Home California Return to California 10: Meeting Stu Smith at Smith-Madrone on Spring Mountain

Return to California 10: Meeting Stu Smith at Smith-Madrone on Spring Mountain


Touring Smith-Madrone

Smith-Madrone sits at the top of Spring Mountain with the vineyards planted between 1300 and 2000 feet elevation, started by Stuart Smith in 1971, owned and run with brother Charles Smith.

Stu Smith

The vineyards are surrounded by and planted within the forest and rely on sustainable farming practices.

In the center of the vineyard stands an alley of olive trees over a hundred years old. When Stu Smith first located what would become the Smith-Madrone vineyards the property was fully forested and difficult to walk in most places. In the midst of his hike over the hills he looked down and saw grape stakes at the base of trees–the forest had reclaimed an old vineyard. He realized the area had been a vineyard pre-prohibition and so would likely do well supporting vines again. In clearing the forest to get ready for planting he discovered two perfect rows of olive trees surrounded by fir. (note: the original caption had stated that is was old vine canes. This has been corrected.)

The chardonnay leaf has five distinct veins, with the bottom two naked to the bottom of the leaf–this is known as them being “naked to the basal vein.” It has a closed shaped much like a maple.

The veins of Cabernet Sauvignon leaves are also naked to the basal vein, and the over all leaf shape includes looping in towards the center of the leaf not seen in the more closed shape of Chardonnay. (note: there is a correction here from the original caption of this image. Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon are the two varieties that exhibit this ‘naked to the basal vein’ characteristic. In this image the vein to the right above Stu Smith’s finger shows as the lower most boundary of the leaf–this is the characteristic “naked to the basal vein.” The vein to the left, on the other hand, is embedded within the body of the leaf. Thank you to Stu Smith for clarifying this point.)

Thanks to the shape of the individual leaves, Cabernet plants develop a lacy appearance in the canopy.

Smith-Madrone is known for Riesling, Chardonnay, and Cabernet Sauvignon–all wines made entirely from grapes grown on the property, with brothers Charles and Stu managing all vineyard care and wine making. The Riesling vertical reveals the effects of three of the most difficult vintages seen in Napa valley in a long time–focused, crisp, light petrol notes on citrus and bloom all, the 2009 the most earthy of the three. The 2010, my favorite, showing ultra clean, the earthy notes well integrated. 2011 tastes as slightly sweeter (this is a dry style wine) due not to any increase in residual sugar, but instead to different proportions in the wine itself. The 2011 has slightly lower acidity.

The 2009 Chardonnay brings together the flavoral richness of California with the structural focus and minerality of a French offering. The Smith brothers goal in wine making “is to get the vintage into the bottle.”

We were also able to taste Cabernet, and Cabernet Reserve, but at a moment when I didn’t have my camera.

Thank you to Stu Smith for hosting me at Smith-Madrone.

Thank you to Julie Ann Kodmur.

Hi to Charlotte!

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  1. Smith Madrone Chards are such a beautiful example of what california chardonnay can be. Rich but with terroir. Love serving it to those that want classic cali chard.

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