Smith Madrone Vineyards | A Spring Mountain Must
Something From Nothing | The Beginnings of Smith Madrone Vineyards
Tucked away at the very end of Spring Mountain Road lies Smith Madrone Vineyards. Situated at the highest point in the Spring Mountain District, its steeply sloped mountain vineyards reach grades of up to 34% at elevations between 1300 and 2000 feet.
Notable and familiar neighbors include Bothe Napa Valley State Park directly to the North, Barnett Vineyards immediately to the West and Keenan Winery lies due South.
The history of the property dates all the way back to the 1880 when a man by the name of George Cook secured a land grant authorized by then President Chester A. Arthur and planted vineyards and olive trees on the estate.
But when Stu Smith discovered this special parcel of land, with its expansive views of Napa Valley and rocky, well-drained volcanic soils, the existing vineyards were in disrepair and the property was still mostly just a forest!
The founder of Smith Madrone Vineyards, Stu Smith is a celebrated enologist and viticulturist who today is considered a specialist in hillside vineyard farming. He would learn a great deal about viticulture in practice after purchasing this 200 acre forest of Madrone, Oak, Redwood and Douglas Fir in 1970 and clearing and planting an initial 20 acres of hillside vines by 1972.
A year later, Stu’s brother Charles Smith signed on to serve as partner and winemaker at Smith Madrone and the rest is history. Today, with a total of 34 acres planted to vine, Smith Madrone is producing wines of style, substance, restraint and longevity from its cooler mountain climate. They are wines that will complement, rather than compete with a meal.
Of the 34 total acres at Smith Madrone Vineyards:
- 13 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon
- 10.25 acres of Chardonnay
- 6.25 acres of Riesling
- 3.75 acres of Merlot
- 1 acre of Cabernet Franc
A Must Visit | A Tasty, Educational Experience
You too will be well taken care of at Smith Madrone Vineyards. Don’t assume that I got the ‘wine blogger’ treatment because I got to taste with the founder himself – all tastings at Smith Madrone are conducted by one of the Smith brothers personally; and did I mention that they’re free of charge?
I had initially intended to spend about an hour at Smith Madrone getting an introduction to their wines and their story – and ended up spending a thoroughly informative and educational three hours with Stu – and we only tasted five wines!
During that time, it became quite clear that Stu is at one with his vineyards and has a real intuition when it comes to how best to maximize his exposures and soils. For example, he plants his Cabernet Sauvignon vines on his southern and western exposures for ideal and even sunlight, and his Chardonnay on the coolest northern exposures to preserve acidity and balance.
His vineyards are entirely dry-farmed and he believes that vines should struggle and root deeply for water, producing smaller berries with an ideal skin to juice ratio.
You won’t find a multi-million dollar tasting room at Smith Madrone. It is refreshingly casual and tastings are conducted in the hand-built winery or just outside overlooking the sloping estate vineyards. The focus here is on the vineyards and the wines.
What We Tasted During Our Visit to Smith Madrone Vineyards…
Smith Madrone Riesling 2013: Light yellow with flecks of green. The nose reveals apples, pears and honeysuckle balanced by a lively dose of lime citrus and a whiff of petrol. In the mouth, the Smith Madrone Riesling is medium in body and begins with a round personality revealing melon and a honeyed sweetness before developing a racier side with assistance from vibrant acidity, citrus notes and spice. This has good verve and tension and is frankly hard to put down. This makes a compelling argument for more Riesling in Napa and in your wine cellar. I tasted a 2007 Smith Madrone Riesling during my visit and it was already developing very well and showing more developed secondary notes of honey and petroleum and had considerable life left.
Price: $27 | Score: 90 | Residual Sugar: 0.75% (Dry)
Smith Madrone Chardonnay 2013: Medium straw yellow in color. There’s an abundance of sweet, ripe aromas bursting from the glass including apples, pears, cantaloupe, and white flowers complemented by hints of lemon curd and wet stone. In the mouth the Smith Madrone Chardonnay is medium to full-bodied with a creamy yet spicy, zesty mouthfeel and a subtle undercurrent of mineral. While the fruit is ripe and rich, it maintains excellent balance and good persistence on the subtly toasty finish. An very good Napa Chardonnay exuding both power and grace. Considering that this sees 8 months in 100% new French oak, it is surprising how well integrated the oak influence is.
Price: $32 | Score: 91
Smith Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon 2011: A dark ruby red in the glass with aromas of bell pepper, cherries and currants framed by hints of menthol and cedar. In the mouth it’s a medium-bodied with a silky texture. A savory and herbal expression of Napa Cabernet revealing a focused core of sour cherry, blackberry and black currant is further nuanced by bell pepper, sage, woodsmoke, minty tobacco and spice notes livened by vibrant acidity. It finishes with fine powdery tannin. Stu believes that some green pepper notes are indicative of a properly ripened Cabernet, and that you only get rid of it with overripe fruit. Those who consider bell pepper a flaw should taste this stylish, well-balanced Cabernet Sauvignon. 83% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc and 7% Merlot | 14.3% ABV
Price: $48 | Score: 91
The Specifics | Smith Madrone Vineyards
Location: 4022 Spring Mountain Road, St. Helena, CA 94574
Tasting Fee: Free of Charge
Included in the Tasting: A tasting of current release wines with one of the Smith brothers.
Wine Prices: $27 for Riesling, $32 for Chardonnay, $48 for Cabernet Sauvignon
Appointment Required? Yes, make a request online here. Telephone is 707-963-2283 for follow up purposes. Tastings are conducted Monday – Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Time to Allot: Approximately 60 minutes
Should You Go? This boutique Spring Mountain winery is producing stylish wines of substance that emphasize balance and restraint over sheer power. The visit is refreshingly casual yet informative, and the wines are priced to take home and enjoy with a meal. This is what I imagine a Napa winery was like during the 70’s – before it developed significant notoriety.
Fun Facts | Smith Madrone Vineyards
- The name is a tribute to the Smith brothers and the Madrone tree, which is the most common tree on the 200 acre ranch. It is a form of Evergreen with a reddish-brown color to its trunk and branches.
- Tastings are always conducted free of charge, by one of the Smith brothers personally.
- The soils are mostly deep-red Aiken Stoney Clay loam. The volcanic soils are rocky, with some of the rocks reaching the size of a small car.
- Smith Madrone’s production of approximately 4,000 cases of wine per year is entirely estate grown and bottled.
- The history of the property dates all the way back to the late 1800’s when George Cook homesteaded the property, planted vines and olive trees, and was eventually awarded a patent by then President Chester A. Arthur for ownership rights to the estate.
For more information about Smith Madrone Vineyards, click here.
**Wines provided as samples for purposes of review.