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2013 Cabernet included in a look at Napa’s mountain vineyard-wineries

July 30, 2017

The July issue of The Wine Enthusiast looked at Napa Valley’s mountain wine growing regions.

The 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon was reviewed:

93 points: From dry-farmed estate vines, this savory, classically styled red is dusty in cedar, dried herb and peppercorn, incredibly inviting and nuanced. It speaks quietly of the forest which surrounds its estate, a complex, balanced landscape of subtle, elegant flavor and intriguing length. Editors’ Choice.

Here is an excerpt from the article:

Mastering Napa’s Mountain Appellations

Discover what links Cabernet Sauvignons from Napa Valley’s highest mountains: Howell, Diamond, Spring, Mount Veeder and Atlas Peak.


Early in the history of the Napa Valley, before the absurdity of Prohibition, grape growers raised their sights. With many hailing from Europe, they understood how wine grapes love to dig deep into hillsides and mountains.

Those pioneers—Jacob Schram, the Beringers, Charles Lemme and the Christian Brothers—gave way by the 1950s to a new generation. Such innovators as the McCreas, Al and Boots Brounstein, Dr. Jan Krupp, Piero Antinori, the Smith brothers, Bob Travers, Sir Peter Newton and others believed there should be distinct appellations for five of the Napa Valley’s highest mountains: Howell, Diamond, Spring, Mount Veeder and Atlas Peak.

After decades—sometimes centuries—of toil, the Cabernets from these hard-to-work vineyards are now reaching their peak potential.

What links the Cabernet Sauvignons from these mountains are their intensity and structure. Mountain fruit is often compact and concentrated, its berries tiny from seasons of struggle and loaded with powerful tannins that take time to unravel. There’s also a distinct spectrum of earthiness in these wines, a product of their wilderness of forest and rock.

Mountain harvests tend to happen later, which allows winemakers to pick for flavor and at maturities that are ideal for Cabernet Sauvignon. Here’s how these mountain appellations within the Napa Valley differ, and how they don’t.

Spring Mountain District

Hidden in plain sight above the town of St. Helena on the eastern side of the Mayacamas, the Spring Mountain District became an official appellation in 1993. The thick presence of forest and the springs throughout the mountain give the area its name and personality, a world away from the valley below.

The appellation lies mostly along the winding Spring Mountain Road, definitely off the beaten track. At its top, it connects with the border of Sonoma County, near the home of Pride Vineyards which straddles both Napa and Sonoma.

The region’s Cabernet Sauvignon roots run deep. It’s said that La Perla Vineyard was the first planted here, by Charles Lemme in 1874. The land has been continuously farmed, and even withstood Prohibition because it was hidden so far up in the woods. It’s now part of Spring Mountain Vineyard, and the original stone La Perla Winery still stands.

The Beringer brothers planted nearby in the 1880s. But phylloxera and Prohibition put a stop to Spring Mountain’s rise until the 1940s and ’50s, when the McCrea family founded Stony Hill Winery. They planted on steep hillside vineyards terraced between thickets of trees, a common theme.

Spanning 500 to 2,600 feet in elevation, the appellation is 5,000 acres. Less than 10 percent of that acreage is planted to grapevines; most is steep and forested. Sedimentary and volcanic loam soils are the norm, typified by high drainage and low fertility.

Newton, Cain, Keenan, Barnett, Smith-Madrone, Terra Valentine, Spring Mountain Vineyard and York Creek Cellars are among the longstanding adventurers here. Lokoya now bases itself here in a grand tasting estate that surrounds its Yverdon Vineyard at 2,100 feet above sea level.

“Complex and textural would be my summary,” says Newton Vineyards’ Rob Mann of the Cabernet here. “Spring Mountain has an incredibly diverse combination of soil types, aspect, slope, altitude, varietal mix, planting density and vine age. Within one vineyard, depending on the site, you may have four weeks difference in ripening from one plot to the next, planted to the same variety.”

West-facing slopes can be barren and dry, supporting low scrub and live oak, and winemakers must be careful not to let fruit cook in these areas. An adjacent east-facing slope 100 feet away can be cooler and more humid, supporting oak and redwood trees. Slopes are often too steep and cool to ripen red grape varieties.

“The wines are rather intellectual and red-fruit based, with an alluring textural and savory structure, and can be incredibly complex,” Mann says.

In addition to Cabernet Sauvignon and other Bordeaux reds, the land is planted to such varieties as Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Sémillon, Petite Sirah and even traditional Port grapes like Touriga Nacional, Tinto Cao and Tinta Roriz.

Smith-Madrone’s Stu Smith and his brother, Charlie, settled on Spring Mountain in 1970, intrigued by mountain grapes. They were preceded by Stony Hill, which set up shop in 1943 off Highway 29. Around 1952, it added a commercial winery to the property, planting Chardonnay, Riesling, Gewürztraminer and Sémillon, varieties the family still tends.

