Mr. Smith Goes To Napa (2015 Cabernet Sauvignon)

November 15, 2019


by Stephen McConnell

Medium ruby with an abrupt pink edge. Despite the transparency, it manages a typical glass-staining ability. Heavy perfume pours from the glass, but right where you might expect banana or vanilla, it heads green, averting flabbiness with petrichor and minerality. Blackberry and pomegranate continue their onslaught, overturning piles of wet decomposing wood and black earthworm-filled loam. The cassis and licorice continue building with heavy applications of air, but equally suffocating is the matching build-up of fruit. This thing just CAN’T slow down. Liniment, wet wool and Vicks take their turns through the nose, but like every other amazing nuance of the bouquet, are spread thin on softly-undulating waves of fruit so crystal-clear you can see the bottom many feet below.

Decanted heavily. I can’t wait to taste this thing. Do I have to explain about Smith-Madrone? Nah… I didn’t think so. If you know, ya know. If you don’t, there’s more for the rest of us. They only make 3 wines, all estate, all hillside, all dry-farmed: A Cab, a Chard and a Riesling. Been doing it the same way high up on Spring Mt. forever and it’s getting harder and harder to find wineries where NOTHING changes to suit marketing styles and popular palates as the years progress, Smith-Madrone remains one of the few who stick to the basics, what works, a formula tried and true and not trendy.

In the mouth, an absolute blockade of impenetrable fruit packs every pore. Bright but ridiculously concentrated SHRILL acid conjoining and shearing it apart–first to balance the blackness and then to leverage the concentration. One of those wines you taste with bling-bros raised on tourist-wines and they’re like, Hmmm is there even fruit? OMG YES This is EXACTLY the kind of fruit you WANT at this age. You shouldn’t have to go looking for it, but it also shouldn’t be flopping around giving you cavities. Pie cherry goes directly into the dryness of angels, gunpowder jasmine tannin doing the lord’s work on your tongue and enamel.

Buy 3 cases of this and drink one per year.

2015 SMITH-MADRONE Cabernet Sauvignon Spring Mt Napa Valley 14.3

We release 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon and 2016 Riesling (in magnum)

To our friends,

It was Yogi Berra who said “it’s déjà vu all over again” and that’s how October felt for those of us in the San Francisco North Bay.  Memories of the October 2017 fires flooded back into all of us, only this time most of us had our power pre-emptively shut off on three separate occasions.  It was both disturbing and disorienting.

While Napa was spared this time around, our friends in Sonoma were not.  It was not nearly as bad as in 2017, but that doesn’t matter to those who lost their homes, wineries or out buildings.  We defiantly reject that this will become the new normal.   Our state government and utilities will get a handle on this and the moniker “wine country” will not lose out to “fire country.”

People often refer to us as ‘authentic’ and ‘artisanal.’ These are wonderful terms which are easy to say, yet hard to define and validate. Let me give you the background or the rationale for why those terms apply to us.

There are many difficult binary choices made in a lifetime and in 1970 I faced just such a choice with creating a vineyard and winery on the floor of the Napa Valley or on the mountains above. For me, it was one of the easiest choices of my life, because at the heart of this endeavor, this quest if you will, was the desire to go to the mountains to make great wine. I believe then as I believe today, that as Virgil said in 43 BC, “Bacchus amat colles,” Bacchus loves the hills. I made a life-long commitment to the goal of making great wine at a time when that was unusual. Many people came to the mountains later…but I went to the mountains in 1970 expressly and purposely to grow the very best grapes possible, to make the very best wine possible. That quest became Smith-Madrone.

We wanted to model the classic European concept of an estate-chateau by making wine only from grapes that we grew ourselves. Absolute control over the grape supply was essential for wine quality. What was the point of being on the mountain if you purchased grapes from others, and what was the limiting factor to size? From a purely business point of view, there were no limits, except in hiring capable people and constantly growing production and sales. That was the side of the wine business that just didn’t speak to us.

We also looked to Europe for the defining elements of great wine, such as balance, complexity, elegance, finesse, restraint and the concept that wine should give pleasure, it should be hedonistic. In the new world, we’ve used the concept of a sense of place as an analogy for terroir, yet I believe that wine should be a reflection of those who grow and make it along with the vineyard site itself and that those three elements should create what I call an “ephemeral sense of art,” a sense of uniqueness.

