Three Smiths profiled in segment of series “Behind The Glass”
Napa Valley and Los Angeles, July 12 2021 — The wine and food streaming network Somm TV devotes a segment in its series Behind The Glass to profiling Stuart, Charles and Sam Smith of Smith-Madrone. The 21-minute segment went online on July 6. The episode has closed captions and Spanish subtitles. “The vision of two brothers has survived fires, trends and over 40 years of changes in Napa,” explains Somm TV director Jason Wise, in describing the program. It includes drone footage where the camera swoops over the steep slopes of the winery’s vineyards, as well as a tasting of a 1979 Cabernet Sauvignon and 1997 Riesling by the Smiths. The 1979 Cabernet was the second vintage of Cabernet the winery released and its third wine.
Kelli White, a distinguished sommelier and the author of Napa Valley, Then & Now, also appears in the program with comments about the wines and the Smiths. “It is a very special and unusual winery, which occupies its own little ridge, on the top of Spring Mountain. The wines are fantastic and hearken back to an earlier era in the Napa Valley before alcohols got really big and before new oak became standard issue. Their wines have a little more soul and grit,” she says.
During the program, the Smith brothers explain how they chose to be in the mountains of Napa Valley and specifically, to the historic vineyard which today is Smith-Madrone. “The whole reason to go to the mountains in the first place was to try to grow the very best grapes, so we could make wine from the very best mountain-grown grapes that we could do,” Stu Smith says during the program.
They go into detail about the differences of Napa Valley in the 1970s and today. “Wine hadn’t penetrated into the culture the way it has now,” Charles Smith says at one point.
“We struggled very hard in the early years,” Stu and Charlie said. “No one went on vacation for 10 years. Those things can’t happen today; we were very lucky to be doing the right thing at the right time,” they continued.
Charles shares a story of bringing the 1979 Cabernet to a tasting with Andre Tchelistcheff and how Andre held up his glass and said to all the tasters, “Now this is a Cabernet.” “It was very validating at the time,” Charles continues, “and 42 years later this wine is still a killer, it’s really quite special,” he added.
The Smiths talked about their decision to plant and make Riesling. “We believe Riesling is one of the four top wine varietals, not one of the top white varietals, but one of the four noble grapes,” they said. “It’s the most versatile of all the grapes. You get the pure expression of the grape in a way that no other varietal does it because there’s no malolactic fermentation, no skin contact, no lees stirring, no French oak, no American oak. It is one of the great wines of the world and we do less to it than any other varietal,” they say. “There’s about as straight a line from vineyard to bottle as you’re going to get in the wine world,” they add. “It’s the most hedonic grape out there. You’d have to be an idiot not to love Riesling,” they chuckle.
Why “Smith-Madrone?” Charlie explains: “We had a big list of names and an old friend of Stu’s suggested it. The madrone tree is an evergreen hardwood tree that goes from the central California coast all the way to British Columbia. The tree has very red bark; you can spot it easily in the forest. We put it on our list and it won by default. It sounded better than Smith-Poison Oak or Smith-Douglas Fir.”
“There’s a certain element of magic having to do with wine that you can never get around,” Charlie comments at one point. “In a lot of ways what our job is to do is to take whatever Mother Nature imprints on the grape and try to get that into the glass of wine. Wine should be a reflection of the site, the soil, the climate, the grower and the winemaker and that’s why I think that the wines that we make are in some ways very unique because we’re trying to make them unique as far as what Mother Nature put into those grapes,” Stu says.
Launched in 2019 by the director of the film Somm, Jason Wise, the network has original shows including Verticals, Blind Tasting Sessions, Cellar Stories, A Closer Look, Winery Tours, Sommelier’s Notebook, and educational content.
On May 14, 2021, Smith-Madrone launched a year of 50th anniversary celebrations. It was on May 14, 1971 that founder Stuart Smith signed the paperwork to close on the purchase of 200 forested acres on top of Spring Mountain in the Napa Valley. To celebrate this milestone anniversary, the winery will be re-releasing wines on the 14th of every month through the anniversary year. The re-released wines are very limited in availability and will appear on a specially designated page on the winery’s website.
“It was in the fall of 1970 that I first walked the dense forested property that would become Smith-Madrone,” Stu Smith explains. All that remained of the original vineyard planted in the 1880s were small redwood grape stakes and a towering allée of olive trees competing for sunlight with the 100-foot tall Douglas fir trees. In 1972, when planting the vineyard, Stu and Charles Smith planted the first twenty acres (5 acres each of Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Riesling, Pinot Noir) on their own roots, which was unusual at the time.
All of the winery’s wines are made from the estate vineyards surrounding the winery, originally planted 50 years ago by Stuart and Charles. The vineyards are primarily dry-farmed on steep mountainsides surrounding the winery on top of Spring Mountain in the Napa Valley. At elevations between 1,300 and 2,000 feet, the vineyards extend in steepness up to 35% slopes. With its signature deep red Aiken loam soil, Smith-Madrone is located near the top of the Spring Mountain District appellation.
Smith-Madrone’s first vintage of Riesling, the 1977, won Best Riesling in the Wine Olympics, an international tasting organized by the food and wine magazine Gault Millau in Paris in 1979. This accolade launched the winery’s identity as a pre-eminent producer of Riesling in the United States.
In 2010 the winery introduced its first reserve wine, the 2007 Cook’s Flat Reserve. Each wine is numbered and presented in a multi-color tissue which reproduces the estate’s deed, signed by President Chester Arthur in 1885.This wine has its own website.
In 2018 Stu was named one of Wine’s Most Inspiring People as a pioneer and champion of hillside grape growing, by Wine Industry Advisor.
From September 27 until October 3, 2020, the winery battled the Glass Fire, which was documented almost daily on the winery’s Instagram page with photos and videos Sam and Stu took and later, by Food & Wine Magazine in a documentary short film. Among other impacts—respecting the enormous damage all over Spring Mountain and the northern Napa Valley—the winery lost telephone service for the next 100-plus days.
Smith-Madrone’s current releases are the 2017 Chardonnay, 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon, 2017 Riesling, 2016 Cook’s Flat Reserve and in very limited availability, magnums of the Cabernet Sauvignon and Cook’s Flat Reserve.