Clos du Val is a name that I’d heard of but had yet to experience until just recently. The winery has been around since the 1970s Napa Valley boom and it seems that they’ve not just lasted through the years, but have developed and refined both their vineyards and their winemaking, becoming the triumph they are today. Once a Cab-dominant wine program, Clos du Val now boasts a full portfolio showcasing all the varietals the region does well. In the past I’ve been hesitant about Carneros Pinot Noirs — and, yes, I know it’s something the sub-AVA is known for. It’s just within these past two or three years that I’ve seen an increase in a more “hands-off” approach span across both grape growers and winemakers in this area, and I have to say that the results have been phenomenal (and delicious). Case and point is this estate Pinot Noir from Clos du Val.
So, not too long ago I voiced my frustration with California — or “new world” in general — Riesling. I feel like the majority of us have a stigma surrounding German Riesling, stereotyping it much like Gewürztraminer as a sweet wine. This is not without its merit, as the country is technically known for that style of white wine, but it’s because they were (originally) catering to the palate of the American demographic. And, so, I don’t know if it’s because of that Rhine region interpretation of our tastes, or our initial misunderstanding of our California terroir, but it seems like a lot of American Riesling were, up until a point, created with sweetness in mind.
Well thank goodness that this seems to be dissipating. California, even just within the last 10 to 20 years has seemed to develop a new understanding of terroir in regards to what grapes grow best in which areas. So, Riesling from Napa? I don’t believe I’ve had it before. And I, of course, had some doubts and hesitations. But that being said, Smith-Madrone has quality wines made by people who’ve been working to understand the land for decades. So, if Smith-Madrone says Napa Riesling, then I am, without a doubt, tasting Napa Riesling. Here we go…
When it comes to Napa, is Chardonnay the first grape variety that comes to mind? Well, it is the second most widely planted grape in the county, at 6,397 acres/2,588 hectares it makes up just 15% of the county’s vineyards. No surprise, Cabernet Sauvignon leads the race with 20,342 acres/8,232 hectares planted, making up 47% of Napa’s wine grapes. But as a consumer, at least in my little world, when I think Chardonnay I think about the “other” side of the mountain range (Sonoma). But Smith-Madrone, once again with the care and attention to the vines and the very minimalistic and naturalistic approach to winemaking, proves that even white wine has its place in the land of “big red.”
I’ve been dying to taste Smith-Madrone wines since I don’t know how long. I’ve only heard fantastic things about the estate and their wines. And after interviewing Stu Smith, founder, manager, and enologist for Smith-Madrone Winery, for a recent article, highlighting his thoughts on Napa’s recent Measure C ballot, I was even more eager and curious what this downright passionate proprietor is creating with these lovingly tended-for vineyards. So what better way to start than with the varietal Napa is known for?
I was so excited to try this Cabernet Sauvignon from Stony Hill. Even more so than the Chardonnay — but don’t ask me why. I guess there’s some pretense when you see the words “Napa” and “Cabernet” on the bottle. It can turn some people off because it may automatically connote “big, bold, chewy” -type vocabulary. But not so here, and this predominantly has to do with seasoned winemaker’s, Mike Chelini’s, winemaking techniques. According to the winery, Chelini is constantly monitoring the vineyards throughout the season, harvesting by chemical balance rather than by flavor alone. Testing the grapes for the perfect amount of pH versus acidity, means grapes with just enough acid to encourage ageability in the resulting wines. So what Chelini produces are both red and white wines that can age for years to come or be enjoyed straight out of the bottle. And with this Stony Hill Vineyard 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon — you can honestly go either way.