When we began, the word ‘artisanal’ hadn’t been invented yet (so to speak). And yet today it does define us in that my brother Charlie, my son Sam and I do the work. We also don’t hire consultants and we don’t make wine for scores. We believe we understand and know what is great wine and we make wine for our own palates, with the courage of our convictions that others will agree with us that allows us to stay in business.

Have we been successful in our quest of making that great bottle of wine? I think the truthful answer is, yes, sometimes we are successful. Yet ultimately it is you, the consumer of our wines, who makes that ultimate judgement.

Thank you for supporting us with your purchases. Here are some new additions and also what is currently available.


In case you missed our open house, please keep your eyes peeled for when we announce our next one next year: a good time was had by all, and that included opening some large format Cabernets from the library.

Let’s move on to the release of our 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon and 2016 in magnums, in time for Thanksgiving and the season of feasting. .



The 2015 crop was smaller than 2014. The 2015 Cabernet has great style and wonderful drinkability. Aromatically and on the palate it delivers remarkable complexity; you’ll smell and taste black currants, red plums, lavender, spices, violets, green olives and more. There is a silky texture that leads to a bright finish; overall, the impression is one of effortless elegance, sleek, svelte and delicious—not to minimize the wine’s mountain heritage, which will bode well for cellaring. The blend is 84% Cabernet Sauvignon and 16% Cabernet Franc. The wine spent 18 months in 65% new French oak and 35% one-year-old French oak.                                                                                                                                          $52


Only once before in our history (for our tenth anniversary) have we released magnums of Riesling. For the 2016 vintage, we made a limited number of Riesling in magnum (include a hand-waxed capsule). You already know that this is 100% Riesling from the vineyards surrounding the winery. This vintage has strong floral notes with an admixture of lime, stone fruits and minerality. It has a succulent mid-palate and is Alsatian in style with a delicate forcefulness that finishes with a bright and lively acidity. Please order soon; we know these will fly out of the winery quickly.                                 $75 (1.5L)

Please consider:

2016 CHARDONNAY, $40

2016 RIESLING (750 ml) , $34


Other news: on August 1 our 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon received an enormous accolade by Esther Mobley in The San Francisco Chronicle: you can read the entire piece here: Our wine was part of a group of thirty-three 2004 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignons tasted blind. As Esther said: “….What makes the Smith-Madrone so compelling is that it’s a product not of fashion but of principle. It abides by fundamental standards of wine quality — balance, simplicity — that have never gone out of style, and never will….But sometimes, when something stays the course, ignores the fads, keeps it simple, we get a taste of timelessness….”

Another update: we have just transitioned to a new shipping system, so you will see a different format when you order. If you have any questions, please call or email us. This new approach initially may mean that shipments take a bit longer to fulfill, so we ask your patience. We have adopted this new system because of the recent Supreme Court ruling because of the recent Supreme Court ruling allowing states to collect taxes on e-commerce.

As always, we thank you for your business and look forward to welcoming you at the winery hopefully soon.


Stu, Charlie & Sam

A blind tasting of Chardonnays….

We get mail!

A long-time customer wrote to us the other day:

A (very amateur, if experienced) group of us just had a blind tasting of 2016  Chardonnays.  S-M, Montelena, Grgich, Stag’s Leap, Dierberg, and Calera.  It’s no surprise that your wine was voted the top participant—the surprise was that it was unanimously the favorite.  That among a group of people who never even agrees on which football game to watch or how to vote on a ballot proposition.  I wish I had bought more than four bottles when I was up in August—the two remaining ones will not be shared. At least I bought a full case of Riesling, half of which is safely locked in a wine storage facility for several years to come.

I’ll see you next summer when the next cycle of releases is out, unless I trot up there earlier with some friends who’ve never been.

Hope you’re done with the power shenanigans and that everyone is doing well up there.


“Arguably one of the finest Rieslings made in Napa” is the 2016 Riesling

In Vinography Alder Yarrow reviews the 2016 Riesling:


Vinography Unboxed: Week of 10/27/19

Hello, and welcome to my periodic dig through the samples pile. I’m pleased to bring you the latest installment of Vinography Unboxed, where I highlight some of the better bottles that have crossed my doorstep recently.