Demystifing Riesling with NapaFoodandVine

July 28, 2017

NapaFoodandVine ruminated about Riesling: here is an excerpt:

Demystifying Riesling Wines, July 28, 2017

I am always surprised to hear that people in the United States don’t tend to drink much Riesling. It is a very flexible grape that not only pairs beautifully with food, but it ages well and can have a variety of sweetness levels depending on where and how it is grown. So why don’t people buy it by the case? Why aren’t more vineyards growing it?

When I have asked friends and other wine bloggers about Riesling there seemed to be much confusion on the subject. I went so far as to do a poll on Twitter to find out why people don’t drink Riesling. 65% who responded said Riesling is too sweet for them. 25% responded that there was a lack of quality Riesling available and the final 10% had never heard of it. Other people considered it akin to the White Zinfandels of the world remembering Blue Nun as their guide.

Varietals and winemaking styles come in and out of fashion depending on marketing and changing palates. Remember when everyone was adding oak to their Chardonnay to taste like Rombauer? Whilst many winemakers still use oak in their process of making wine, many others have gone to using only steel tanks which give the wine a crisper, cleaner flavor, without any butter or vanilla qualities.

Riesling seems to have fallen victim to being out of fashion. Don’t get me wrong, plenty of the cooler climate states in the US, like New York, grow Riesling in abundance, but here in Napa and Sonoma, very few vineyards grow it. There are about four-thousand acres of Riesling in California, with just eighty-seven acres in Napa County. Most of California’s crop is grown in Monterey County.

The Brit comments: As a comparison, there are nearly ninety-eight thousand acres of Chardonnay in California.

In the cooler climates, Riesling takes on a sweet profile with lush over-ripe fruit flavors and an almost perfumey nose. In the warmer climates, however, Riesling takes on a dry, softer profile with flavors of stone fruits, high acidity, and subtle scents of lime and apples. There is a third way that Riesling is used and that is in dessert style wines where the grapes are left on the vines nearly becoming raisins before they are harvested; preserving the high sugar content.

Unfortunately, it seems as though people don’t know which is which. The bottles often aren’t labeled as dry or sweet, so how does one know what to buy? I have heard that people say they can tell the sweetness by the color of the wine in the glass or bottle. The darker the wine, the sweeter it is. I don’t know about you, but when I am purchasing wine I don’t often carry with me a color chart of wine colors. That just doesn’t work. Also, if the bottle is made with colored glass, well then you are just out of luck.

When you are buying German Riesling, they have different names for the levels of sweetness and they list them on the label.”Trocken” means dry and they have alcohol levels above 11%. “Halbtrocken” means off-dry which means it has a little sweetness to the flavor but a dry finish.”Süss” or “Liebliche” means sweet on the scale. They have an alcohol level of between 9 and 10%. Anything that is lower than 9% alcohol will be really sweet and should be considered a dessert wine.

But how do you know with an American Riesling if it is dry or sweet? Labels do give a hint, as do alcohol levels to a certain degree, but that just doesn’t seem to give you a perfect indicator of sweetness in this case. You can look at where the grapes were grown. Remember warmer climates produce drier wines, places like Lodi, South Africa, and Australia all make truly dry versions. There is a grass roots movement to have a sweetness indicator put on wine labels; a few wineries do it, but for now, you are going to have to read reviews and taste through them to see what you like.

Our number one choice and our favorite is a dry Riesling from Smith-Madrone Winery, Spring Mountain, Napa. It is the perfect balance of fruits and high acidity. The nose is of peach blossoms and lime. The wine is so smooth on the palate and it has an incredibly long finish. I paired our last bottle with homemade chicken dopiaza curry and it was fantastic. All of the flavors in the curry were accentuated by the wine in wonderful harmony. Honestly, the pairings of food and wine combinations with this bottle are endless, although I might not do so with a huge steak. My only problem with Smith Madrone wines is that you either need to go to their winery to get them or order online. Since it is $30 a bottle, and shipping is reasonable, it is well worth doing.

Note: For this article we were drinking the 2014 Smith Madrone Riesling. We happened to have that one to hand when writing this article but it should be noted that year on year the quality of this wine has remained outstanding since we first discovered it. Something else to keep in mind – Riesling ages well.

The Brit comments: The Smith Madrone Riesling is the antithesis of the one-dimensional overly sweet Riesling that was imported to the UK and the US in the 1970s. The combination of peach and assertive lime driven acidity make it a drink that is refreshing and can stand up to spicy food.

Chardonnay ‘judiciously oaked for maximum pleasure’

July 26, 2017

Rockinred Blog looks at Chardonnays, California vs. Chile, and considers the 2014 Smith-Madrone Chardonnay:


2014 Smith-Madrone Chardonnay Spring Mountain District USA: medium- straw; medium+ aromas of orchard fruit, tropical fruit, yellow stone fruit, white floral notes, touch of nutmeg and valencia almonds; loads of juicy citrus and orchard fruit erupt on the palate, fresh and clean, judiciously oaked for maximum pleasure, rich and round yet balanced with medium acidity; medium+ body with long toasty finish.

Chardonnay Throwdown: California vs. Chile




2014 Riesling is ‘delicious as always’

July 24, 2017

Vinography considers the 2014 Riesling:

Napa’s best Riesling was also on offer this week, in the form of the annual bottling from Smith-Madrone on Spring Mountain. This vintage is particularly charming….

