These Hillside Grape-growers are Celebrating 50 Years of Winemaking

A decorated Napa Valley winery known for its hillside grape production is celebrating its 50th anniversary by reopening its tasting room by appointment, hosting special virtual tastings and discussions with the winemakers, collaborating with local businesses and digging deep into its cellar to re-release limited availability wines that have traditionally been a hit with its customers.

Smith-Madrone Vineyards was launched on May 14, 1971 when founder Stuart Smith signed paperwork on 200 acres on top of Spring Mountain in Napa Valley.

“It was in the fall of 1970 that I first walked the dense forested property that would become Smith-Madrone,” Stu Smith said. “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.” 

Smith-Madrone has truly remained a family affair over the years. Since 1972, Smith-Madrone’s leadership has included Stu’s brother, head winemaker Charles Smith, and his son, Sam Smith, joined the winery as assistant winemaker in 2010.

“We knew being in the mountains would differentiate Smith-Madrone from the wineries on the floor of the Napa Valley, and we valued and nurtured that difference,” Charles Smith explained. “The success of our Riesling is due altogether to being in the hills at altitude.”

All of the winery’s wines are made from the estate vineyards surrounding the winery, originally planted 49 years ago by the Smith brothers. 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. 

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.

While the winery’s family business model and commitment to hillside grape-growing have remained constant, Stu Smith said Napa Valley itself had undergone a dramatic evolution while maintaining its reputation for winemaking.

“The wine industry has seen many changes in the 50 years since we carved Smith-Madrone out of the forested mountain top.  Napa Valley wine has evolved from a small provincial business, second in economic importance behind livestock, to an industry of worldwide pre-eminence,” he said. “While there have been many technological advances in both viticulture and enology, the fundamental of great wine remain the same: climate, soil, site and a sound understanding of science.”

In addition to the special releases, Smith-Madrone is celebrating 50 years by:

  • Offering a monthly Zoom tasting and discussion with the winemakers. The first one will be June 12 at 4 p.m. Pacific time. 
  • Partnering with Pt. Reyes-based Cowgirl Creamery, which makes artisanal cheeses, by offering a discount code for creamery purchases for all who purchase the wines.
  • Reopening its tasting room for by-appointment visits
  • Smith-Madrone will be profiled in an episode of the Behind The Glass series on SommTV, with the segment airing on July 6.
  • Sam Smith will introduce his own wine, Curly St. James, in the summer of 2021.

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