Smith-Madrone Vineyards & Winery is located in the Spring Mountain District appellation, nestled at the top of a ridge with panoramic views of Napa Valley. Working with only estate-grown fruit, this small production, artisanal family winery focuses on crafting Cabernet Sauvignon, Riesling and Chardonnay of exceptional quality. With origins dating back to the beginning of the wine boom in the valley, 1971, brothers Charles and Stuart Smith have maintained an impeccable reputation from their stunning production of low-yield, mountainous fruit, which translates into truly elegant, terroir-driven wines.
Recently released are the new vintages of their three flagship varietals: 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon, 2013 Riesling and 2013 Chardonnay. Although the vast majority of the planted vineyards are comprised of these three varietals, the estate also has small amounts of Cabernet Franc and Merlot planted for blending into the Cabernet Sauvignon, which provides balance and added complexity. Each of these wines is made strictly from the estate-grown fruit and all of the vineyards are dry farmed.
Although these mountainous vineyards are tended to in the same manner, the terroir of each site is very specific to the varietal planted there. When first planting, Stuart and Charles chose distinct locations for each of the grape variety, so as to assure that each variety was planed in the terroir that it is most suitable for. Full of deep-red Aiken stony clay loam—which includes volcanic rock, chert, limestone, serpentine, shale and metamorphic rock—these soils force the vines to struggle and dig their roots deep into the ground. This also allows for the brothers to dry farm the vineyards, because their roots are deep enough to tap into the ground water. The struggle of the vines in these rocky soils is truly what allows the vines to produce such small, concentrated grapes of astounding quality. In turn, the wines are expressive, complex and distinctly unique to their terroir of their vineyard sites.
2011 Cabernet Sauvignon, Smith-Madrone Vineyards & Winery
The new releases are quite incredible, both in their youth and in looking down the road for aging. To begin, the 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon—which is planted at 1,800 feet elevation on steep (up to 35% gradient) slopes with southern and western sun exposures—exhibits lively aromatics and a true Bordeaux-style palate. This isn’t a big, jammy-fruit Napa Cab by any means. The 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon from Smith-Madrone Vineyards & Winery is elegant, expressive and intricate with layers of complexity and texture. The nose is stunning with lively aromatics of mint, tobacco leaf, anise, wet rocks, pencil lead, black currant and black cherry. The palate shows incredibly complex flavors and textures with a very long finish. A medium body with integrated tannins and silky, dry texture is surrounded by subtle fruit flavors of red and black cherry, dried raspberry and a hint of blueberry in the background. These gentle fruit characteristics are beautifully poised against bittersweet dark chocolate, cocoa, rocky minerality, pencil lead and a touch of smoke. You can taste the varietal characteristics, the earth of the vineyard site and the delicate approach in the cellar. Nineteen months in French oak with a final blend of 83% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc and 7% Merlot make this one of the most finessed and balanced Cabernet Sauvignons of the difficult 2011 vintage that I have tasted. Certainly a wine that is enjoyable now, but also built for long-term cellar aging.
2013 Riesling, Smith-Madrone Vineyards & Winery
The 2013 Riesling from Smith-Madrone Vineyards & Winery is a beautiful expression of a dry style. With only .75% residual sugar content and 12.6% alcohol, this Riesling remains refreshing and sophisticated. The nose boasts notes of white peach, white nectarine, salted lemon, wet rocks and stony minerality. The palate jumps out of the gate with bright acidity, followed by a round, creaminess at mid-palate, then finishing with that ever-so-gentle kiss of faint sugar—balanced by a touch of salted lemon and lemon zest. Flavors of green apple, ripe pineapple, kiwi and mango abound on the palate; gentler notes of honeysuckle, sweet peaches and minerality linger beneath the surface. The fresh acidity is well balanced by a welcoming roundness of body, making for a rather enjoyable tasting experience. This wine is also an excellent candidate for cellar aging.
2013 Chardonnay, Smith-Madrone Vineyards & Winery
Smith-Madrone Vineyards & Winery’s 2013 Chardonnay is also exceptional, especially for those who enjoy the influence of oak balanced by terroir-driven characteristics. Spice-filled aromatics of cinnamon, ginger, green apple, honeydew melon and salted lemon leap from the glass. The palate is creamy and full with a lusciously round texture; background notes of caramel, burnt sugar and salted lemon mingle with foreground notes of papaya, green apple, lemon zest, minerality, clove and cinnamon. This Chardonnay is full and enticing, while still maintaining freshness and wonderful fruit flavors.
Overall, the new releases from Smith-Madrone Vineyards & Winery are exquisite and enjoyable, and also pleasantly perfect for stocking up on and putting away in your cellar for a later date. Brothers Stuart and Charles Smith prove once again that terroir-driven wines from mountainous Napa Valley regions allow for winemakers to produce stunning, noteworthy wines of incredible quality.