I have been wanting to visit Spring Mountain for some time as there are quite a few famous names producing wines out of this illusive appellation. But I have wanted to visit the winery of Smith-Madrone far longer than I even knew what an appellation was. It was at a dinner party known as an "offline" — a small gathering of fellow wine geeks who meet over the internet ("online") and want to meet and share over good food. It was an elegant restaurant in Long Beach and Kriss Reed brought a Smith-Madrone wines which knocked my proverbial socks off. Now, all these years later, numerous failed attempts, and several months into my blogging, I finally made it up the mountain, to a sort of Mecca as it were…
Finding Smith-Madrone’s facility is not that easy. There are considerably more wineries on Spring Mountain than I anticipated and when you look at the map, it is hard to discern exactly how far up the mountain you must drive. There are obviously new wineries with bright, shiny new signs, and then there is Smith-Madrone’s signs; a little worn from age, showing both longevity and perseverance. A turn down an un-paved road makes one wonder if the right path has being taken. There is no electronic gate and no landscaped entranceway. Then you see the building. This is not an architectural landmark showcasing a winery’s ostentatious wealth. It is the work building of the Smith brothers, Stu and Charles.
I was extremely fortunate to find both Stu and Charles available on the day of my visit. Rugged and bearded both, they are effusively exuberant about their winery, their wine, and their history in the valley. Having established their winery in 1971, there are not many that can lay claim to what these brothers have done; for there are many Johnnie-come-latelys entering the valley and building wineries, but few do it with their own two hands, literally. Stu, in his 25th anniversary reminiscence recalls, "Charlie and I not only drove all of the stakes that you see around the winery but all of the stakes in the vineyard—a total of 19,000."
As a working man’s winery, tasting the wine is done in the building which holds the barrels as well as the work table. No frills, no tchotchkes, no high-pressure sell. This is not a winery one goes to for a logo t-shirt. You stand around a barrel, occasionally walking over to the sink if you want to rinse or spit. Making only 3,500 cases, they have limited themselves to just three varietals; Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, and Riesling.
As you look around, you see some cobwebs, some older bottles, and then comes Oreo, the winery cat. Oreo himself is worth the price of admission (free, by the way). He is entirely black save for a some nominal white spots; nose, tail tip, and paw tips. While one thinks that Stu or Charles runs the winery, it is more than evident that Oreo the cat is the real boss, showing his perturbance at not being loved and petted when demanded. Yes, there is no hesitance to indicate that an immense amount of love exists at Smith Madrone; love of the land’s inhabitants and love of the land itself. It is this type of tie to the land that shows in the wine. Of course there is good wine to be had at the large, corporate-owned wineries, but somehow Stu and Charlie’s wines taste different; they taste special.
2003 Chardonnay – Astonishingly exotic aromas of lemon and herbs with dark, elegant floral tones. The entry is tangy and tantalizing, but subdues to show lemon meringue in the mid-palate and long, creamy finish. There is a hint of malo, but it does not become an over-wrought butter bomb, instead taming the fruit into distinct integration. $25.00
2001 Cabernet Sauvignon – 90% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Merlot, and 2% Cabernet Franc. Aromas of dark pepper and earthy root vegetables shows with cassis and dark fruit. Chewy upon entry, black currant and black pepper teased the mouth with a long, spicy finish. $35.00
2002 Cabernet Sauvignon – 77% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Merlot, and 10% Cabernet Franc. Dark, purple core with red edges, this concentrated, inky demonstrated jammy blackberry aromas with a hint of purple bell pepper and dark spice. The swarthy, exotic aromas continued with brambleberry and Moroccan incense. Having just been bottled, it was a tad tight, but promises to be a wine for long-term aging. $40.00
2004 Riesling – Made in the Alsatian style, with less than one percent residual sugar, this astonishing mountain wine at first provides floral aromas akin to Edelweiss and daisies, but deepens to display hints of key lime and white melon. With a core of minerality, the wine is at first bright and engaging, but finishes with a spicy elegance surprising in a California Riesling. $20.00
1999 Riesling – This was pretty special for the boys had re-released this well-aged wine, selling out almost immediately. They just happened to have one or two lying around to taste… Golden straw in color, the aromas were at once dark honeysuckle and white peach, but then brandy-like with complexity. The mouth entry was rich and creamy with a lingering sweetness, alluding to its 1.2% residual sugar. Who knew that a California Riesling had the potential for aging? It certainly had evolved, showing development in character. Herein lies a crusade of the Smith Brothers: "Drink Chardonnay and age Riesling."
Smith-Madrone ~ 4022 Spring Mountain Road ~ St. Helena ~ CA ~ 94574 ~ 707- 963-2283