Here on the East Coast this weekend, we had what the National Weather Service calls dangerous temperatures (I call them it-hurts-my-face-to-be-outside temperatures). And today, it’s snowing again in Virginia (<sarcasmfont> goodie). A few inches of snow topped with a glaze of ice? DC’s evening commute is going to look like an episode of the Winter X-Games.
I am not cut out for this Nanook of the North business.
So, my plan for the day is to hibernate inside by the fire, and study for my CSW (Certified Specialist of Wine) exam. And it just so happens I have a couple of sample bottles from Smith-Madrone, so I have proclaimed today Napa Valley Spring Mountain District Day (I have also given myself sweeping powers of proclamation). I first reviewed Smith-Madrone wines almost a year ago (during another stretch of polar weather). What’s that saying? Once is chance . . . twice is coincidence . . . three times is a pattern? Here’s to coincidence!
Brothers Stu and Charles Smith have been crafting wine in the Spring Mountain District of Napa Valley for 45 years. You don’t make wine anywhere (let alone in the mountains of Napa Valley) for 45 years without being really good at it. I love this picture (→) of Stu and Charles from the 1970s . . . the popped-collar Izod made my entire snow day!!
The Spring Mountain District is a cool climate, mountain appellation — the vineyards there are planted on the eastern slopes of the Mayacamas Mountains (the range separating Napa Valley from Sonoma Valley). Elevations in the Spring Mountain District range anywhere from 400 to 2,600 feet. The Spring Mountain District is small — there are only about 28 wineries (there are around 400 wineries in all of Napa Valley). Napa Valley produces about 4% of all California wine, but the Spring Mountain District makes up only 2% of that figure.
Fun fact: There is no actual Spring Mountain. The name refers to a region, not a geographical feature.
The vineyards at Smith-Madrone are planted at 1,400 to 1,900 feet with 35% slope grades. They are über-estate wines, all of the grapes are grown within a half mile of the winery. The vines are dry farmed (no irrigation) in red Aiken soil, which is made out of sedimentary rock and weathered volcanic materials. (Check out Stu on a tractor in that red Aiken soil →).
Another fun fact: The Madrone in Smith-Madrone isn’t a who, it’s a what. The Madrone is a type of tree found on the winery grounds.
Here’s a topographical map of Smith-Madrone (because topo maps are cool, and it really helps me to visualize the terrain):
I’ve been sitting here trying to come up with a word or few to summarize Smith-Madrone wines, and I came across this quote from Stu on the Smith-Madrone website:
Every year our 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.
With those words as backdrop, I sat down to taste this year’s wines:
Smith-Madrone Napa Valley Chardonnay Spring Mountain District 2013 / 92
100% Chardonnay. Fermented in new French oak for 9 months. Pale lemon-green color with a just a hint of legs (note the 14.1% ABV). The nose is wickedly clean — like a walk in the mountains after a rain. Medium body, with flavors of green apple, pear and melon. An impressive finish, with vanilla and hazelnut notes as the finale. Strong, yet graceful . . . think Olympic gymnast. 14.1% ABV. $32.
Smith-Madrone Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Spring Mountain District 2012 / 92
82% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot and 8% Cabernet Franc. Aged for 18 months in French oak barrels. Ruby to brick color, with some lightening at the edges. The nose is cranberry, currant and grandma’s cedar chest (which happens to be one of the best smells on the planet, btw). There’s a black-fruit freshness up front, followed by flavors of mint, cigar, and pine. Great structure and balance (absolutely nothing pulling my focus). Balance can be a slightly esoteric concept in wine evaluation. It’s one of those you-know-it-when-you-taste-it kind of things, and I’m tasting it. A bit softer than the 2011, but this is exactly that uniqueness and diversity of vintage Stu was talking about. 14.2% ABV. Retail = $48.
I went back and took a gander at my tasting notes from last year. They are different wines for sure, but remarkable in their consistency. I think I found my summary . . .
Smith-Madrone makes precise wines with a keen integrity of place.
Happy Napa Valley Spring Mountain District Day! Salud!
P.S. A huge round of applause to Smith-Madrone for their beautiful and immensely useful website. There’s a treasure of information — technical notes, biographies, history, label images, and winery images — all available for download. If only all winery websites were so helpful and educational.