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2014 Winery of the Year: Smith-Madrone Vineyards & Winery

2014 Winery of the Year: Smith-Madrone Vineyards & Winery

Wine-lovers who live in the United States are blessed. No other country in the world has access to such a wide range of bottles — wines great and small, bargain-priced and preposterously expensive, classic and experimental; wines from every region of Italy, France, Spain, Germany, Chile, Argentina, Australia, New Zealand, and more and from countries many people don't even realize produce wine (Switzerland, Turkey, Lebanon, Mexico, India, Japan); and of course wines from all over the United States, from the major players like California, Washington, Oregon, and New York to a roster of states with small but sometimes promising production, from Alabama to Wyoming.

All this wine means that there are many, many thousands of labels in the American wine market today, from many, many thousands of wineries around the globe. Some estimates put the number of individual commercial wine producers internationally as high as two million! That may be an exaggeration, but there are at least 8,000 in the U.S. and 28,000 in France — and Italy boasts some 900,000 registered vineyards (not every one corresponding to a winery, of course, but still…).

For the past four years, The Daily Meal has named two Chefs of the Year, one American, one international, and for the past two years, we've also singled out an American Restaurant of the Year. Now, for the first time, we are honoring a Winery of the Year, as well. Reflecting the availability of wines from just about everywhere on our wine shop shelves and restaurant wine lists, we threw the field open to the whole world.

Our intent was to choose one property or enterprise, anywhere in the world, that has not only produced excellent wines consistently over a substantial period of time but has also served as an innovator and/or inspiration in the wine business, whether dynamically or simply by example.

Our editorial staff collaborated with some of our regular contributors on wine to come up with a short list of nominees for the honor. We then sent the list to select members of The Daily Meal Council and a number of writers and bloggers with particular interest in wine, including our own wine contributors. We asked them to pick one winery from among our nominees as most deserving of praise as an industry leader this year, and to name a runner-up if they wished — or, if appropriate, write in a deserving winery they thought we'd unjustly missed.

These were the nominees, with notes on why they were given consideration:

Charles Smith Wines (Washington). For earning consistently high scores in major wine publications (including an accolade as 2014 Winemaker of the Year in Wine Enthusiast), for championing unfashionable riesling, and for opening a new 32,000-square-foot winery and event space in downtown Seattle that functions as a showplace for Washington State wine.

Château Pontet-Canet (France). For raising standards of this old Pauillac estate, and for being industry leaders by converting to biodynamic farming and using amphorae to minimize oak aging.

Domaine de la Romanée-Conti (France). For setting and maintaining the standard for Burgundy.

Domaine Paul Mas (France). For turning out an immense quantity of excellent regional wines — "Old World wines with a New World attitude" — in the Languedoc.

Linden Vineyards (Virginia). For producing consistently elegant and well-made wines from Bordeaux varieties in a challenging wine region and becoming a benchmark for quality East Coast wines.

Ridge Vineyards (California). For being industry leaders, making fine, traditionally styled wines for over 50 years, and for inaugurating ingredient labeling in 2013.

Smith-Madrone Vineyards & Winery (California). For creating, without fanfare, some of Napa Valley's best wines for almost 45 years, for industry leadership in labeling reform, and for utilizing innovative vineyard techniques that have led the way for other producers.

Tablas Creek Vineyard (California). For being a leader in use of Rhône varietals in the Paso Robles region, for leading the fight for approval of 11 sub-districts in the area, and for advancing sustainable and biodynamic vineyard practices.

Taylor Fladgate (Portugal). For innovations in vineyard management, winery processes, and grower relations, and for continuing to produce top-level current Ports as well as limited releases of single-barrel vintages that date back to the late 1800s.

Tyrell's Wines (Australia). For continued leadership in the Hunter Valley since 1858, for pioneering chardonnay and bottle-aged sémillon in Australia, and for maintaining consistently high standards across a wide range of bottlings.

We would have happily given honors to any of these properties, but as it happened, the majority of number-one votes from our panelists went to a 44-year-old Napa Valley winery that is highly respected within the industry, though neither a household name nor the object of a cult following. Two other nominees got an equal number of honorable-mention votes, another California property, this one headquartered on the Central Coast, and a legendary French estate that produces some of the most sought-after (and expensive) wines in the world.

Here, then, are our two runners-up and our Winery of the Year for 2014.

