Smith-Madrone is a small artisanal winery at the highest point in the Spring Mountain District appellation. Stuart Smith walked through a forest on top of a mountain in the Napa Valley in the fall of 1970 and the next year founded Smith-Madrone Winery, perched at elevations between 1,200 and 1,900 feet with slopes ranging in steepness of up to 35%—qualifying as textbook ‘mountain vineyards.’ Smith-Madrone enjoys dramatic views over the floor of the Napa Valley. The property neighbors Bothe State Park as well as Stony Hill, Barnett and Keenan wineries.
While exploring the property before purchasing it, Smith discovered old grape stakes interspersed with the tall trees, evidence of a vineyard planted in the 1880s and abandoned with the onset of Prohibition. Douglas fir, Oak, Redwood and Madrone trees were cleared, and the vineyards planted. Stu’s brother Charles Smith joined the operation in 1973. The name for the winery is both a tribute to the Smith brothers who pursued their dream and to the Madrone trees which predominate on the ranch. Unusual for North Coast viticulture at the time, the initial twenty acres were planted on their own roots. The vines flourish in vividly red and rocky volcanic soil known as Aiken loam, which is well-drained and friable.
Today the vineyard consists of thirty seven acres—9 acres of Riesling, 8 acres of Chardonnay, 14 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon, 2.5 acres of Cabernet Franc and 3.5 acres of Merlot. Stuart chose specific slopes with different exposures for specific varietals: eastern exposure for the Riesling, southern and western exposures across flat stretches for the Cabernet Sauvignon; the coolest north-facing slopes for the Chardonnay. Smith-Madrone is dry-farmed, a green-friendly practice forcing these mountain grapes to “struggle” to survive, with the vines reaching deep to search for water and nutrients, producing the precise amount of fruit exactly appropriate for their vigor, small berries with a large skin-to-juice ratio. The cool mountain climate, coupled with the volcanic mountain soil, produces grapes of intense flavor, structure and longevity. The winery produces just under 4,000 cases a year of Chardonnay, Riesling and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Stuart Smith and Charles Smith were born and raised in Santa Monica; today Stuart is the General Partner of the winery, acting as vineyard manager and enologist and Charles is the winemaker. Both Smiths serve as judges at wine competitions and are often sought for their expertise, whether it’s by The New York Times, National Public Radio or James Conaway for his book Napa: The Far Side of Eden. You can meet the brothers on YouTube by searching Smith-Madrone (http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=smith-madrone).
Following the French domaine model, Smith-Madrone makes wine only from its own estate vineyards surrounding the winery. Stu and Charles explain that their goal is to make artisanal wines which are distinctive, an expression of both the vintage and their hand as vintners and above all else, are wines which bring pleasure to the senses. “Every year our wine is made from the same vineyards, pruned by the same people in the same way, cultivated in exactly the same manner and harvested at similar levels of maturity, yet Mother Nature stamps each vintage with a unique set of flavors, senses and character,” they say.
Inside the winery the ‘patent’ signed by President Chester A. Arthur is proudly displayed & dated December 5, 1884, it grants title from the U.S. government to George W. Cook for the property which today is Smith-Madrone. There are numerous other intriguing historical traces on the property: Chinese workers cleared the land in the mid-nineteenth century and left behind meticulous rock piles, stone walls and underground caves. California black bears and other wildlife once thrived here; enormous 120-year-old Picholine olive trees frame a picturesque path leading through the vineyards.
4022 Spring Mountain Road
St. Helena, CA 94574
Tastings by appointment only
Phone: 707.963.2283 smithmadrone.com