines, Riesling, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, and a special Cook’s Flat Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. The wines are available for purchase at the winery or on their website.  They produce about 4,000 cases/yr.

Vineration stopped by

Our thanks to Vineration for visiting:

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


by Johannes Marlena,  February 20, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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


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

Phenomenal Riesling

From Linda Coco’s blog on January 2018:

A Riesling Rave by a Riesling Rebel

Confession time. I have never really liked Riesling. This might very well be a cardinal sin to Riesling disciples out there. So what if this noble grape has long been the favorite among sommeliers, chefs and wine professionals? So what if it’s a versatile food-friendly wine that pairs especially well with spicy Asian cuisine that I dearly love? So what if its high acidity makes it exceptionally age-worthy?


I’ll tell you what. I’m a skeptic at heart and all of the rah-rah surrounding Riesling hasn’t wooed me. Why? I prefer bone dry wines. I pooh-pooh Riesling because of its typically higher residual sugar content. Even the drier Rieslings don’t wow me.

Until now.

Let me introduce you to Smith-Madrone, a winery located in the spring Mountain District which is on the eastern slopes of the Mayacamas Mountains that separate Napa Valley from Sonoma Valley. Andrew Doolan, a sommelier in Rhode Island, recently sent me a bottle of the 2014 Riesling. I know Andrew from the Vivino wine app community and he’s probably read a few of my Riesling rants. His glowing review of the Smith-Madrone Riesling piqued my interest. He encouraged me to give it a swirl. But before I did, I did my due diligence and researched the backstory of this wine which, by the way, has gotten high ratings and favorable reviews across the board.

The story begins with brothers Stuart and Charles Smith (not the Charles Smith of Kung Fu Girl Riesling fame) who own and operate Smith-Madrone winery. Stuart, while pursuing his master’s degree in viticulture at UC Davis, purchased land at the highest point of Spring Mountain in 1971. His hopes to plant a vineyard were boosted when he discovered that the land actually supported a vineyard back in the 1880’s.

Charles joined Stuart in 1973, a rugged man and outdoor enthusiast like his brother. So began the journey of Smith-Madrone vineyards, the name Madrone being a tribute to the predominant tree on the property. The Madrone is an evergreen with reddish-brown branches and trunk. The tree bears lily-of-the-valley-like flower clusters in springtime and orange-red berries in autumn.

The vineyards are situated at elevations between 1,300 and 2,000 feet, on steep slopes up to a 34% grade. Along these precipitous inclines, specific grape varieties with differing exposures have been planted. Chardonnay is planted on cooler north facing slopes, Cabernet Sauvignon on flatter southwestern patches, and Riesling on eastern exposure slopes. The vineyards are dry-farmed meaning no irrigation or watering takes place. By relying solely on Mother Nature’s contribution in the form of rainfall, vines produce smaller berries with higher juice to skin ratio that results in a more intensely flavored grape. Grapes will hit natural maturity at a lower sugar level than if irrigation took place.

BAM! This must be one reason I love Smith-Madrone Riesling. Concentrated juice and low residual sugar!

The vineyard soils are mainly deep-red Aiken Stoney Clay loam, volcanic-based, well-drained and deep for mountain soils. The soils are quite rocky allowing for vine roots to grow extremely deep, a boon for grapevines which inherently thrive better in challenging conditions. This combination of soil, elevation, sun exposure and the Smith brothers’ dry-farming approach is, in my estimation, a magic formula for producing stellar Riesling.

The Smith brothers’ philosophy in growing grapes is gutsy and admirable. Because they are in a semi-arid climate which in recent years has suffered drought, they honor water as a precious commodity and practice restraint in water consumption. They believe grapevines are intuitive and will adapt to their natural environment without too much human intervention. Their efforts have not gone unnoticed. German winemakers have flown out to interview them, hoping to glean techniques to improve their own Riesling vineyards.

Now armed with some fascinating facts and a healthy respect for Stuart and Charles, I uncorked the bottle of Smith-Madrone 2014 Riesling, my hopes elevated, only a smidge of my Riesling rebel skepticism present.

