Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Smith-Madrone Vineyards and Winery Revisited

What do Big Foot (Big Foot), Nikola Tesla (Tesla) and the Smith-Madrone Winery's long awaited SMITH-MADRONE COOK'S FLAT RESERVE (Reserve) have in common?  Read on, for our inside report on this.  Then visit Smith-Madrone with your hidden video camera to see for yourself.

"We are all mortal until the first kiss or
the second glass of wine."

Smith-Madrone Winery was founded in 1971 by Stuart Smith, who is the managing partner, vineyard manager, and enologist.  His brother, Charles F. Smith III, is the winemaker.  The two brothers performed a very Jungian feat Jung's self-made stone house by building the winery themselves from stones and wood on their property.  Their first vintage was in 1977.  I think of the Smith Brothers as two pleasant wine-wizards disguised as mountain men who have spent years of their life up on Spring Mountain seeking the holy grail of great wine, the Smith-Madrone Reserve. And, like the great scientist Tesla, they conduct all sorts of strange experiments with growing and producing wine, not superstitious things like burying cattle horns a la Steiner and his Biodynamic, Theosophical, Antropological, Illogical, Supersitious Twitterings, but scientific things, perhaps not like Tesla's electrical experiment with lightening bolts, but things just as clever and eccentric.  How else can any rational person explain their wonderful wines and their unbelievably, mouthwatering, to-die-for, fantastic  new Smith-Madrone 2007 Cook's Flat Reserve ?

The part of the lab they let you see.

Smith-Madrone vineyard is up on Spring Mountain, just west of the town of St. Helena in Napa Valley and sits at elevations between 1,3000 and 2,000 feet on mountainous hillsides that slope as much as 35%.  The soils are well drained but very complex. There is no way I can paraphrase this, so let me quote from the Smith-Madrone website something that sounds like it was written by a famous scientist such as Tesla. "The underlying geology is the Franciscan Assemblage, unique to California coastal ranges, which includes altered mafic volcanic rocks, deep-sea radiolarian cherts, sandstones, limestones, serpentines, shales and highly pressured metamorphic rocks, all of them faulted and mixed in a seemingly chaotic manner as a result of tectonic plate activity." (Translations welcome.)

Just a diversion from their mysterious cellar.

Although there was no vineyard on the 200 acre ranch when the Smith brothers arrived, they did find old grape stakes and evidence that there had been a vineyard there between the 1880s and Prohibition. The estate had previously been planted with grapes by George W. Cook who purchased the land in 1884. He used Chinese laborers to clear the land back then and there are still the remains of a covered wagon on one of the old roads near the estate that connects them with Stony Hill Vineyards to the east. Madrone in the winery name refers to the evergreen Madrone trees that are on the ranch. They also have twenty-two olive trees that are over 120 years old. On my next visit I plan to ask them why they are not named "Smith-Olive Winery and Vineyards," or, better yet, "Smith-Olive-Tesla Winery, Vineyards and Secret Cellar."

Possible Big Foot (Yeti) burial grounds

The entire estate is dry farmed (farmed without irrigation or water.)  Eastern exposed slopes are used for Riesling, southern and western slopes have Cabernet Sauvignon and the coolest, most north facing vineyards have Chardonnay.  The initial grapes were planted on their own rootstock. They produce about 4,000 cases a year from their 34 acres of cultivated land.  After an unsuccessful attempt to produce Pinot Noir they abandoned the varietal and in 1989 they grafted Chardonnay grapes on to the rootstock for the PN and no longer grow that varietal.  Was the Chardonnay grafted to Pinot Noir rootstock?  Another question to ask when I revisit them. 6.25 acres are devoted to Riesling, 10.25 to Chardonnay, 13 to Cabernet Sauvignon, 3.75 to Merlot and one acre to Cabernet Franc.  They use barrel fermentation, sur lie aging, open top fermentations, and other winemaking techniques that require much hand labor.  They also may or may not employ the scientific genius of the famous scientist,Tesla, in their endeavors.

What I love about  Smith-Madrone Winery is that they are totally genuine, the real thing, if you will.  Honest, no pretensions, devoted to truth in a down to earth way that is not just admirable but inspiring.  They also happen to make great wines, very unique with their own terroir, extremely well priced, etc.  Their wines compare to the best in the world and the owners seem like some of the finest people in the world.  I think of Smith-Madrone as a triumph of the human spirit.  Meeting people like this and tasting wine like this are part of what makes life worthwhile.  Inspiring is an understatement.

Here is Smith-Madrone Winery Revisited.  The best Western hemisphere Riesling I ever tasted was grown and produced by this winery, the Smith-Madrone 2010 Riesling.  One of my all time favorite Cabernet Sauvignons was made by them, the 2005 Smith-Madrone Cabernet.  (To which I can now add their 2007 and the unbelievable Reserve.) They also made a very good 2008 Chardonnays and a my current favorite Napa Valley Chardonnay, the Smith-Madrone 2010 Chardonnay. Recently when we wanted to visit them just to purchase more wines, they welcomed us and offered us some tastings.  I did not have my notebook and was not prepared to taste or take notes, so I can't offer detailed tasting notes this time.  All I can do is relate to you what I remember to the best of my ability without notes.

First, Smith-Madrone now has a Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve.  It is the Smith-Madrone 2007 Cook's Flat Reserve.  Smith-Madrone is one of the older wineries in Napa Valley, but they have never released a reserve before.  Never mind that their regular releases blow away many reserves from other wineries.  The Smith Brothers have integrity that is amazing. After careful investigation and years of research, they finally came up with the best block of their vineyard, combined with the ideal year and the utmost in vineyard management, harvesting and winemaking.  Only 171 cases of this reserve were produced.  It is 66% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Merlot and 11% Cabernet Franc from the 2007 vintage of a single vineyard plot at about 1800 feet elevation.  The 8 acre block is called Cook's Flat.  There are rumors that Cook's Flat is also a Big Foot burial grounds, but we were unable to confirm this.