Honorable Mention (tie): Domaine de la Romanée-Conti

When celebrated wine estates in France talk about having roots, they're not just talking about the tendrils of the vines. Take the Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, in the Burgundian commune of Vosne-Romanée, which dates its origins back to 1232, when monks from the Benedictine abbey of Saint-Vivant-de-Vergy bought a plot of vineyard land here covering about four-and-a-half acres (the abbey itself, largely destroyed after the French Revolution and only recently partially restored, is remembered today by the name of the appellation Romanée-Saint-Vivant). The abbey gradually acquired more acreage, until the property was sold to a secular owner in 1631, acquiring the name Romanée, for unknown reasons, along the way. After the prince of Conti took it over in 1760, it became known as Romanée-Conti. (The current owners are Hubert de Villaine, Henri-Frédèric Roch, and Jacques-Marie Duvault-Blochet.)

The domaine today produces seven wines, six of them made from pinot noir, the seventh from chardonnay. The wine called simply Romanée-Conti is considered the apotheosis of pinot noir, at once powerful and delicate, rich and ethereal — as well it might be, considering its fantasyland price (recent vintages typically sell for $6,000 to $12,000 a bottle). Considerably less expensive but still regarded as great wine are the estate's La Tâche, Richebourg, Échezeaux, Grands Échezeaux, and the aforementioned Romanée-Saint-Vivant, all remarkable expressions of pinot noir. The estate's sole white wine, the chardonnay-based Montrachet, of which only about 250 cases are produced annually, is the domaine's second most-expensive wine, and is considered by many to be the single greatest white Burgundy.

One member of The Daily Meal Council who cast a vote for the Domaine de la Romanée Conti, Anne Willan, founder of the famed La Varenne cooking school in France, noted that the property "brings a whiff of the glorious Burgundian past to the present with their traditional methods and perfectionist approach applied to some of the finest vines (with a 'v,' not a 'w') in France." Contributor John Tilson, of The Underground Wine Letter, adds that the domaine has been "the historic leader in Burgundy with an unparalleled record of excellence and consistency. Burgundy has centuries of history and the DRC is the one by which all others are judged."

That, ultimately, is the point. Though not many wine drinkers can afford the wines of this venerable estate, anyone who drinks quality Burgundy (or other good pinot noir-based wines) of any kind likely benefits, by extension, from the standards that the Domaine de la Romanée-Conti has established and maintained through so many generations.

Honorable Mention (tie): Tablas Creek Vineyard

To begin with, at this 25-year-old Paso Robles property owned by noted wine importer Robert Haas and the Perrin family of Château de Beaucastel (Rhône Valley royalty), there are the wines: the rich, juicy whites (largely roussanne) and reds (mostly mourvèdre) sold under the Esprit de Tablas (formerly Esprit de Beaucastel) label, as well as the more approachable Côtes de Tablas offerings, and the limited-edition single-variety wines released from time to time based on a wide variety of grapes. Beyond what's in the bottle, Tablas Creek has been an undisputed industry leader in the Paso Robles region, championing biodynamic farming and other sustainable agricultural practices and fighting for the identity — or identities — of their region. Late last year, largely through their efforts, the federal government's Tax and Trade Bureau (which regulates the American wine industry) approved the division of the Paso Robles AVA (American Viticultural Area — our version of France's appellation contrôlée) into 11 sub-AVAs.

"It was so important that Paso be split up into appellations," says contributor Elizabeth Schneider, a certified sommelier and popular wine blogger. "The area where Tablas Creek grows grapes is nothing like the hotter, inland areas. Distinctions between this large, varied place will help people get the styles they desire. For that, and for just making kick-ass wine year after year, Tablas Creek is my selection!" John Tilson hails Tablas Creek "for bringing Old World know-how to a new viticulture area. Sustainable agriculture practices and traditional winemaking have established them as a role model for Rhône varietals [in California] and the wines are consistently excellent."

Winery of the Year: Smith-Madrone Vineyards & Winery

A couple of amiable, bearded-and-mustachioed brothers, Stuart and Charles Smith (no relation to prolific Washington State winemaker Charles Smith) — vineyard manager and winemaker, respectively — grew up in Santa Monica. Stuart studied enology and viticulture at California's most famous wine school, UC Davis, working as the first teaching assistant for the school's legendary wine gurus Maynard Amerine and Vernon Singleton, and then starting Smith-Madrone in 1971 (the second half of the name is a reference to the red-barked madrone trees that grown on the property). Charles taught school for a couple of years before joining his brother at the winery. Smith-Madrone produced its first vintage in 1977.