From the first sniff and sip, I was left nearly speechless. One word burst forth: KALEIDOSCOPE! In my mind’s eye, I saw multiple points of lights in dazzling array, reflecting in sparkling symmetry. Layer upon layer of myriad shapes and colors coalesced in prism perfection, evolving in an ever changing, ever enchanting montage.

This Riesling is just that. From its lush bouquet of honeysuckle, lemon, orange blossom, stone fruit, pear, mint and a hint of petrol to its layered palate of apricot, peach and lychee (stone fruit trifecta!) and grapefruit, tangerine & lime (citrus trifecta!), there is no end to the vibrant scents & flavors of this immensely complex wine! There is just the faintest whisper of sweetness, barely discernible, thank the heavens above! The strong backbone of minerality is laced with pleasing salinity. Crisp & defined like the jagged points of a kaleidoscope pattern, each sip shaves the palate clean. Yet juxtaposed on that trademark acidity is a lingering silky finish that made me slap my hand on the counter & sigh.

This is a phenomenal Riesling for Riesling haters!

This is a phenomenal Riesling for Riesling lovers!

I have reformed. No longer a Riesling rebel but now a Riesling raver, I hope you take my rah-rah review seriously. And not with a grain of salt, please, but rather a tiny bit of residual sugar on top. Trust me, an encounter with this wine will color your world in brilliant kaleidoscope patterns.

A few more specs on this special wine:
• The 2014 vintage of Smith-Madrone Riesling is 100% pure, unadulterated Riesling from 42-year-old grapevines
• 12.8% alcohol
• 0.76% residual sugar (just the smidge I prefer. The 2012 vintage was a mere 0.45 RS!)
• pH of 3.05
• Only 1551 cases produced
• $30 for 750 ml bottle. JUST THIRTY DOLLAH! Fabulous price point for a quality wine!
• You might see kaleidoscope patterns upon first sip!

“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


2014 Riesling recommended as a ‘spirited’ bottle for the Thanksgiving feast

Maker’s Table considers Thanksgiving…and chooses the 2014 Riesling in her “Spirited Whites” category:

Thanksgiving tastes evolve slowly. It can take generations for Auntie’s Jell-o mold to vanish from the table and Junior’s kale salad to colonize the void. Wine tastes, on the other hand, evolve more rapidly. One day the chatter’s all about red blends and Sherry, then—poof!—everyone’s moved on to the Jura and rosé. Each Thanksgiving season I review and update my canonical article on Thanksgiving wine pairing. To honor shifting fashion, I’ll edit the specifics by, say, adding Etna Rosso and dialing back sweet Riesling. But certain essentials hold true year after year. No single wine works well with every flavor on the Thanksgiving table, but I’ve discovered certain styles that are consistently successful. These run the gamut from sparkling wines to spirited whites and reds, to earthier wines that are still light on tannin and alcohol. This year, after tuning the article’s general advice, I pulled together a list of specific Thanksgiving wines that fit my recommended categories. These wines are all from recent tastings, so you might have a chance of snagging these vintages from your favorite merchant. And in honor of the holiday’s provenance, I’ve only included wines grown and made in America.

Spirited Whites: Great with lighter meats and vegetarian options, but can also cut through butter and cream.

Yes, there is a little Riesling grown in Napa Valley—or I should say, “still grown;” this one derives from 42-year-old vines. Its robe is pale yellow and it offers typical aromas of wax, plastic, and wet street mingling with lemon oil, thyme, and rubbed sage. The body has good substance, with a mix of tree fruit, citrus and tropical fruit (guava and passion fruit), and the finish is long and succulent.

“Impressive” are our current releases

WineSplashing tasted….

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

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

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

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

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

“Magical” and “an incredible value”

TheWineGuys take a look at the 2014 Riesling:

Having tasted a number of super sweet Rieslings from California, you could say that we haven’t really been too enthralled about it and usually shift towards German Rieslings, but this magical one from Smith Madrone really is a wonderful expression of what Californian Riesling can and should be. Notes of green apples, white peach, apricot, kiwi, lime, slight saline, citrus peel, orange blossom and crushed rock. Really clean mouthfeel, well structured, bright acidity and huge backbone of minerality. Don’t sleep on this gem, mountain grown Riesling is where the grape actually thrives (on the slopes). Incredible value wine.

94 points