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Monday, July 26, 2010

Champagne Wishes: Smith-Madrone 2008 Riesling Highly Recommended by Whom You Know


COORDINATES:    4022 Spring Mountain Road, St. Helena, California

Phone 707/963-2283; Fax 707/963-2291

FOUNDED: 1971, by Stuart Smith

MANAGEMENT:   Stuart Smith, Managing Partner, Enologist

                 Charles F. Smith III, Winemaker

VINEYARDS:      All wines are made entirely from the winery's dry-farmed estate vineyards on steep mountainsides surrounding the winery on top of Spring Mountain in the Napa Valley. At elevations between 1,300 and 2,000 feet, with vineyards which range in steepness up to 35%, in deep red Aiken loam soil, Smith-Madrone is located at the highest point in the Spring Mountain District appellation. Stuart Smith chose specific slopes with different exposures for specific varietals when planting the vineyards: eastern exposure for Riesling, southern and western exposures across flat stretches for the Cabernet Sauvignon and the coolest north-facing slopes for the Chardonnay.  There are numerous intriguing historical traces on the property: Chinese workers had cleared the land in the mid-nineteenth century and left behind meticulous rock piles, stone walls and underground caves.  

The 2008 harvest started early, was very short and, fortunately, of excellent quality. Harvest began in late August during an intense heat spell and then, like 2007 the weather turned quite moderate and nice. Fortunately, the crop was not down as many. In fact, this Riesling production bottomed out in 2007 and with the 2008 crop, the Riesling is now rebounding from the replanting. Usually they start harvest in early September with Chardonnay and then move on to Riesling. But in 2008 they not only harvested the Riesling before Chardonnay, they harvested the Riesling on August 28 and 29 – more than two weeks earlier than usual.

Beginning with the 1983 Riesling vintage, Smith-Madrone boldly went where no other American winery would go for the next 17 years – they changed their label from Johannisberg Riesling to the true and correct name – Riesling. While White Riesling is legally correct, it is none-the-less both wrong and redundant - when was the last time you had a red Riesling? This is just one example of Smith-Madrone's commitment to this wonderful and somewhat overlooked varietal.

Every year the 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. Vintage dating is a celebration of that uniqueness and diversity.

PRODUCTION:     Approximately 4,000 cases a year (all wines are estate-grown and bottled)
HOSPITALITY:    Tours and tastings by appointment, always conducted by one of the Smith brothers
THE ESTATE:     200 acre ranch, partly planted as vineyard over a century ago; California black bears and other wildlife once thrived here; enormous 120-year-old Picholine olive trees frame a path and view down to the floor of the Napa Valley and Bothe Napa Valley State Park
THE NAME:       A tribute both to the Smith family and to the predominant tree on the ranch. The Madrone is an evergreen which can be low and shrubby or tall and stately, with a red-brown trunk and branches. In spring the tree bears lily-of-the-valley-like flower clusters; in fall orange-red berries appear.

Remember, it's not who you know, it's Whom You Know, and we do know Stu Smith.  Recently on his Manhattan excursion, he invited Peachy Deegan to Ma Peche (How thoughtfully creative!  You non-francophiles, that loosely translates to "My Peach") where she first sampled the 2008 Riesling and was impressed with the unsurpassed quality of this outstanding American wine.  Riesling is one of Peachy's favorites and this is the best one she has had this summer.  On purpose, we run this review on a Monday because this wine will cheer you up!   Not only is Stu Smith an excellent winemaker, but also he demonstrates a remarkable American spirit.  Since Peachy was impressed, the Champagne Wishes panel put this to the test, and they say:

I would like to thank Whom you know for turning me on to Smith Madrone Vineyards and winery.  Today I tried Smith Madrone 2008 Riesling.  I am not sure why I have never tried one before, but thanks to Whom you Know and Smith Madrone I was given the opportunity to sample my first glass.  I was very impressed!  Smith Madrone Riesling has an intense tropical fruit flavor but it is not “too” sweet as I've heard others are. Smith Madrone prides itself as a balanced wine maker, offering balance between the sugar and acid as well as balance between America and Europe . Smith Madrone manages to balance the styles and flavors in this 2008 Riesling with a floral finish and just enough sweetness that even the novice wine drinker can appreciate it.  I spent today on a fishing boat with my brothers and father, fishing for stripe bass.  Since I am a bass master, I caught 4 keepers and several schoolies which I threw back to catch at a later date.  Like we always do after fishing, we grilled our bass.  There is nothing like fresh caught New England stripe bass on the grill. What made this fish taste even better was Smith Madrone Riesling.  It was the perfect complement to our fresh catch.  The fruity flavor of the wine was the perfect complement to the grilled chili lime bass.  Needless to say it was an upgrade from the beer that is the usual family beverage of choice to go with our fishing catch of the day.  Even my father, the die hard beer guy, had a second glass of Smith Madrone Riesling.  We absolutely love it and highly recommend it and it will be the latest skipper on our yacht.

This light yellow colored Riesling from Smith-Madrone is phenomenal. It is a terrific poolside summer white wine -- bright, fruity and refreshing. Smith-Madrone's Riesling has consistently been a terrific wine. This year’s vintage is no exception. It opens with very faint green apple, mandarin orange and apricot aromas and blossoms into a wet stone with fresh scented lemon-lime bouquet. On the palate, this wine is light bodied, balanced, and buttery. It is a little lively and gently acidic. The flavor profile is a tasty blend of ripe green apple and sweet peach, with a touch of minerality and honey on the back end with a delicious apricot and lime blend. The fruit and acidity are wonderfully balanced. The finish is slightly sweet and very refreshing. This wine would pair perfectly with coconut shrimp, teriyaki chicken or broiled scallops. I have found this Riesling to be simply amazing with sweet, flavorful Dungeness crab. This gem did not last long with our meal. At a party, my Associate and I agreed it would be best served slightly chilled with sharp cheddar cheese. Enjoy.