To quote from their webpage, "The Cook's Flat Reserve represents the very best of which we are capable in a given year.  It can only be made in small quantities and will only be available when warranted by superior quality.  It is the ultimate distillation of our experience and expertise." It was aged in French oak for two years and then bottled and stored for another three years prior to release.  Retail is $200, and you will have to obtain it directly from the winery. Their new reserve is superb, big but balanced, with some very interesting Cabernet Franc adding its signature. Although it has great fruit, it is definitely terroir driven; unique, complex and interesting; it could not have been made anywhere else than on Spring Mountain at Smith-Madrone Winery on the Big Foot burial grounds.  The Smith-Madrone 2007 Cook's Flat Reserve is an incredible wine!

The Smith-Madrone 2010 Chardonnay ($30) is exceptional in every way and now my favorite Napa Valley Chardonnay.  Somehow I missed tasting their 2009 Chardonnay but did have the 2008, which I liked.  But the 2010 is much better, more complex, not as austere, with incredible varietal fruit.  I look forward to savoring a bottle and adding some detailed tasting notes.

The Smith-Madrone 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon ($45) is much more approachable now than their 2005 was when I had several bottles early in 2012. (How did I miss tasting the 2006?)  The 2005 was a big, powerful mountain wine that needed to be paired with food to be fully appreciated. Twenty years in the cellar would do it good.  Heck, it might handle 100 years. The 2007 has much more finesse, more typical of the great 2007 vintage in Napa Valley.  Again, I look forward to sitting down and drinking some while taking tasting notes.  It is very different than the 2005, but I like it just as well, probably even better.  Here is my comment on the 2005 Cabernet attached as an addendum at the bottom of our report from our last visit: 2005 Cab

In my eagerness to taste the new reserve, the 2007 Cab release and the new Chardonnay, I neglected to try the Smith-Madrone 2011 Riesling ($27), but will add tasting notes after I try some. The Smith-Madrone 2010 Riesling was simply amazing.  Please see my review here:  A Riesling to die for

While we were there, Charlie happened to be experimenting with some old wines that he found in their mysterious basement cellar which frequently floods.  (I don't know, but I suspect they have secret scientific experimental equipment down there and possibly a resident Big Foot.)  Anyhow Charlie found some of their really old Chardonnay and noticed that one year had not turned brown.  This was the 1984 Smith-Madrone Chardonnay.  He offered us a glass and this nearly 30 year old wine stored in a flooded cellar with Big Foot hairs, tasted wonderful.  So how does one really old Chardonnay taste great and others not quite as old are undrinkable?  That is where I came up with my Tesla hypothesis.  I don't know if it is an actual time travel machine they have but they have some strange scientific equipment that can make a 30 year old Chardonnay still taste great.  Maybe it is a machine that produces effects like the fountain of youth.  Maybe that is why a Big Foot lives there.  Perhaps the Big Foot is Tesla in disguise and he is in on all of this with them.  Is this why everybody knows the name Thomas Edison, but relatively few know about Tesla, an even greater inventor and genius?  Maybe he just disappeared up on Spring Mountain and has been busy helping Stu and Charlie.  And now the three of them have finally come up with the Smith-Madrone 2007 Cook's Flat Reserve.  Whatever the true story, we will probably never know.  But they are definitely working some scientific magic of-the-wine-making-kind.  To come up with such wonderful wine, and this great new Reserve is proof enough for me.  Oh yeah, and like Big Foot, the Smith-Madrone Reserve is one of those mythical creatures we have heard about, but most of us have never seen. But I can now attest to the actual existence of a Smith-Madrone Reserve.  Big Foot is next.

I'm sorry I did not have my notebook to take tasting notes during our visit, but I will add them at a later date after I taste some of the bottles we purchased.  Other people's tasting notes are pretty boring, however, so why don't you just go up there yourself?  Your own notes will be more interesting, and nobody knows your individual tastes better than you do.  Besides, you haven't lived if you love wine and have not yet visited Smith-Madrone Winery.  Put it on your "bucket list." As with all Spring Mountain wineries, tours and tastings require a reservation. They are gratis, however, and are always conducted by one of the Smith brothers and their dog.  Ask them if you can see their secret cellar.  That will spook them.  And ask them what that big hairy thing was that darted away as you were driving in.  Hell, tell them you saw some lightening bolts shooting up from their building and that will really freak them out.  Just don't tell them that I sent you.  I think they are on to me.

Addendum Flash Release:  Charlie Smith confessed today that reports of a hairy beast inhabiting the Smith-Madrone Winery cellar are, in fact, true.  Stu recently went on a trip to Montana.  Some people go there to hunt elk, but Stu had gone there to rescue an elk calf. He was too embarrassed to tell people that he had fallen for the eyes of a young elk, so he hid it in the cellar, letting it out to graze at night.  Charlie found out about it but is keeping it a secret to help Stu save face.  When asked about the great scientist Tesla also living there, Charlie replied, "No comment."  We don't know if this story by Charlie is true or if it is a coverup for harboring a Big Foot or for providing a hideout for a famous scientist whom most people think is deceased.  It could even be that the elk calf shares its quarters with Big Foot and Tesla.

Our first visit to Smith-Madrone may be viewed here:  Smith-Madrone
Here is a special review of their Riesling:  Riesling

4022 Spring Mountain Rd
Saint Helena, CA 94574
Phone: (707) 963-2283
Date of visit: December 12, 2012

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