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.
Oh Stony Hill — another winery to cross off my bucket list! The original Stony Hill Vineyard, located in Napa’s Spring Mountain AVA, was purchased by Fred and Eleanor McCrea back in the early 1940s. The first vines were planted in 1948 and by 1954 the couple already had a reputation for crafting fine Napa wines. When Fred passed in the late 1970s, assistant winemaker Mike Chelini took the winemaking reigns, and he’s held on tight to those ropes for over 40 years now. The bulk of the business remains in the family, with Fred and Eleanor’s son and daughter-in-law, Peter and Willinda, running the day-to-day operations and with their daughter, Sarah, taking over as president as of 2011.
According to the winery, Fred and Eleanor loved the white wines of Burgundy and would have loved to have planted their entire vineyard to Chardonnay. Well, they didn’t plant the whole vineyard to Chardonnay. But I can say that Fred and Eleanor would be proud that their family does great honor to the fruit that founding couple held in such high esteem.
I’m always curious when wineries who’s main focus are heartier red wines produce a white varietal. Ladera, who’s primarily known for their Cabernet Sauvignon, recently purchased acreage in Sonoma’s Russian River Valley — known for top quality Pinot Noir and — yes — Chardonnay. Sourcing fruit from the right region is one thing, knowing how to do that produce justice is another. And Ladera does, indeed, do the Chardonnay grape proud…
This is another story about an iconic winery that I’ve always wanted to taste and finally have. Ladera Vineyards is the passion project of Pat and Anne Stotesbery who purchased their first Napa acreage atop Mount Veeder in 1996 with the intention of becoming grape growers and sellers. They replanted their hillside vineyard, which was predominantly planted to Chardonnay, to Cabernet Sauvignon, focusing on the grape they knew thrived best in this area — and a grape they loved. As these stories often go, the Stotesburys were so pleased with what they were producing, they began making their own wines, eventually establishing their own line under the Ladera label. Today Ladera Vineyards has a prestigious reputation for crafting some of Napa’s best Cabernet. But their most recent experiments have taken them to the vineyards of Sonoma’s Russian River Valley where they now grow and produce some of that regions strongest grapes — Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.