One scorching hot Saturday, I was invited to take a Napa mountain adventure, up past St. Helena, past Spring Mountain’s Falcon Crest set, to Smith-Madrone Winery high atop Spring Mountain road. As I drove, and drove, and drove, and worried that my car was overheating (or just plain flipping out in protest) as I climbed the hill, Shana pulled up behind me to ask where the heck we were.
We arrived, after a couple of wrong turns and iPhone reception-less, at Smith-Madrone Winery, high atop Spring Mountain. Smith-Madrone was founded in 1971 by Stuart Smith, the enologist, and is run by Stuart and Charles Smith, the winemaker. All of the wine is made from estate fruit, which is planted between 1300 and 2000 feet. The mountain soil is on steep hillsides, on the highest point in the Spring Mountain AVA, with different exposures for each varietal. this interesting geography and (hrmm what is the science of exposure called anyway?) creates some distinctly delicious wines and they treated us to a lovely tour and tasting on the property.
The property was 100% dry farmed until they had to replant, at which point they irrigated to make sure the new vines too hold. Up here on Spring Mountain, it’s unusual to have chardonnay, so it was nice to find people doing it their own way. Smith-Madrone is not organically farmed, but they strive to be as sustainable as possible while still being successful. The land on this estate has been farmed for somewhere around 500 years, so clearly someone is doing it right. Along with the chardonnay, Smith-Madrone was actually the first California winery to be awarded a European award for their Riesling. This is pretty big stuff considering they were up against some of the German big boys.
After a dusty tour of the 200 acre estate vineyard, including the big Madrone tree, we came back down to the winery to taste.33
2007 Chardonnay – the first wine we had was full of scents of vanilla and sandlewood. The flavors were quite citrusy, with lemon curd and meyer lemon. For a French Oak aged Chard, this was still crisp and refreshing with vanilla bean and green apple flavors that I really enjoyed. I also had a touch of Asian pear and ginger ale. I was really surprised I liked this so much, since I prefer an unoaked chard, but I give this a STRONG BUY at $30 for it’s unique sense of place and wonderful flavors.
2008 Chardonnay – This new release had tons of vanilla and custard, followed by egg nog. Not just the nutmeg, but the eggs and the nog! I tasted ginger spiced pears, and while this was interesting I wasn’t thrilled. $30
2004 Cabernet Sauvignon – Overwhelming aromas and flavors of olives, wood, and dried cherries, figs and chocolate. Quite tannic and woody. I didn’t like this one as much because it represents what I don’t enjoy in cab and was too funky for my taste. $45
2006 Cabernet Sauvignon -Coffee, chocolate, tobacco. This was soft and round with bright blackberry. BUY this for a nice steak.
2007 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon (pre-release) – I loved this wine. Even though it was a baby, it had green pepper, black peppercorn, lots of baking spice and black cherry, and blackberry juice. STRONG BUY at $45
A rare treat was a 1979 Cabernet Sauvignon. We actually didn’t know it was a 79 until after it was poured, and I never would have guessed that it was as old as it was. This wine still had all of its color and most of its fruit, and had aromas of orange rind, tasted of spice and earth with candied orange slices, with amazing balance and acidity. Please go out and SPLURGE on this wine for a special occasion. you will no be disappointed (if you can find it!)
Next up we tried the 2008 Riesling. this is an off dry example with grapefruit and spice on the nose, and just a touch of sweetness that would be perfect with Thai or Indian foods. For your homemade curry, BUY this for $27.
Stuart and Charles were welcoming characters in a mosaic of a wine quilt, and these two are why I love wine. It’s the story, and how you get there that makes all the different. Anyone can make 100,000 cases in a warehouse. It take soul to make 1000 cases by hand on a mountain top.
Many thanks to Russ Beebe for arranging this, and Smith-Madrone Winery for the wine and tour!