The winery property covers 200 acres near the summit of Spring Mountain, long known as the home of some of Napa Valley's best producers (one of the first high-quality boutique wineries in the state, the celebrated Stony Hill Vineyard, is practically next door). When the Smiths started working the land here, they discovered evidence that there had been vineyards on the site as early as the 1880s. Today, about 34 acres are planted to grapes — cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay, and riesling, with small quantities of merlot and cabernet franc for blending. Production remains small — about 5,000 cases a year — and Smith-Madrone wines seldom show up on "trophy" lists. Connoisseurs who really know California wine, though, tend to love them. The chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon regularly wine gold medals around the country, and the winery's exquisite riesling was named "Best Riesling in the World" in 1979 at the International Wine Championships sponsored by France's Gault-Millau magazine.

Wine writer and contributor Gabe Sasso cast his vote for Smith-Madrone "for all the reasons listed" — the quality of the wines and the winery's industry leadership — but added "They continue to sell wines at drinkable prices!" (Their first-rate cabernet costs around $45 a bottle, and that acclaimed riesling goes for about $26.)

Contributor Anne Montgomery is a particularly enthusiastic fan of the winery. "In addition to creating fabulous wines," she says, "the brothers are impressive industry activists: Stu took on the bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms and lobbied relentlessly to be able to change the name of the varietal from the confusing moniker 'Johannesburg Riesling' to simply 'Riesling.' The BATF informed him that his only option was 'White Riesling,' as if the wine could magically be produced in other colors. Stu persisted, and the government finally caved, freeing American producers to properly identify their home-grown product. They also fought for their right to clear their land and then fought for their vines instead of quitting after being devastated by [the vine pest] phylloxera. These two brothers are just so passionate, and their wines are superb value. I love French wine, but these guys are true American pioneers." (For more on Smith-Madrone by Montgomery, click here.)

For their passion, then, and for their activism, but most of all for a long history of quietly making excellent wines at sensible prices, we name Smith-Madrone Vineyards & Winery as The Daily Meal's first Winery of the Year.

Smith-Madrone Vineyards and Winery

Smith-Madrone Vineyards and Winery is a winery in Napa Valley in the Spring Mountain District AVA. It was founded in 1971 by Stuart Smith. The name Smith-Madrone comes from combining the founders' name with the madrone trees among the estate. The winery is a long-time pioneer of dry farming. [1]

Smith-Madrone Vineyards and Winery
LocationCalifornia, United States
Wine regionWine Country
Appellation Napa Valley
Founded1971 ( 1971 )
First vintage1977
Cases/yrless than 5,000
Varietals Cabernet Sauvignon , Chardonnay , Riesling , Cook's Flat Reserve

Charles Smith, Stuart Smith's brother, is the winemaker at Smith-Madrone. Charles joined the winery in 1973. [2] Sam Smith, Stuart Smith's son, is the assistant winemaker. [3]

Dow’s Vintage Port 2011

The village of Pinhão in Portugal’s Douro River Valley is a quiet backwater in a stunning setting. From the river’s shores rise some of Portugal’s most magnificent vineyards, climbing the steep slopes in a series of rocky terraces. They are filled with a wealth of native Portuguese grapes that thrive here, in the Cima Corgo.

This is the homeland of Port, the fortified dessert wine that for centuries has ranked as one of the world’s greatest reds—its sweet, rich flavors mellowing with time. But Port’s popularity has been muted in recent years, a dusty tradition at the end of a meal.

Then, with the 2011 vintage, Douro vintners hit the jackpot. An ideal growing season resulted in a host of powerfully fruity yet fresh and balanced wines. The past two decades have seen the rise of Douro table wines, and they are remarkable in 2011 as well. But Port, which had taken the unaccustomed role of second fiddle, has come roaring back.

In 2011, Port surged to remarkable heights of quality, with some vintners declaring it the best vintage in 50 years. Twenty-five 2011 Vintage Ports scored 95 points or higher on Wine Spectator’s 100-point scale.

The vintage’s highest-scoring Port is the Dow’s. It stands as a monument to quality and the Douro’s modernization. Not overly sweet, the 2011 Dow’s delivers an abundance of grip, the interplay of alcohol and tannins prerequisite to long life.

The wine hails from the Symington family, which has made Port since 1882 and is the Douro’s biggest landowner, with about 2,400 acres spread over 26 quintas. Among their most-prized of those vineyard estates are Quinta do Bomfim, on the outskirts of Pinhão, and Quinta da Senhora da Ribeira, farther upriver toward the Spanish border.

Together, the two quintas provide more than three-quarters of the blend: Touriga Franca (40 percent) provides silky fruit flavors, Touriga Nacional (36 percent) offers power and structure, and Sousão (10 percent) gives deep color. The remainder comes from old-vine mixed plantings.

