Sam goes to The City of Riesling

Sam is the only Napa Valley Riesling producer participating in The City of Riesling in Traverse City, Michigan on June 10 and 11.

He will be a panelist on June 10 for Riesling & Red: Strange Bedfellows, along with wineries from the Willamette Valley, the Margaret River and the Finger Lakes.

The evening continues as The Night of 100 Rieslings, featuring international winemakers, live music and heavy appetizers.

More info at https://www.eventsquid.com/event.cfm?id=3122

April 14, 2018! Divide and conquer!

Divide and conquer on April 14, 2018!

Join Sam Smith at Cucina Enoteca in Irvine, California

Or

Stu Smith at VinNebraska in Omaha, Nebraska!

**************************************************

Winemaker Lunch at CUCINA enoteca Irvine

Join CUCINA enoteca Irvine for a special Winemaker Lunch with Sam Smith and Josh Phelps out on the patio on Saturday, April 14th. This will be a three-course family style lunch with two wines per course.

About Sam Smith
Before joining Smith-Madrone Sam traveled, alternating working harvests at wineries and working as a sommelier at distinguished restaurants around the world. He has worked in Germany, New Zealand, Australia, Washington, the Caribbean, and a few wineries around Napa Valley as well. Born and raised in the Napa Valley, Sam grew up playing football, tennis and golf. He is an avid outdoorsman and obtained his degree from UC Santa Barbara.

Menu*:

antipasti
wild watercress + beet cured salmon | radish + pickled onion + avocado + limoncello vinaigrette

smith madrone | riesling | napa valley
smith madrone | chardonnay | napa valley

pasta
mezzi rigatoni | lamb bolognese + mint pesto + ricotta salata

grounded wine co. | ‘collusion’ merlot blend | columbia valley, wa 
grounded wine co. | ‘steady state’ red blend | napa valley

piatti
rotisserie duck + chicken | market vegetables + ancient grain

ad vivum | ‘sleeping lady vineyard’ cabernet sauvignon | napa valley
curly st. james | red blend | napa valley

Please note that menu is subject to change based on chef’s whim and seasonal availability. If you have any food allergies, please make us aware at time of reservation.

https://www.urbankitchengroup.com/cucina-enoteca-irvine/happenings/ceirv-winemaker-lunch/

https://www.urbankitchengroup.com/shop/our-store/ceirv-winemaker-lunch-04-14-18/

 

VINNEBRASKA, OMAHA, NEBRASKA

Wine Tasting & Grand Auction open to the public at the Hotel RL at 3321 South 72nd Street. Starting at 5:00 pm, attendees will sample wines and hors d’oeuvres, and bid during the silent auction on a vast selection of gift-items and wine collectibles. Guests will be able to purchase a bottles of wine in our Mystery Wine Pull. The program will commence in the main ballroom at 7:00 pm to include a live auction with spectacular vacation get-aways, items from our participating vintners and other one-of-a-kind offerings. Metro Magazine’s readers have voted vinNEBRASKA’s wine event “Best of Omaha for Food & Wine Event.” It’s the best wine event in the region!

Evening Events

5:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m. Wine Tasting & Hors D’oeuvres

Enjoy meeting winemakers, winery owners and representatives from the wine industry while sampling their fantastic wines! 

5:00 p.m. – 7:30 p.m. Silent Auction

Scroll through a vast array of unique action items. 

7:00 p.m. to Conclusion  Live Auction

Get ready for the Grandest of Auctions! There are many wonderful items ranging from valuable vintage wines to hand-crafted items and vacations that are sure to please! 

http://vinnebraska.com/public-wine-tasting-and-grand-auction/

 

 

Join Sam Smith at Cucina Enoteca in Irvine

Join CUCINA enoteca Irvine for a special Winemaker Lunch with Sam Smith (Smith-Madrone + Curly St. James) and Josh Phelps (Grounded Wine Co. + Ad Vivum) on the patio on Saturday, April 14th. This will be a three-course family style lunch with two wines per course.