I was so excited to have the opportunity to try this Riesling.  My white wine world is dominated by chardonnay, so it really was something different for me to sample.  This Riesling was crisp tasting from start to finish.  It was extremely fully flavored.  I was surprised that it is pale as it tastes so intense.  I do not normally choose dry wines, but this is not overly dry at all.  On the nose, as expected was a high floral scent, very endearing.  I tried this with a spicy Chinese chicken dish and it paired perfectly.  I guess the low residual sugar level made it extra appealing to me.  The palate yields plenty of fruit.  Peach is the flavor that comes right to mind.  The taste lingers for a good length of time.  It really makes for very clean drinking.  So balanced it didn’t taste sweet.  Previously I have tried Riesling that was either bone dry or really sweet, this is perfectly blended.  I highly recommend this wine.  It is superb, graceful and tangy.  In these hot summer months, it makes for the perfect companion.  I also understand that if you can hold out on drinking this right away, it will store for up to a number of years.

Smith Madrone Riesling is possibly one of the best white wines I've had. I have to say it's just great! My husband and I love to drink different wines that we don't always drink. This one was a great pick.  The light gold color from the glass really invites you in. This wine smells of fresh pears and white flowers. The taste it gives off in your mouth is of pears and apples. A nice balance of acidity makes it easy to drink and very delicious. How can you resist? The wine is not overly sweet. It is a great match for spicy flavors. I particularly like matching this wine with spicy vegetable and pasta dishes. We had this wine with a spicy vegetable dish and WOW! You can taste all the flavors just pop in your mouth. It's great when you can have a wine that enhances your food. It's important to be able to match your wine with food and have them compliment one another. I can honestly say that I was very disappointed when my bottle finished. I am going to run out and buy another! I highly recommend that you go buy a bottle too! Hurry and get one!  Or possibly be on the waiting list for next year...

Founder & GM/Enologist, Smith-Madrone

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. Today he is the General Manager of the winery, acting as vineyard manager and enologist; his brother Charles is the winemaker. The family lineage includes the Fetherolf family, German farmers from the Palatinate region, who came to
America on The Thistle of Glasgow in 1730.

Smith was born and raised in Santa Monica, where during college he worked as a lifeguard on the beach. He received his undergraduate degree from U.C. Berkeley in economics and went on to do his master's work in enology and viticulture at U.C. Davis. He was the first teaching assistant for famed professors Maynard Amerine and Vernon Singleton. He has taught enology and viticulture at Santa Rosa Junior College and Napa Valley Community College.

He chaired the Napa Valley Wine Auction in 1986 and co-chaired in 2005. He judges at wine competitions in California. He is an active member of the G.O.N.A.D.S. (the Gastronomical Order for Nonsensical and Dissipatory Society), founded in the early 1980s by a group of Napa vintners who meet for lively monthly lunches, chronicled in James Conaway's books Napa: An American Eden and Napa: The Far Side of Eden.

Smith is often quoted and sought out for his leadership and expertise as a mountain vineyardist-whether it's by The New York Times or National Public Radio or The Napa Valley Register. He was appointed to the General Plan Steering Committee (2005-2007) by the Napa County Board of Supervisors. He was appointed to The Watershed Task Force, formed by Napa County's Board of
Supervisors in January, 1999. In 1998 he co-founded Farmers For Napa Valley, a group whose mission was to educate the public about hillside vineyard farming. He's a frequent participant in the Ahwahnee Hotel's Vintners' Holiday program in Yosemite and often serves as an auctioneer at charity auctions in Omaha (NB) and Sioux City (IA).

Father of five children (daughters Meg, Katherine, Charlotte and sons Sam and Tom), he recently stepped down after eight years as Scout Master for St. Helena's (Boy Scout) Troop One. He is an avid canoeist, having canoed through the Quetico Wilderness in Canada and the Klamath and Trinity Rivers in California. He enjoys barbecuing for guests at the winery: favorites are the (Smith-Madrone) Cabernet-marinated barbecued lamb and (Smith-Madrone) Cabernet Risotto.

The Vineyards

Stuart Smith started planting the vineyard, perched on top of the Spring Mountain District in St. Helena, in 1972. Unusual for North Coast viticulture at the time, the initial twenty acres were planted on their own roots. These vines were established under difficult conditions, with some
slopes angling over 30%. The cooler mountain climate is an additional factor which produces grapes of intense flavor, structure and longevity. Today the vineyard consists of thirty four acres in various stages of production dating back to 1972. In addition to the 7 acres of Riesling, 8 acres of
Chardonnay and 12 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon, the vineyard now has one acre of Cabernet Franc and 3.75 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. The history of international viticulture also supported his early belief in dry farming, where the mountain grapes have to "struggle" to survive. The vines send their roots deep to search for water and nutrients, only producing the precise amount of fruit exactly appropriate for their vigor, small berries
with a large skin-to-juice ratio.

Smith-Madrone enjoys dramatic views out over the floor of the Napa Valley and the Sierra Nevada Mountains in the distance, as well its own steep dry-farmed vineyards. Smith-Madrone is located at elevations between 1,200 and 1,900 feet. The vines flourish in vividly red and rocky volcanic soil
known as Aiken loam, which is well-drained and friable. In 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. The name for the winery has two sources: as a tribute to the Smith brothers who pursued their dream and to the madrone trees which distinguish the property. As the estate was developed, traces of its intriguing history emerged. It may have been Chinese workers who cleared the land in the mid-nineteenth century and left
behind meticulous rock piles, stone walls and underground caves.

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