Discover: Smith Madrone Vineyards, Napa Valley California

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Founded in 1971, Smith Madrone Vineyards & Winery is one of the few entirely estate-vineyard mountain wineries in the Napa Valley.

The name is a tribute to the Smith brothers and the predominant tree on the ranch. The Madrone is an evergreen with a red-brown trunk and branches. In spring the tree bears lily-of-the-valley-like flower clusters; in fall orange-red berries appear.

 Pacific Madrone (Arbutus menziesii) in flower, Oregon, USA. --- Image by © Robert & Jean Pollock
Pacific Madrone (Arbutus menziesii) in flower, Oregon, USA. — Image by © Robert & Jean Pollock

Brothers Stuart and Charles Smith are the vineyard managers and winemakers of Smith-Madrone Winery.  Also in the family attic is the Fetherolf family, German farmers from the Palatinate region, who came to America on the Good Ship Thistle in 1730.  The name for the winery came as a tribute to the Smith brothers who pursued their dream and to the Madrone trees which distinguish the property.

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Stuart and Charles Smith. Photo courtesy of Smith-Madrone

In May 1971, with a partnership of family and friends, Stuart Smith bought the ‘terroir’ which today is Smith-Madrone Vineyards & winery. He was 22 years old and had just received his B.A. in Economics from UC Berkeley and was taking classes towards his Master’s in Viticulture at UC Davis. In trying to find land to plant vineyard in the Napa Valley, through a family friend he explored a forest on the remotest and highest part of Spring Mountain and discovered that the land had been a vineyard in the 1880s and in fact had been part of the wagon trail route between Napa and Santa Rosa. Today he is respected for his expertise and leadership as a mountain vineyardist.

Charles F. Smith is the winemaker and general factotum for Smith-Madrone Vineyards & Winery. His brother Stuart Smith is the vineyard manager and general partner. The family lineage includes David Hume the 18th century Scottish philosopher and historian. Also in the family attic is the Fetherolf family, German farmers from the Palatinate who came to America on the Good Ship Thistle in 1725 and settled in Pennsylvania. The family also includes the first U.S. Marshal for the city of Denver, Colorado.

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About the Smith Madrone Estate

The 200 acre ranch, partly planted as vineyard over a century ago, where California black bears and other wildlife once thrived here and on it lies enormous 120-year-old Picholine olive trees which frame a path and view overlooking Napa Valley and Bothe Napa Valley State Park. All wines made entirely from the winery’s estate vineyards surrounding the winery on top of Spring Mountain in the Napa Valley. Stuart Smith chose specific slopes with different exposures for specific varietals when planting the vineyards: eastern exposure for Riesling, southern and western exposures across flat stretches for the Cabernet Sauvignon and the coolest north-facing slopes for the Chardonnay. There are numerous historical sights on the ranch, as well as the huge array of natural beauty and wildlife.

Smith-Madrone’s grapes are grown at the top of Spring Mountain (1,200 – 1,900-foot elevation with slopes up to 35%), west of St. Helena in the Napa Valley. The vines are planted on very steep slopes in red “Aiken” soil which is derived from weathered volcanic materials and sedimentary rock.

Smith-Madrone Olive Trees
Picholine olive trees

About the Wines

Cabernet Sauvignon

The New York Times’ Eric Asimov wrote about the state of Cabernets from Napa Valley recently, saying “I explored another world of Napa cabernet that you rarely hear about these days, a world with a direct connection to the historical underpinning of cabernet sauvignon as a table wine of balance, grace and unexpected subtlety….I found Napa producers who were making balanced, restrained cabernets all along. … most nowadays largely operate under the radar, popular with their clients but not always recognized for the quality of their wines. I’m thinking of producers like Smith-Madrone.”


Opulent aromas of toasty cedar, ripe pears and green apples promise a sophisticated wine. This smooth, rich and creamy mouth-feel delivers nuances of tropical fruit, lemon zest and honeysuckle on the palate. The gracefully integrated acidity, coupled with refined minerality, creates an alluring marriage of mountain-vineyard structure and finesse.


The aroma of the 2013 Riesling reveals a core of minerality surrounded by stone fruit, lime and white peaches, with a hint of grapefruit and apricot lurking around the edges. On the palate there is a distinct flavor of honeydew melon, sprinkled lightly with lemons and limes and a touch of honeysuckle and apricot. All of this complexity results in a distinctive Riesling character which merges at the finish with a lip-smacking acidity, leaving the taster wanting more. And more. It is completely refreshing and
absolutely delicious.

Current Releases

The current releases are 2013 Chardonnay ($32 USD), 2013 Riesling ($27 USD); 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon ($48USD) and 2009 Cook’s Flat Reserve ($200 USD). All the wines are estate grown and estate bottled, with all of the grapes coming from the winery’s estate vineyards surrounding the winery in the Spring Mountain District appellation.

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Limited Numbered Bottles Wrapped in Curious Tissue

On December 5, 1884 President Chester A. Arthur signed a “patent” (the 19th century term for a real estate deed) from the U.S. Land Office granting ownership of what is today Smith-Madrone Vineyards & Winery to George Cook. On December 5, 1933, the Volstead Act was repealed and the 21st Amendment enacted, marking the end of Prohibition. The thread continues— Smith-Madrone released the 2010 Cook’s Flat Reserve. “We may be setting a world record for taking the longest time of any winery you can think of to release a Reserve. It’s worth it,” explains Stuart Smith, the winery’s founder and General Partner.

“We founded the winery in 1971 and as we planted the estate we identified one specific 8-acre block as an unusual, distinctive terroir,” says Stuart Smith. “Local oldtimers called this vineyard block Cook’s Flat, in honor of George Cook, and over the years we have watched and studied the grapes from this plateau in the midst of our mountain vineyards,” he adds. “We have spent 41 years here meticulously farming, making wine and ruminating on what would go into a wine we’d call a Reserve,” explains Charles Smith, the winemaker (and Stu’s brother). “The Cook’s Flat Reserve represents the very best of which we are capable in a given year. It can only be made in small quantities and will only be available when warranted by superior quality. It is the ultimate distillation of our experience and expertise,” he adds.

Harvested September 25 – October 6, 2010, in a growing season which saw ideally consistent weather, the wine was aged for two years in 100% new oak from the Troncais, Nevers and Allier forests of France. The wine was then held for three years in bottle at the winery. The wine is composed of 75% Cabernet Sauvignon and 25% Cabernet Franc. The alcohol is 14.3%. “The wine has layers upon layers of dark rich fruit flavors; it is classically structured for sustained aging,” says Charles Smith. “It tastes the way great wines are supposed to taste: absolutely delicious,” he adds.

Each bottle is individually numbered; only 1,956 bottles were made. Each bottle is wrapped in colorful tissue, which is imprinted with a copy of the 1884 U.S. Land Office patent. The wine is available in 3-bottle, 6-bottle and 12-bottle wooden cases. The supporting website is

Meet the Winemakers, Tour the Vineyard

Tastings and tours are always conducted by either Charles Smith, winemaker, Sam Smith, assistant winemaker, or Stuart Smith, the GM/enologist.Perched at the top of Spring Mountain, Smith-Madrone is open for tours and tastings by appointment on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, at 4022 Spring Mountain Road (St. Helena, California 94574, 707/963-2283,


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