More info: https://www.urbankitchengroup.com/cucina-enoteca-irvine/happenings/ceirv-winemaker-lunch/

About Sam Smith
Before joining Smith-Madrone Sam traveled, alternating working harvests at wineries and working as a sommelier at distinguished restaurants around the world. He has worked in Germany, New Zealand, Australia, Washington, the Caribbean, and a few wineries around Napa Valley as well. Born and raised in the Napa Valley, Sam grew up playing football, tennis and golf. He is an avid outdoorsman and obtained his degree from UC Santa Barbara.

About Josh Phelphs 
Josh’s roots run deep, raised in a winemaking family, he was exposed to the industry from a young age. He continued to build his knowledge of the business through college, selling wine, working harvests, and creating wine for friends with his father, Chris Phelps. With Grounded Wine Co., Josh hopes to build on this legacy and make his own splash in the wine world while exposing wine drinkers of his own generation to his hometown in wine country. Working with trusted farmers and childhood friends, his company reflects his deep understanding of wine, one that can only be developed growing up around the vines.

Menu:

antipasti
wild watercress + beet cured salmon | radish + pickled onion + avocado + limoncello vinaigrette

smith-madrone | riesling | spring mountain district, napa valley
smith-madrone | chardonnay | spring mountain district, napa valley

pasta
mezzi rigatoni | lamb bolognese + mint pesto + ricotta salata

grounded wine co. | ‘collusion’ merlot blend | columbia valley, wa 
grounded wine co. | ‘steady state’ red blend | napa valley

piatti
rotisserie duck + chicken | market vegetables + ancient grain

ad vivum | ‘sleeping lady vineyard’ cabernet sauvignon | napa valley
curly st. james | red blend | napa valley

 

 

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/

Sam Smith goes to City of Riesling

Sam Smith will be one of the vintners featured at City of Riesling, July 23 and 24, in Traverse City, Michigan.

On Monday, Sam is one of the panelists at A Tasting of California’s New Wave (and Some Delicious Old School) Riesling. The moderator is John Winthrop Hager and the panel/tasting takes place at The Franklin, 160 East Front Street.

On Sunday there will be a luncheon and tasting and in the evening, The Night of 100 Rieslings.

On Monday there will also be a Great Lakes Riesling Producers Winemakers’ Roundtable, a New York Finger Lakes Luncheon and several panel/tastings: Riesling Redux: Alternative Expressions of Riesling from Australia; Iconoclast Asylum, hosted by Stuart Pigott and Tangential Tasting, an unusual walk-around tasting.

 

 

All the details and ticket purchasing information can be found: https://www.eventsquid.com/event.cfm?id=2595

 

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.”

Riesling is a ‘great wine going happily down the hatch’

Sometimes a great wine goes happily down the hatch and I make a mental note to buy it again.  Sometimes a great wine sucks me in hook, line, and sinker and I want to learn everything about the who, what, where, when, why, and how.  The Smith-Madrone Vineyards 2014 riesling did just that.  I’d been gardening in the sun for several hours and was starving.  I grabbed some leftover grilled chicken, a few tortillas, a splash of salsa, and a bottle of riesling to enjoy in the backyard.  Riesling on a hot day, enjoyed al fresco, is the quintessential wine moment.   I went from sore and angry at the snails and white flies on my hibiscus, to relaxed and appreciative of life in Orange County.  A glass of Smith-Madrone produced this 180-degree attitude change, so I feel compelled to share my “5 W’s” research with Orange County wine lovers.

Who Brothers Stuart and Charles Smith. Stuart is the general partner and enologist.  Charles is the winemaker.  Sam Smith, son of Stuart, is assistant winemaker.

What 2014 riesling, 1,500 cases.  2014 chardonnay, 850 cases.  2013 cabernet sauvignon, 1,500 cases. The soil is rocky, volcanic, and has great drainage.

