Stuart Smith – Winemaker, Mountain Man, and Napa Legend
We first met Stu a few years back when we started writing about wine. I think out of all of the wine makers we have met, he is still amongst our favorites. He’s not one of the young, slick, winemakers that you see forging forward in Napa’s winemaking scene, although he certainly started off that way. He’s not a celebrity that has turned winemaker, or someone with loads of extra money that has decided wine is sexy. No, he’s now amongst the legends that actually forged the land, and helped shape Napa into what it is today. (Although he’d probably laugh and call that a bunch of guff.)
Stu bought his vineyard in May 1971 with a partnership of family and friends. He was only 22 years old and was, at that point, working on his Master’s degree in Viticulture and Enology at UC Davis. He named his winery Smith-Madrone after their last name and the madrone trees that were found on their property.
The property he chose to build his vineyard on was steep, rocky, and full of trees and although it had been a vineyard in the late 1890’s, he had to clear all of the land before he could start the long hard process of planting his own grapes.
What really impressed us about meeting him was his passion and affinity for the land he cultivates. As we walked through the vineyard, we were mesmerized by his tales of how he learned the best ways to set up his vines on a mountain side, some of the missteps they had along the way, and some of their triumphs. We loved his zest for knowledge, and innovation, along with his old school work ethic and no nonsense manner. He was one of the pioneers of dry farming practices in the Napa Valley. There is no denying – he’s the real deal.
Much later on, we learned a lot more about this inspirational winemaker above and beyond the excellent wines he makes. He has been involved with the communities of St. Helena and Napa Valley by volunteering and being involved with the Boy Scouts of America along with many other groups. He’s been chair of the Napa Valley Wine Auctions twice and a member of the Napa County General Plan Steering Committee, responsible for updating Napa’s General Plan. So when I said he’s been one of the people shaping Napa today, I wasn’t kidding.
Since our first meeting and tasting of Stu’s wines, we have been big Smith-Madrone fans and devotees. The Smith-Madrone Riesling is by far one of our favorite wines to drink all summer long and although now we drink wine for business reasons, it is their Riesling that we reach for when we want to drink for the pure pleasure. We are also big fans of the perfectly balanced Chardonnay they produce.
What Smith Madrone is truly known for is their excellent quality Cabernet Sauvignon. Honestly, in our opinion, it is one of the best Cabs in Napa and the price gives you true value in every sip.
The Cooks Flat Reserve is the flagship Cabernet Sauvignon wine that they produce. Yes, the price is on the higher end range, but it is a wine for celebrations and memories that will last you a lifetime.
You can visit Smith-Madrone by appointment and a tasting fee of $25 per person. A real bargain to be able to taste such high quality wines that have been in the making for nearly 50 years.