While Charles Symington oversees the vineyards and the cellars, five Symington men had a say in the 2011’s composition. The six best of 44 fermentation lots were chosen for the final blend. Maceration and fermentation began in shallow, open granite basins (lagares), with machines mimicking traditional foot-trodding. The juice was drained off to stainless-steel tanks to ferment for two to three days. Neutral grape spirit was added to halt fermentation and preserve fruitiness, resulting in an alcohol level of about 20 percent. The wine aged 18 months in large oak casks before final blending and bottling. The U.S. received 2,000 of the 5,000 cases made.

The Dow’s is fermented a touch drier than other Symington Ports, with less residual sugar. Muscular, compact tannins support concentrated black fruit, chocolate and spice flavors and an almost endless finish.

This profile, enjoyable younger than is the norm, truly represents the modern style of Port. Wait at least until 2020 to crack open the 2011, though it will live much, much longer. As the fruit, sweetness, tannins and alcohols evolve, they will reach their climax in the sublime hedonism of a mature Vintage Port.

For its combination of power, quality and fair price, and for being the best of the best of an amazing vintage, the 2011 Dow’s Vintage Port is Wine Spectator’s 2014 Wine of the Year. —Kim Marcus

2014 Vintage Report: California Wine Harvest

For the men and women who make wine, perhaps no word is more packed with nervous anticipation than "harvest." After months of spending time, sweat and money in their vineyards, it's time to see what nature delivered. For California, 2014 brought another year of record-breaking drought. For much of Western Europe, 2014 was unpredictable, with sun, clouds and plenty of hail in some unfortunate spots.

In the first of five 2014 vintage reports, California winegrowers up and down the coast are breathing a deep sigh of relief. While the state still suffers from drought conditions, which lowered yields in many spots, well-timed rains kept vines growing and a sunny summer and fall meant ripe grapes. Growers do fear what 2015 will bring, however—if the drought continues, shrinking groundwater could mean a horrible new year.

As for final quality in the bottle, it's too early to know, but here's a sneak peek.

Anderson Valley

The good news: A long growing season with moderate weather lead to an early harvest, allowing growers to avoid damaging fall rains.

The bad news: Continued drought conditions meant that the crop size was smaller than usual in many vineyards.

Picking started: Aug. 14

Promising grapes: Pinot Noir

Analysis: Mendocino County's Anderson Valley had little to complain about in 2014. Winter was exceptionally dry—part of California's long drought—and just as growers and winemakers were about to panic, the rain arrived in abundance in February. A warm spring laid the groundwork for early budbreak, and the growing season ran ahead of schedule all year. “Being an early vintage is always advantageous in Anderson Valley, where it’s almost certain to rain by Oct. 15,” said Goldeneye winemaker Michael Fay.

Anderson Valley built its reputation on Pinot Noir, and vintners report that the 2014s show an agile balance between ripe fruit and lively acidity, thanks to abundant sun and cool evening temperatures. Harvest itself was unusually condensed, with grapes such as Gewürztraminer, Chardonnay and Pinot arriving at the winery at the same time. “It felt like everything was ripe all at once—because it was,” said Roederer Estate winemaker Arnaud Weyrich.

Napa Valley

The good news: 2014 was a dream vintage, with quality along the lines of 2012 and 2013.

The bad news: Not much to complain about, though drought conditions and small crop size did prove to be minor irritants.

Picking started: Everything was ready to go in early- to mid-August, even Cabernet Sauvignon, which usually ripens much later.

Promising grapes: Cabernet took center stage, but all grapes—including Chardonnay, Merlot, Syrah and Zinfandel—and regions fared well, under ideal weather conditions.

Analysis: Napa Valley's harvest was unusually early this year, not surprising given the state’s ongoing drought, which was so extreme that the cover crops in many vineyards never took hold. Substantial rain in late February and early March relieved most of the stress and set up the vines for a vigorous start. "Early" was the key word all season, from budbreak to veraison to harvest. Thankfully, the hotter months proved milder than most expected.

Summer weather was perfect for the grapes, said Elias Fernandez of Shafer Vineyards. “We didn’t see any extremes or surprises—no 100° F days, no humidity trouble to speak of, no sunburn. We enjoyed a lot of days in the 90s, with somewhat warmer nights than the year previous, more often in the 60s than the 50s. Everything just rocked along beautifully.”

Andy Erickson of Favia recalled this being the earliest harvest on record for him, with picking beginning in St. Helena Aug. 19. “But the quality of the fruit was outstanding," he said. "Dark color, intense aromatics, great fruit character. I told my team to forget the calendar and to get into sampling and tasting vineyards in earnest. Overall, I’d say we were two to three weeks earlier than last year for most vineyards, and with above-average yields.”