Where Spring Mountain District of Napa Valley. The vineyards sit at an elevation between 1,300 and 2,000 feet on steep slopes, with grades up to 34 percent.  Each varietal is planted with a specific exposure, to garner the best character and personality.

When Planted in 1972.  The riesling vines are 42 years old!

Why The brothers grew up in Santa Monica.  Stuart got his Masters in Viticulture from UC Davis.  In search of land for a vineyard, he learned of this forest location atop Spring Mountain, which he purchased in 1971.  He discovered it was actually a vineyard in the 1880s, and was on the Wagon Trail between Napa and Santa Rosa.  Stuart is now renowned as a mountain winegrower.   Charles, who became an internationally famed croquet player, joined him in 1973.

How The mountain-top location and the history as a vineyard inspired Stuart to dry-farm the vineyard.  Dry-farming means that no irrigation was given once the vines were established several decades ago.  This forces the vines to struggle in search of water that is deeper in the soil.  This struggle produces berries that are hardy enough to endure the thirsty challenge.  The grapes are smaller in size, but packed with flavor.

I would love several hours at a dinner table with Stuart, Charles, and Sam.  The stories and connection they must have from this family venture high in Napa’s mountains is the perfect dinner and drinking lore.  The closest I’ll come is a refill of riesling in my own backyard, but I have a big smile on my face.

You can find Smith-Madrone at Pavillions Newport Coast and Pavillions Bayside, or at smithmadrone.com.

http://www.orangecoast.com/booze-blog/smith-madrone-vineyards-riesling/

True to its founding principles

Dorothy Gaiter talks to Stu for GrapeCollective:

SMITH-MADRONE: A NAPA CABERNET THAT’S CLASSY AND AGEABLE, IN ENGLISH OR LATIN

by Dorothy J. Gaiter, March 23, 2017

It’s a wonderful thing to see a business, any business, stay true to its founding principles. Trends come and go; outside factors can impinge; stresses and strains can undermine. It’s all the more amazing when it’s a family-owned business, and a farming enterprise, vulnerable to the vagaries of Mother Nature.

Smith-Madrone Vineyards & Winery, high atop Spring Mountain in St. Helena in Napa Valley, is such a business. Back in 1999, we had its 1984 Cabernet Sauvignon for Thanksgiving and pronounced it then—15 years old—robust and fruity enough that it could age. We’d paid $25 for that wine on February 28, 1998, according to our notes, a real deal. A couple of weeks ago, we had the 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon, around $50, sent to us by the winery. It was so elegant and true, with ripe black fruits, cedar, rich earth and minerals that cut through it all like a blade, that we geeked out about it for hours. This wine could easily reach 20 years without breaking a sweat. Smith-Madrone, a pioneering winery 46 years old this year, was still nailing it, and with a finesse that suggested ease.

Duh, you might be thinking. Of course Napa Cabernets are classy and special. We wish that were always true. But over the past several years we have found it increasingly difficult to find a truly classy Napa Cabernet, and certainly not at $50 or less.

Stuart Smith, 68, founded the 4,000-case winery in 1971 when he was 22 with a degree in economics from Berkeley and some enology classes at UC-Davis. While studying for his Master’s at Davis, Stuart was the first teaching assistant for Maynard A. Amerine, a plant physiologist widely considered the father of American wine because he helped revive the California wine industry post-Prohibition, and Vernon Singleton, a trailblazing expert in the chemical compounds, like tannins, that affect a wine’s taste, color and texture. Eager to begin making wine, Stuart left short of his degree and, with the help of family and friends, purchased 200 acres of forest on beautiful Spring Mountain. The land had been part of an original 550-acre homestead that more than a century before had included vineyards. Stuart’s brother, Charles F. Smith III, 73, who also went to Berkeley and had taken classes at Davis, left a teaching job to join Stuart in 1973. Today, Stuart’s title is general partner, enologist; Charles is winemaker; and Stuart’s son Sam, 29, is assistant winemaker.

