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Wednesday, August 11, 2010

MOVERS AND SHAKERS: Stu Smith, General Manager, Vineyard Manager and Enologist of 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.  Whom You Know has recommended all three of his wines:

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). 

Stuart is a veteran winegrower of forty years.   He was schooled in the sciences while working on his master’s degree at U.C. Davis in Viticulture and Enology.  His course work included basic chemistry, inorganic, organic and bio-chemistry, bacteriology, biology, plant propagation along with the specialized courses unique to the Viticulture and Enology Department.  He was the department’s first Teaching Assistant to Professors Maynard Amerine and Vern Singleton. This course work taught him how to think, analyze and critically evaluate hypotheses.  In the early 1970s he was an instructor of Viticulture and Enology at Napa Community College for several years and for another ten or so years at Santa Rosa Junior College.  Stuart graduated from U.C. Berkeley in 1970 with a degree in Economics. 

In the fall of 1970 he first walked 200 acres of forested land on the top of Spring Mountain, located just west of St. Helena in the Napa Valley.  There were old grape stakes, evidence of the original 1880s vineyard, interspersed among the towering Douglas firs, oaks and Madrones which had reclaimed the long abandoned vineyard.  With a small partnership of family and friends he was able to purchase the land in early 1971 and start Smith-Madrone Vineyards & Winery.  His brother Charley joined him and they planted the vineyard and built the winery, and today continue to grow the grapes and make the wine.

For three years Stuart was a board member of the Napa Valley Vintners Association and Chairman of the Napa Valley Wine Auction in 1986 and then served as a Co-Chairman in 2005 for the 25th anniversary.   Stuart also helped start Farmers For Napa Valley and was a Board member of the Napa Valley Farm Bureau from approximately 1999-2001.  He was appointed by the Napa County Board of Supervisors to the Napa River Watershed Task Force in 1998 and to the Steering Committee of the Napa County General Plan Update in 2003.  Stuart was also profiled in James Conaway’s book Napa – The Far Side of Eden because of his long-standing involvement in Napa County’s land use issues.

Stuart is an avid outdoorsman with a passion for canoeing, hiking, hunting and shooting.  Stuart is an Eagle Scout and was Scoutmaster of St. Helena’s Troop 1 for seven years.  Stuart is married to Julie Ann Kodmur and the 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.   Recently on a business excursion to New York to tell Peachy and everyone here all about his fabulous vineyards, Stu Smith met Peachy Deegan where he delightfully took her to La Peche , which of course is French for Peachy.   We are so pleased to present him as our latest Mover and Shaker!  Peachy Deegan interviewed Stu Smith for Whom You Know.

Peachy Deegan: What are your first memories of wine?
Stu Smith: 1955 on a family vacation we stopped at Italian Swiss Colony just north of Santa Rosa and my parents visited the winery and my brother and I were just tagalongs.

What inspired you to create a vineyard?
In college I learned that I loved wine and I didn’t want to go back to Los Angeles after graduating from UC Berkeley so I decided to take a class at UC Davis as a junior or senior; liked it, I applied for graduate school and was admitted.

What is it about American wines that the rest of the world should know?
It’s about how we make wine---we are free to innovate; we use science and technology and we’re mostly unrestrained by government.

What should beginning wine connoisseurs know about wine tasting in your opinion?
Trust what they like; drink with their mouth, not with their eyes.

What recent developments should advanced wine connoisseurs be aware of in the wine industry?
Be careful of high alcohol wines and low acid/high pH wines.

What makes your wine better than other wines on the market?  
We think they are excellent.  It’s growing them on the mountains. It’s the mountain---mountain soil, mountain air and the mountain site. I would love to take credit but like children, I don’t take credit and I don’t take blame.

What or who has had the most influence on your pursuit of excellence?
Our culture; it’s how I was raised; it’s the culture of America; we’re all trying to pursue excellence. There’s no one person, woman, man—it is the culture of America to pursue excellence.

What are you proudest of and why?
I’m proudest of having started the vineyard/winery in 1970 as a 22-year-old because I had no business doing it. I was just following a dream. I happened to be in the right place at the right time and was willing to open a very scary door of opportunity.

What would you like to do professionally that you have not yet had the opportunity to do?
Have our wines at The White House.
What honors and awards have you received in your profession?
Our wines have received wonderful accolades and awards. I’ve been honored to have been active in my community and played a leadership role in Napa Valley’s growth.
Over the years there’s been a fair amount of media about the winery and myself.

What is your favorite place to be in Manhattan?
Central Park
What is your favorite shop in Manhattan?
Griffin & Howe; unfortunately they just recently moved out of Manhattan.
What is your favorite drink?
A perfect Manhattan along with a gin & tonic in the summer and a perfectly made margarita on the rocks.
What is your favorite restaurant in Manhattan?
Discretion is the better part of valor—no comment.
If you could have anything in Manhattan named after you what would it be and why?
It would be wrong to have anything named after me

What is your favorite thing to do in Manhattan that you can do nowhere else?
Going to the top of the Empire State Building

What has been your best Manhattan art or music experience?
I love going to the Metropolitan Museum.
What do you think is most underrated and overrated here?
Underrated: The subway; the subway is great; it is fun to ride, it’s an experience. We should all be so lucky to have a subway that works as well as the NY subway.
Overrated: New York restaurants need to use better quality wineglasses.
Other than Movers and Shakers of course, what is your favorite Whom You Know column and what do you like about it?
Big Apple Business---gives me a way to get a quick idea of interesting business news from Manhattan.  
In the Movers and  Shakers realm, really enjoyed the profile of Georgina Bloomberg (my 10 year old is a horse girl) and also Russ Cohen, the sportswriter.

What else should Whom You Know readers know about you?

I hand-load my ammunition for about 13 calibers, everything from a small .223 up to a .458 Winchester Magnum (“elephant gun”); you never know when a thundering herd of wild elephants may run loose down the main street of St. Helena, but being a Boy Scout I’ll be prepared in case it happens.

How would you like to be contacted by Whom You Know readers?
Anything but email: I hate email. 707/963-2283, 4022 Spring Mountain Road, St. Helena CA 94574.

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