Quality seems to be excellent, according to Erickson and other vintners. “I’d say the vintage is somewhere between 2012 and 2013, with 2013 being the darkest, most powerful wines I’ve seen in Napa, and 2012 not far behind, but with softer, more luscious tannins,” said Erickson. “2014 at this point seems to be darker and a bit more concentrated than 2012s, but perhaps with some earlier appeal than the tightly packed wines of 2013.”

A vineyard worker harvests Grenache Blanc at Epoch Wine Estates in Paso Robles.

Paso Robles

The good news: Notable concentration and depth across the board

The bad news: Low yields—down as much as 25 to 30 percent—and a condensed, hectic harvest

Picking started: Aug. 14, two to three weeks earlier than normal

Promising grapes: Grenache, Syrah and Adelaida appellation Cabernet Sauvignon

Challenging grapes: Roussanne, Zinfandel and Mourvédre

Analysis: The third year of drought dominated conversations about the 2014 growing season in Paso Robles. “The 800-pound gorilla in the room has been and continues to be the lack of water,” said Brian Brown of Onx. “Driving through various parts of the county, one could see the severity of drought by how stressed the vines were. Vineyards without adequate ground water or the ability to irrigate had vines shutting down by the middle of September, a phenomenon I had never seen before.”

The drought contributed to the dramatic cuts in yields across the region. “Those growers that have access to ample water and were able to supplement the meager rainfall over the past few years saw normal crop loads of perfect fruit,” said vintner Terry Hoage. “Those growers that didn’t have access to enough water during the season saw quality fruit, but in diminished crops,” he added.

Outside of drought talk, it was a relatively uneventful growing season, with a dry, mild winter and vines getting off to an early start in spring, a pattern that followed through flowering, set, veraison and harvest, where there weren’t any memorable heat spikes. Epoch’s Jordan Fiorentini said that even though the harvest was early, budbreak was even earlier, resulting in more grape hang time than in 2013.

Most vintners reported a compressed, fast harvest. The Farm’s Santiago Achával explained, “We picked 15 tons in five days! That’s 95 percent of our harvest in less than a week."

Drought conditions are bittersweet for Paso Robles vintners—low yields, small clusters and tiny berries should result in concentrated wines, but not much of them to sell. “The concentration of flavors is unreal,” said Nick Elliott of Nicora. "And the berries were so tiny that I often wondered if there would be any juice to press out after fermentation."

“These wines will require a lengthy aging before becoming truly approachable,” suggested Jason Joyce of Calcareous. “It was a tough year to bring out the elegance.”

Winemaker Jordan Fiorentini inspects grapes fresh off the vine.

Santa Barbara

The good news: Another solid crop, with good color and intensity

The bad news: A shorter growing season and compressed harvest left vintners scrambling. Continued drought conditions have made them concerned about next year.

Picking started: Aug. 6, the earliest harvest ever for some vintners, as much as three weeks earlier than typical

Promising grapes: Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah and Santa Maria Pinot Noir

Challenging grapes: Grenache

Analysis: Most Santa Barbara County vintners are calling 2014 the third in a string of excellent vintages. A mild winter, normal to early budbreak and a mild summer lead to an early harvest. But it was a shorter growing season. “The fruit had a very short hang time,” said vintner Jim Clendenen of Au Bon Climat. “2014 had normal budbreak, normal flowering time, but picking was three weeks early.”

Drought concerns continue, with reservoirs and wells getting lower and salt content in the soil increasing, stressing the vines, forcing some vintners to irrigate before veraison. “This pre-veraison irrigation, we think, caused berries to swell and cluster size and crop levels to increase above expected levels,” said Brandon Sparks-Gillis of Dragonette. “As a result we dropped a significantly larger amount of fruit than we would have liked.” Some vintners who didn’t irrigate expressed the opposite: extremely low yields, down as much as 50 percent, particularly with Grenache.

Some winemakers report moderate to low acidity levels in the wine that will be a distinctive feature of 2014. “It will make for really stable wines, really rich and hopefully richly textured," said Gavin Chanin of Chanin Wine Company.

Harvest was a scramble. “When you get two-thirds of your entire vintage into the cellar in one week it really taxes your staff, your destemmer, your forklifts," said Herman Story’s Russell From. "A winery's ability to receive barrels and press and sort and bottle all at once while maintaining quality and focus will be one of the unspoken litmus tests of the vintage for sure.”

But the outlook on the wines is positive. “The wines should be fruitful and balanced, with a few bottlings leaning toward being big and powerful,” said Craig Jaffurs.

Two sorting table workers look for any sub-par grapes at V. Sattui in Napa Valley.