The Madrone half of the winery’s name is from the Madrone trees, evergreens with red bark, white flowers and, during fall, orange-red berries. About 40 acres of the 200-acre ranch is vineyards. The winery makes three estate-grown, mostly dry-farmed wines: currently, the 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon; the 2014 Chardonnay, $32; and the 2014 Riesling, $30. Smith-Madrone’s inaugural wine was its 1977 Riesling and that wine won a prestigious competition in Europe in 1979, putting the winery on the map in this country. It’s still famous for its Riesling. Charles, it turns out, was extremely fond of German Rieslings, interesting as the family is descended from German immigrants, who came here in 1730. In addition, they grow Merlot and Cabernet Franc (smithmadrone.com). The Smiths also make a small-production Cabernet Sauvignon-based wine called Cook’s Flat Reserve, named after the first owner of the land, George Cook, and a special vineyard. The 2009 current release sells for $200, (cooksflatreserve.com).

When I asked Stuart about working for 46 years with his brother, he said, “It’s like a marriage. It is a marriage. It’s the best of times and it gets a little gnarly at times.” Their dad worked with one of his brothers in insurance so at least they had a model for a sibling professional relationship.

After Stuart purchased the mountain property, he hired a company to clear some of the trees. Some neighbors weren’t happy about Stuart’s logging and another property-owner’s logging and the county quickly passed a moratorium on logging, according to a fine piece on Smith-Madrone in the Napa Valley Register in 2013. But it turned out that the county had overstepped, the newspaper reported, so Stuart prevailed. Other winemakers have followed Stuart’s example, putting their stakes in mountain property. Stuart is now celebrated as an expert on mountain viticulture.

The mountain appealed to Stuart, he said, quoting the Roman poet Virgil in Latin, on Bacchus loving the mountains, the sunny hills. The vineyards in the Spring Mountain district are at elevations between 1,300 and 2,000 feet above sea level, on steep slopes of soils that are volcanic-based with shale and limestone and loam. With panoramic exposures, Stuart chose which direction he wanted for each variety of grapes. All of that thought and care went to ruin when phylloxera hit Smith-Madrone and many of their neighbors in Napa. They had to replant beginning in 2000.

“Once you get over the emotional distress of seeing our vineyard die, you see the silver-lining-behind-the-darkest-cloud concept,” Stuart told me when I called him the other day. “Whoopee! I get to replant with all of the technology that has transpired over the past several years. It’s an opportunity. But you don’t see that in the beginning.”

He told me he used that do-over opportunity to change the direction of some of the vineyard’s rows, spacing and trellising to better take advantage of the sun and the cool of the evenings, to better help the grapes ripen.

The 1984 Cabernet that John and I had in 1999 was 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. “That was a lovely vintage, a lovely wine,” Stuart recalled, adding that the 1984 Riesling, which they most recently tasted last year, was “equally good.”

Beginning in 2000, with the replanting program, Smith-Madrone’s Cabernet Sauvignons have been blends. The composition changes depending on what type of vintage they experience. The Smiths are proud of their emphasis on terroir, putting in the bottle what Nature gives them without manipulation, sometimes with no filtering and fining, and trying to do it in an environmentally sustainable way. The 2013 Cabernet is 82% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Cabernet Franc, which gave it real edge, and 6% Merlot, aged in French oak.

Looking back, with all of the wisdom of his 46 years making wine, what advice would he give a winemaker starting out, I asked him.

“Follow your passion,” Stuart said. “There’s always room for a new idea in the wine business, always ever-changing. But the fundamentals of wine are unassailable: Good wine can only come from good grapes. The best grapes, we think, come from the mountains.”

https://grapecollective.com/articles/smith-madrone-a-napa-cabernet-thats-classy-and-ageable-in-english-or-latin

“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: 

http://fsmomaha.com/wp-content/uploads/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.