This week included a few perennial favorites. Let’s get started with the Smith-Madrone Riesling, arguably the finest (and one of the very few) Rieslings made in Napa. Made high up on Spring Mountain, this wine always delivers classic varietal character with a nice balance between fruit and mineral components, and will age nicely.

2016 Smith Madrone Riesling, Spring Mountain District, Napa, California
Light gold in the glass, this wine smells of honey and citrus oil. In the mouth, a hint of paraffin, citrus pith and honeysuckle have a delicate acidity and nice wet pavement minerality. Pretty.

Back to normal!

The Kincade fire is 60% contained; the winery has regained power–all clear, back to business. We send our enormous thanks to firefighters and first responders and of course condolences to those who’ve suffered.

2016 Riesling is “a beautiful Riesling that shows off its high elevation in the glass” at WineReviewOnline

October 22, 2019

WineReviewOnline, Rich Cook

94 points: Once again, the Smiths have produced a beautiful Riesling that shows off its high elevation in the glass. This vintage is quite forward on the nose, with white flowers and stone fruit sweetly fragrant and enticing you to drink. The palate translates the aroma profile in a dry style, with a round texture mid-palate and a crisp, mouth-watering finish with excellent push of all the flavors. The fruit seems riper than previous vintages, providing a creamy tip of the hat to Alsace. Insider tip – you can get this in a hock magnum at $75, which will add a fine festive touch to your holiday table. I’m ordering mine now!

Power outage update for October 23 – 25

We will be experiencing a power outage on Wednesday 10/23 until sometime on Friday 10/25. Our tours and tastings may be impacted.

Please call us before you head our way.

If we don’t answer but the answering  machine comes on, that means the power is on and we look forward to welcoming you. If there is no answer (and there is no answering machine option), then we are closed.

We apologize for any inconvenience. PG&E is planning this outage because of weather and wind conditions.

2015 Riesling is tasted at Wine1er

Stephen McConnell at Wine1er tastes the 2015 Riesling:

Yellow deepening now at 4. Ashy floral nose, nice petrol and grip, touches of lavender dishwater, with the crispness of bright green pear and the savory warmth of cashmere.

Easily one of my favorite Rieslings made in the new world–certainly California–rich and flavorful. My biggest problems with Riesling are usually austerity and weirdness. There are so many light, thin, uncomplicated white wines out there, why should my Riesling be that way? This is also why I typically don’t need them bone-dry. Likewise weirdness. As with any variety which achieves cult hipster-wine status, there’s gonna be some people making them weird. Don’t do that. Smith-Madrone Rieslings have never even remotely had either of these problems for me. Big and lovely, enticing and complex, never an off note, never a dull moment. And they’ve been doing this for 40 years, right smack dab under everybody’s noses in Napa Valley. Napa Valley Riesling???? Yup.

In the mouth, cool powerful goodness. Rooty clamoring against a shrill core of bitter vegetation cuttings and powdered herbs. I’m drinking this at 60°, probably a far dorkier temperature than is acceptable or even recommended, but it is pushing all the buttons up here. I was drinking it cooler a few hours ago and it honestly went *light* and far more uninteresting. YOU’RE DRINKING YOUR WHITE WINES TOO COLD, PEOPLE. I love the way the tannin comes curling in on the acid and funk late-middle, ridiculously concentrated, balanced with sweet but nearly face-melting. This is a powerful wine, mouth-filling and stunning, good for the LONG RUN. Would love to taste this in 20 years.


Napa Riesling

NittanyEpicurean tastes the 2016 Chardonnay

October 14, 2019

NittanyEpicurean tastes the 2016 Chardonnay:

This wine is 100% estate grown chardonnay. The wine showed a golden color. Apple, like zest, lemon and oak all arrived on the nose. Apple, blood orange, pithy lemon, limestone and oak followed on a palate where citrus stole the show. The wine exhibited good acidity and balance, along with good length and light-bodied. This wine would do well as an aperitif and would pair nicely with a stuffed turkey breast.