Santa Cruz

The good news: 2014 marks the third straight high-quality vintage thanks to near-perfect weather throughout the season.

The bad news: Some saw lower yields than normal. An early harvest presented space problems for wineries that were trying to bottle last year's wines before the next vintage went into barrel.

Picking started: Aug. 4, about two weeks earlier than normal

Promising grapes: Pinot Noir and Chardonnay

Challenging grapes: Syrah and Grenache. Rocky sites struggled with the drought conditions but still produced high quality, despite low yields.

Analysis: Despite the drought, this growing season presented few challenges for Santa Cruz winemakers. High winds during the onset of the growing season lead to lower yields than the previous two vintages, as much as a 25 to 35 percent drop for some wineries. But the rest of the season was warm and even, and low yields lead to high quality across the board.

Bradley Brown of Big Basin Vineyards reported good phenolic ripeness at low alcohol levels with great color. While Pinot Noir and Chardonnay seem primed for another solid year, Brown also sees promise in Rhône varieties from the region.

Harvest started early for everyone. Ridge Vineyards started and finished early, with nearly all their vineyards picked by the end of September. Jeffrey Patterson of Mount Eden Vineyards said their picking kicked off Aug. 4, the earliest going back 70 years for the vineyard. But he believes that, much like previous dry years, this year’s quality appears great and will showcase the kind of elegance Mount Eden is known for.

Kevin Harvey of Rhys Vineyards said that despite the low yields the quality is exceptional. “In a few years it should be quite interesting to compare 2012, 2013 and 2014,” said Harvey, “I wouldn't be surprised if 2014 is the best of these three great vintages.”

Freshly picked Cabernet Sauvignon heads into the winery at Justin.


The good news: An easygoing growing season got off to an early start and was moderately warm all year.

The bad news: Continued drought conditions stressed some vineyards, creating long-term concerns for vineyard health and production.

Picking started: July 31

Promising grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir and Zinfandel

Analysis: “Slow and steady wins the race seemed to be the mantra of the year,” said St. Francis winemaker Katie Rose Madigan. An early, long and modestly warm season in Sonoma County allowed most winemakers the luxury of picking at the optimum time.

Sebastiani winemaker Mark Lyon called 2014, “an excellent Cabernet year.” Morgan Twain-Peterson, winemaker of Bedrock, said, “There will be some pretty dense, concentrated wines coming from the 2014 vintage, but not in the volume of the abundant 2012 and 2013 vintages.”

Some vintners in regions like Alexander and Dry Creek valleys worried by midsummer that sugars were ahead of flavor development, but cool weather in September stalled ripening. “We'll be seeing some higher alcohols,” said Ferrari-Carano winemaker Sarah Quider, “but overall quality is great, with nice, ripe aromas and flavors with average yields.”

Pinot Noir is showing excellent potential, although some regions fared better than others. Acids are generally softer, Siduri winemaker Adam Lee said, “and that makes me think it will be a fairly showy vintage right off, as opposed to 2012.” Benovia winemaker Mike Sullivan agreed. “ The young wines are exhibiting intense aromatics with ripe but fine tannins and amazingly intense color.”

With many varieties ripening at the same time, Sullivan said tank space was at a premium. Carlisle winemaker Mike Officer said 2014 was the earliest and most-condensed harvest he had experienced. “Had it not rained a little in the latter half of September, our harvest would have been over before Oct. 1. Some years we don’t even get our first fruit until Oct. 1,” he said.

Smith-Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Napa Valley, Spring Mountain District

These days, California’s Napa Valley is filled with celebrities, corporate big shots, and other one percenters who have caught the wine bug and bought their way into the region and the wine business.

So it’s refreshing to think about two bearded brothers who have been at it for almost half a century, high up on a mountain in their rustic corner of the valley, with little ostentation or self-promotion.

This Is The Last Corkscrew You’ll Ever Buy

The brothers are Stuart and Charles Smith, who have been growing grapes and producing distinctive estate wines at their Smith-Madrone Winery on the top of Napa’s Spring Mountain since 1971. This is not the Napa Valley overrun by the wine-soaked masses. (Tours are by appointment only.)

Smith-Madrone has been all about consistency, producing the same excellent wines — primarily a Cabernet Sauvignon, a Chardonnay, and a Riesling — year in and year out.

My recent tasting of the 2014 Spring Mountain District Cabernet Sauvignon confirms it. This is classic, terroir-defined Cabernet with a signature that says Smith-Madrone (the latter part of the name refers to a type of evergreen tree on the property).

The grapes are grown in steep, mountainside vineyards in largely volcanic soils. The vineyards are mostly dry-farmed (no irrigation is used), not only to conserve precious California water, but to produce more complexity in the wines, which results from the vines having to dig deeper for their nourishment.

