I still hold vivid, cherished memories of the view from the top of Spring Mountain, where Smith-Madrone winery was established in 1971 by the brothers Smith. My visit there is something I think about often, not only for the seemingly unparalleled vistas and terrific wine, but also for the people whom I met and have come to associate with the place — with the Napa Valley as a whole. That experience has become part of the allure of the Valley for me, a place I continue to return to as often as I can, though I have vowed that the next time I visit Smith-Madrone, I will take Sonja there with me.
My friend Ryan, who manages Corkscrew Wine & Cheese, texted several months ago and asked me to teach a class on the Napa Valley, sort of a history as he described it, and offered to let me pick the wine. I was happy to do it. I chose Smith-Madrone’s Riesling and reached out to Stu Smith to ask for an older vintage. Last night in the class, we tasted the 2011 alongside the 2015 and discussed the subtle differences. I pointed out Smith-Madrone on a map, and talked a little bit about the history of the Napa Valley and the significance of the fact that the winery was founded in 1971, before all the hype and hoopla came to Napa.
As my new students for the night tasted through the Riesling with me, I delighted in their comments. Most were more familiar with Riesling as a bottom-shelf grocery store wine, an enema of residual sugar, and a poor expression of the varietal. Many were surprised by the Riesling the Smiths have been making for forty-seven years now up on Spring Mountain, what I would call an Alsacian style dry and varietally correct approach — and everyone enjoyed it. While we tasted I shared brief anecdotes of time spent with the Smith brothers, also Stu’s son, Sam, and encouraged folk to visit the winery, to attend VinNEBRASKA where Stu is a perennial figure, or to pick up their Riesling at The Winery here in Omaha, the only wine shop in town to stock the entire Smith-Madrone portfolio. Also while we tasted, I had them help me write a tasting note. Here’s what we came up with:
The color is slightly golden, perhaps a sign of age, but the 2011 Smith-Madrone Riesling still appears, smells, and tastes young and vibrant. A complicated bouquet of delicate vanilla, honey, floral notes, nutty hints — something like Jura, and plastics, leads to a palate that boasts prominent green apple notes, further flavors of honey, and delicate stone fruits. The wine is dry yet easy drinking at 12.6% ABV. With only 521 cases produced in 2011, anyone who wants to get their hands on some had better call the winery ASAP. A beautiful wine, it paired nicely with light fare — baguettes and cheeses.
I really enjoy sharing my experiences with other people — no doubt part of why I became a teacher to begin with. Getting to share my enthusiasm for Smith-Madrone wines with new people, and encouraging them to visit the winery, was a real treat for me last night. A huge thanks to the Smiths, both for making and for sharing their amazing wines, as well as for the memories they’ve given me, and another one to Ryan and Corkscrew Wine & Cheese for affording me the opportunity to share these cherished things with others. Thanks also to my wonderful wife, Sonja, who gave the kids a bath last night while I sat around sharing amazing wines with people. Finally, and as ever, thanks to you for reading.
Cheers to another great day waiting to happen,