Sometimes a great wine goes happily down the hatch and I make a mental note to buy it again. Sometimes a great wine sucks me in hook, line, and sinker and I want to learn everything about the who, what, where, when, why, and how. The Smith-Madrone Vineyards 2014 riesling did just that. I’d been gardening in the sun for several hours and was starving. I grabbed some leftover grilled chicken, a few tortillas, a splash of salsa, and a bottle of riesling to enjoy in the backyard. Riesling on a hot day, enjoyed al fresco, is the quintessential wine moment. I went from sore and angry at the snails and white flies on my hibiscus, to relaxed and appreciative of life in Orange County. A glass of Smith-Madrone produced this 180-degree attitude change, so I feel compelled to share my “5 W’s” research with Orange County wine lovers.
What 2014 riesling, $30, 1,500 cases. 2014 chardonnay, $32, 850 cases. 2013 cabernet sauvignon, $50, 1,500 cases. The soil is rocky, volcanic, and has great drainage.
Where Spring Mountain District of Napa Valley. The vineyards sit at an elevation between 1,300 and 2,000 feet on steep slopes, with grades up to 34 percent. Each varietal is planted with a specific exposure, to garner the best character and personality.
When Planted in 1972. The riesling vines are 42 years old!
Why The brothers grew up in Santa Monica. Stuart got his Masters in Viticulture from UC Davis. In search of land for a vineyard, he learned of this forest location atop Spring Mountain, which he purchased in 1971. He discovered it was actually a vineyard in the 1880s, and was on the Wagon Trail between Napa and Santa Rosa. Stuart is now renowned as a mountain winegrower. Charles, who became an internationally famed croquet player, joined him in 1973.
How The mountain-top location and the history as a vineyard inspired Stuart to dry-farm the vineyard. Dry-farming means that no irrigation was given once the vines were established several decades ago. This forces the vines to struggle in search of water that is deeper in the soil. This struggle produces berries that are hardy enough to endure the thirsty challenge. The grapes are smaller in size, but packed with flavor.
I would love several hours at a dinner table with Stuart, Charles, and Sam. The stories and connection they must have from this family venture high in Napa’s mountains is the perfect dinner and drinking lore. The closest I’ll come is a refill of riesling in my own backyard, but I have a big smile on my face.
You can find Smith-Madrone at Pavillions Newport Coast and Pavillions Bayside, or at smithmadrone.com.