That complexity is a hallmark of the 2014 Cabernet, a $52 wine with aromas of violets, red fruits, and graphite, followed by concentrated dark and red fruit tastes and a hint of eucalyptus. The oak is well integrated, the tannic structure is refined, and the ample acidity gives the wine an overall brightness. A slightly green note, not uncommon in young Cabernet, gives way as it opens up. The blend is 85 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 8 percent Cabernet Franc, and 7 percent Merlot.

With alcohol listed at 13.9 percent, it’s also a refreshing counterpoint to the still-prevalent model of Big California Cab. It’s enjoyable young and will be worth exploring 10, even 20 years from now.

American Winery of the Year 2019

While we love our four-legged friends, we can’t allow pets in the tasting room or on the grounds at this time.

Sauvignon Blanc

Crisp and refreshing, this wine captures the essence of why so many people love this varietal.

In French, Saignée literally means “to bleed” and has been used as a traditional method of rosé winemaking for centuries.


Barrel fermented in new American oak barrels, with the lees stirred by hand, this delicious and well-balanced Chardonnay is sure to please.

Pinot Noir

A classic, cool climate Pinot Noir that is elegant and true to the varietal.


America’s favorite merlot, this is the perfect everyday wine for all occasions.

Cabernet Sauvignon

Aged in American oak for 12 months, this wine showcases intriguing and layered flavors.

Old Vine Zinfandel

Intense and flavorful wine made from vines ranging in age from 60 to 80 years.

Essential Red

This compelling blend of Old Vine Zinfandel, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Sirah has created a memorable and delicious wine.

Est. 1968

2014 Winery of the Year: Smith-Madrone Vineyards & Winery - Recipes

Napa Valley, December 2020 --- Smith-Madrone Winery is releasing a six bottle vertical collection of Smith-Madrone Riesling from the 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019 vintages. &ldquoAs we get ready to celebrate our 50th anniversary next year we wanted to offer our customers something fun, unique and something uniquely ours,&rdquo explains founder/General Partner Stuart Smith.

The 2014 and 2015 vintages are only available in very small quantities in the winery library. The 2017, 2018 and 2019 are not released yet. The 2016 is the winery&rsquos current release (which is also available in a 1.5L magnum bottle). This vertical is being offered for $250.00.

&ldquoTasting these wines is an absolute taste of our terroir,&rdquo adds Stuart Smith. &ldquoThe same varietal, from the same vineyard, tended by the same hands for the last fifty years---this is a chance to really understand our estate and our approach to winemaking,&rdquo he says.

&ldquoThis is literally an amazing set of wines, a fantastic way to go deep into one varietal, made lovingly by one producer, over the last five decades,&rdquo said Michael Madrigale, a New York City sommelier. &ldquoWhether people buy this and taste the wines over time with a Coravin, or enjoy them all at one time, it will be a very memorable tasting experience,&rdquo he added.

Smith-Madrone is considered to be a pioneer of growing and making Riesling in the Napa Valley. In establishing the winery and planting its vineyards on the steep slopes of Spring Mountain in 1971, Stu intentionally chose Riesling because of its characteristics of thriving on hillsides.

Entered accidentally, Smith-Madrone won the award for Best Riesling In The World for its 1977 Riesling in the 1979 Gault Millau Wine Olympics competition in Paris. It was a blind competition and the contenders were wines from all over the world, including prestigious names such as Schloss Vollrads.

In 1983 Smith-Madrone was the first U.S. Riesling producer to label its wines by its true name, &ldquoRiesling,&rdquo after an eight-month struggle with the BATF. Smith-Madrone had been the only winery to use only the word Riesling on its labels when other wineries at the time were using either Johannisberg Riesling or White Riesling. Why? &ldquoIt&rsquos the true name of the varietal,&rdquo Smith explains. &ldquoWhen was the last time you had a red Riesling? White Riesling is redundant Johannisberg is a picturesque winery in Germany not too dissimilar from Smith-Madrone. Why should we call Riesling 'Johannisberg Riesling' if we don't call Pinot Noir 'Romanee Noir' or Cabernet Sauvignon 'Lafite Sauvignon?' The true name of the varietal is simply Riesling and our fighting to use that terminology was an expression of our serious commitment to this grape,&rdquo he adds.

&ldquoWith our Riesling you get the purest expression of the varietal. There&rsquos no malolactic fermentation, no oak extraction, lees stirring or blending with other varietals,&rdquo says winemaker Charles Smith, Stu&rsquos brother. &ldquoOnce harvested, the grape juice goes directly into stainless steel tanks where it is fermented, clarified and then bottled. This is true minimalist intervention winemaking and Riesling is the only varietal that reaches its greatest heights this way,&rdquo he adds.

