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Smith-Madrone: A Commitment to Riesling and Affordability

The view from Smith-Madrone

Simply put, Napa Valley is expensive. You can drive down highway 29 and see a rare Porche parked in front of one of its many delectable restaurants, and the wineries that litter the valley are, like the guests that they attract, dressed up with sleek features. That is not how it used to be though, and Smith-Madrone is the humble pioneer that won’t change, and we don’t want them to.

Charles, Stuart, and Sam Smith of Smith-Madrone (photo: Meg Smith, Smith-Madrone)

In 1971, Stuart and Charlie Smith chose to settle on Spring Mountain. They cleared the forest themselves and planted Cabernet, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Riesling. At the time, there were only 30 or so wineries in Napa Valley, so they had the privilege of innovation and not imitation, and hard work was a priority over everything else. By 1979, they were catapulted into stardom, having what was called the ‘Best Riesling in the World’ by famous restaurant guide Gault-Millau.

Vineyards atop Spring Mountain in Napa Valley (photo: Matthew Denney, Smith-Madrone)

The core of the Smiths philosophy is rooted on Spring Mountain. It's the coldest and wettest of all the AVAs in Napa Valley, and its soils are part of the volcanic-based Akin family of soils. They are well-drained and rocky, making it a perfect home for the grapes they plant, especially Riesling. They dry-farm, using irrigation only if the vintage is exceptionally dry, and keep the same low intervention style of winemaking at the winery. Following a row of 120-year-old Picholine olive trees that provide a direct line to the winery itself, you will find a modest, simple, and old winery capable of fulfilling the 4,000 cases per year of wine they make.

Smith-Madrone releases a Cabernet Sauvignon, a Chardonnay, Riesling, and Rosé under the Smith-Madrone label. They have one other wine, Cook’s Flat Reserve, which is meant to “be the best possible wine we could make” according to the Smiths. The wines themselves are affordable, competing with Sku’s all throughout Napa Valley at much higher price points. The real star though, in my opinion, is the Riesling. Riesling just is not an economically viable choice to plant for winemakers in Napa Valley, due to the low prices they can fetch once turned into wine. Yet, Smith-Madrone continues to make age-worthy, dry, and purely expressionist Riesling from its hill on Spring Mountain.

Next time you’re in Napa, pay a visit to Stuart and Charlie, they have an unending amount of knowledge and stories to tell, and they would be thrilled to share their wisdom with you

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Dennis Willis

Dennis Willis

Sommelier and Beverage Informant. Writer and Editor for @TheSpillTab

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