Smith-Madrone Winery: A genuine family-run boutique treasure
There are many wineries that tout their size, charm, family roots and boutique credentials. Sometimes it’s true; way too often it’s marketing spin. There are examples like that all over the wine world: Napa Valley has their fair share. But among wineries of all sizes and scopes there are some incredibly real family producers just waiting to be discovered by wine lovers. Smith-Madrone Winery, founded and run to this day by brothers Stu and Charles Smith, is among their number. If you visit (and you should!) it’s one of the amiable Smith brothers who will greet you, guide you around their property and pour you the wine they made with their own hands from the vines they planted. Their history dates back to 1971 on Spring Mountain, and since that time they have been making wine in the new world using the classic methodology that has been employed for a much longer period in old world wine regions. I’ve been tasting and drinking their wines for a number of years now, and there is a consistency to their authentic nature that speaks volumes about how they work. These are vineyard-driven wines that allow the land and vintage conditions to speak. Here’s a look at the current releases of their core offerings.
The Smith-Madrone 2011 Riesling was produced from estate fruit sourced on the winery’s home ranch on Spring Mountain. The vines these grapes came from are 39 years old. This is a 100 percent varietal wine. There were 521 cases produced and it has a suggested retail price of $27. Hints of hazelnut, stone fruits and bits of lemon zest are apparent on the nose of this Riesling. The palate here is both gentle and deeply layered with complex flavors. White peach, lychee fruit and white pepper are in evidence and carry through to the finish, which is crisp and clean with impressive persistence. This lovely, dry Riesling is amazingly fresh and lively. It’s beautiful and delicious all by itself, but will also pair well with light foods. This well-proportioned wine will age well and improve under proper storage conditions for more than a decade.
The Smith-Madrone 2010 Chardonnay was made using fruit grown at the estate property on Spring Mountain. The Chardonnay vines were 38 years old at the time of harvest. This wine is 100 percent Chardonnay. It was entirely barrel fermented and aged in all new French oak over a period of 8 months. They produced 703 cases of Chardonnay in the 2010 vintage, and this wine has a suggested retail price of $30. Golden Delicious and Gala apple aromas leap from the rich nose of this 2010 Chardonnay. The palate is studded with pure orchard fruit flavors that include a variety of apples, as well as Anjou pear characteristics. Apple pie and crust spices are present along with a bit of crème fraiche. This beautiful Chardonnay has a lengthy finish laden with spice and minerals. If you’re fond of excellent Chardonnay you’ll have trouble putting the glass down once you taste this one. This is a testament to the balance achieved when fruit is picked properly, oak is used judiciously and balance is achieved. This is a rich, practically luxurious wine, but it’s also incredibly harmonious. For me, there are a handful of Chardonnays in Napa Valley that stand above the rest year after year, and the one from Smith-Madrone is in that small circle. This wine simply blows away Chardonnays that are selling for twice the price.
The Smith-Madrone 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon was produced entirely from estate fruit gown on Spring Mountain. In addition to Cabernet Sauvignon (97 percent), this wine contains small amounts of Merlot (2 percent) and Cabernet Franc (1 percent). At the time of harvest the vines sourced were 36 years old. This wine was aged more than 22 months in new American oak. Just fewer than 1,500 cases were produced, and it has a suggested retail price of $45. Black and red berry fruit aromas light up the nose of this 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, along with hints of toast and pine resin. The palate here is substantial and features a measured heftiness. It’s a bit brawn -- particularly at this young age -- but just the right amount. Allowing it to aerate for a couple of hours helps this young offering better express its charms. Cherry, blackberry, pepper and mocha are strewn through the palate. Bits of earth, continued mocha elements and lots of spice are present on the finish, which has impressive length and persistence of character. The 2007 Smith-Madrone Cabernet is an excellent example of what terrific mountain Cabernet is all about. Year after year this wine is an excellent value. Napa Valley has its fair share of outstanding Cabernets; however it’s also littered with numerous examples that are two to three times the price of this wine, not nearly as good and won’t age as well. At five years old this wine is just beginning its journey. This 2007 Cabernet will improve in your cellar over the next 15 or so years and drink well for another five to eight years after that. You could spend weeks in Napa Valley tasting Cabernet Sauvignon (I have), and not find a better value than this.
What continues to strike me about the Smith-Madrone wines, one vintage after another, is how consistently proportionate they are. Vintages vary, and wines aren’t the same every year; that’s one of the great charms of this particular drink. The Smith-Madrone wines manage to be authentic representatives of their place and time each year. That’s a testament to the even hand Charles and Stu use in shepherding their land, and well representing its bounty in bottles year after year. If you enjoy well-made, genuine wines the Smith-Madrone offerings are well worth any effort necessary to obtain them. They are more than fairly priced for the quality and artisanal nature they represent. They are also more than worthy selections to set aside for any special occasion that might require an awesome bottle of wine.