Riesling expert (author of The Riesling Story: The Best White Wine On Earth) Stuart Pigott named Smith-Madrone&rsquos Riesling the only dry Riesling from North America in his list of Top 20 Dry Rieslings in the book. About the winery&rsquos Rieslings, he has written, &ldquothey were not only of consistently high quality, they were also utterly distinctive. The 1996 was one of the best mature American Rieslings I ever tasted. Which other American Rieslings can match its vitality and uniqueness of flavor?&rdquo In describing the varietal in general terms, Pigott has written: &ldquoThere&rsquos not only a spirit of the times there&rsquos also a wine of the times, and Riesling is the white wine of our time. In a wine world dominated by smoke and mirrors, where standardization of flavor is the norm, Riesling remains strikingly and deliciously original.&rdquo

Smith-Madrone is one of Napa Valley&rsquos authentically artisanal wineries, founded in 1971 by Stuart Smith. Winemaking and grape-growing are handled entirely by the two brother-proprietors, Stuart and Charlie Smith and Stu&rsquos son, Sam Smith. All of Smith-Madrone&rsquos wines come from the 38 acres of estate vineyards surrounding the winery, first planted 49 years ago by Stuart and Charlie. The vineyards extend across steep mountainsides, at steep slopes at elevations between 1,300 and 1,900 feet. Total production each year is less than 4,000 cases. More at

Smith-Madrone&rsquos current releases, all sourced from estate-grown fruit from vineyards surrounding the winery at the top of the Spring Mountain District appellation in the northern Napa Valley, are 2016 Riesling, 2017 Chardonnay, 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon and 2016 Cook&rsquos Flat Reserve.

Ehlers Estate

This little treasure sits right off Highway 29 in St. Helena on a truly unique �nch,” in the narrowest part of the entire valley, smack between the Mayacamas and Vaca Mountains. The tasting room is eclectic𠅊 rotating art exhibit graces the stone walls, and guests are seated in gathering spaces decorated in a patchwork of vintage furniture. There’s also a tasting bar, and in the summertime, an area for those with appointments to picnic. Winemaker Laura D໚z Muñoz produces entirely estate-grown Bordeaux-varietal wines, including a dynamite rosé. Tip: Those visiting from the east coast might ask about their “Start Your Day” experience, and if you’re into bocce there’s a court to satisfy your competitive nature.

Appointments available: Seven days a week from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

Fee: $35 per person up to six people


Hillside Wines

Hillside Collection wines are quality, estate-grown, varietal wines carefully crafted to complement a wide variety of foods and perfect for everyday meals and casual occasions.

Grapes come from our three El Dorado Appellation vineyards, whose mild climate and deep soils provide perfect growing conditions for the wide range of varieties that are the foundation for these wines.

Signature Collection

The Madroña Signature Collection features elegant wines that showcase the finest fruit from our three vineyard properties and are particularly successful expressions of varietal style, character, and quality.

Handcrafted and artistically blended, our Signature Collection Reserve wines profoundly express the unique characteristics of each varietal.

Single Vineyard Wines

Madroña Single Vineyard wines are small lot offerings sourcing distinctive fruit from each of our three vineyards – Madroña Vineyard, Enyé Vineyard, and Sumu-Kaw Vineyard. Each highlights the unique varietal characteristics and terroir of the specific vineyard site from which the fruit is harvested.

As we taste through the barrels before final blending, we invariably come across a barrel that is positively special. The character may be intense, subtle, unusually fruity, or complex. It screams to be bottled separately to retain the unique aspects that show the exquisite nature of our diverse vineyards. Single vineyard lots, which are traditionally bottled unfined and unfiltered, exhibit a purity and a sense of place seldom seen in California wine.

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Specialty Wines

From our Fiore to our popular Blanc de Blancs, Madroña Specialty wines are special bottlings of uncommon varietals, produced on a limited basis by our winemaker.

New-World Port

From one of the first wines Madrona ever made, port-styled wines have become a mainstay of our portfolio. A blend of seven estate-grown Portuguese varieties, our New-World Port embodies both elegance and balance.

Our winemaker chooses grapes from the finest vineyards and regions to create both single–vineyard wines and intricate blends from multiple vineyards.

2018 Hilliard Bruce Chardonnay

2018 Grand Detour Pinot Noir

2018 La Encantada Pinot Noir

Watch the video: Alone In My Off Grid Paradise. Ice Fishing. Off Grid Homesteading (January 2022).