Palest gold in the glass, this wine smells of citrus pith, mandarin peel, and a touch of diesel. In the mouth, faintly sweet flavors of Asian pear, mandarin juice and pink grapefruit have a gorgeously bright aspect thanks to excellent acidity. The wine finishes quite long and regal on the palate. Delicious, as always.

“Elegance and restraint are axioms…”

July 21, 2017

RockinRed blog ponders Napa Valley Cabs:

Why Cabernet Sauvignon is the King of Napa Valley

Cabernet Sauvignon is the king of the red wine jungle. Bordeaux may reign supreme in old world wines, but when it comes to new world Cabs, Napa Valley is tops. The first grapes were planted in Napa Valley by George Calvert Yount in 1839. Charles Krug is credited with establishing Napa’s first commercial winery in 1861. Napa experienced ups and downs in the early years due to phylloxera, Prohibition, etc; however, in 1944 seven ambitious Napa Valley vintners realized unity was their way to global recognition. These seven Napa Valley icons signed a formal agreement establishing Napa Valley Vintner and in so doing drafted another declaration of independence; a statement to the Bordeaux loving world that the US also produces first class Cabernet Sauvignon wines.

It took the world 32 more years to recognize Napa Valley as a top wine producing region. In 1976’s Judgement of Paris, the French judges not only awarded both a Napa Valley Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon as best in class, beating out a Burgundy and Bordeaux respectively. In 1985, famed wine critic Robert Parker awarded a 1985 Groth NV Cabernet Sauvignon 100 points, from that point on Napa Cabs have been an ongoing success story.

So why does Cabernet Sauvignon, and other Bordeaux varieties, perform so well in Napa Valley? Cabernet Sauvignon is a black grape variety containing high acidity and tannins. Typical aromas and flavors include black fruits, herbaceous notes, and additional oak driven earthiness such as tobacco, licorice, spices, and vanilla. It grows well in moderate to hot climates and has the potential for great age-ability. Napa Valley’s climate is influenced by its proximity to the Pacific Ocean and the ranges of mountains that surround it. It experiences a long growing season of sunny, warm days with cool nights, allowing the grapes to ripen slowly and evenly. Within Napa Valley lie an array of microclimates that vary greatly depending on geographic location and elevation. In addition to the many microclimates, Napa Valley also contains a mosaic of soil types. Soils range from volcanic to marine origin, in total the Napa Valley Vintners report the AVA contains half the world’s soil orders, with more than 100 variations! This is why Cabernet Sauvignon accounts for 40% of Napa’s total production and 55% of crop value.

The diversity within Napa Valley is recognized through sub-AVAs. Each of the 16 sub-AVA represents a unique microclimate within the greater Valley. I wish I had 16 wines to share with you to highlight the unique qualities of each sub-AVA. Instead, below are six Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignons that are examples of the quality style produced in Napa.

2014 Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley USA ($58)

2013 Chateau Montelena The Montelena Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley USA ($160)

2014 Grgich Hills Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley USA ($63)

2014 Rombauer Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley USA ($55)

2013 Smith-Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley USA ($50): Crafted of 82% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Cabernet Franc, and 6% Merlot from grapes grown in Spring Mountain District estate vineyards; medium+ ruby; pronounced aromas of fresh picked violets, fresh picked blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, currants, and plums, dried mint, forest floor, cassis, black pepper, sweet tobacco and spice notes, licorice, minerality, and vanilla; incredibly balanced wine that meets the palate with silkiness of juicy fruit, as it moves across the palate the silkiness morphs into a dusty earth with medium+ acidity and dusty tannins, the influences of the volcanic soil are evident, elegance and restraint are axioms at Smith-Madrone this wine is no exception, full body, long finish, drink now with a decant or cellar properly and enjoy in a few years.

Other than The Montelena Estate Cab, these are reasonably priced Napa Valley Cabernets. Land and grapes come at a premium in Napa; however, you can enjoy these more wallet friendly wines (depending on your budget) to experience the quality that Napa Valley delivers in Cabernet Sauvignon.

Riesling is ‘truly fantastic’

July 17, 2017

Rockinred blog looks at summer whites and recommends the 2014 Riesling:

2014 Smith Madrone Riesling Spring Mountain District USA ($30): medium- gold; pronounced aromas of crushed stone, petrol, white stone fruit, citrus and jasmine; dry racy palate with medium+ mouthwatering acidity, elegant with medium body, great minerality/crushed stone on the palate, long finish; this wine is truly fantastic, makes a great summer pairing with sushi, seafood, salads, poultry, shellfish, frittata, pizza, etc;

6 Refreshing White Wines to Pair with Summer

2014 Riesling’s ‘big personality’ in Tasting Panel Magazine

July 13, 2017

The 2014 Riesling is recommended as a grape with a big personality and tiny footprint, in the July 2017 issue of Tasting Panel Magazine.

Meg Houston Maker reviewed the wine:

This waxy, stone-scented mélange mingles citrus, guava and passion fruit and offers a succulent finish.