Smith is the owners' last name. Madrone refers to the native evergreen trees with a red-brown trunk and branches that grow on their property. Both of those facts are part of the reason Smith-Madrone Vineyards is worth the drive up up Spring Mountain from St. Helena.
Their 200 acres of land were first planted as vineyards in the 1800s. The vineyards grow at 1,300 to 2,000 feet and across the valley, you can see Howell Mountain.
Run by brothers, certifiable characters and long-time partners Charles and Stu Smith, Smith-Madrone is an unfussy, unpretentious winery that from all appearances have changed little since it first opened in 1971.
When asked how they got started, Charlie, the establishment's self-proclaimed "general factotum" says it's a hobby that just got out of control. And a successful hobby it is - this place has been winning awards for so long that the ribbons on some of their medals have started to fade.
The Experience at Smith-Madrone
At Smith-Madrone, you won't find a tasting bar, a platter of cheese - or even a place to sit down. What you will find are two interesting guys who love to make wine and share it with you.
What’s Amazing at Smith-Madrone
While standing around tasting with one of the owners, you might notice the wild boar's head hung over the door, a collection of cryptically-labeled bottles on the desk - or their dog Curly pawing your leg for attention. This place is all about the wine. They say they want to make artisanal wines that are distinctive and an expression of both the vintage and themselves, and it's easy to imagine that all of Napa might have been like this 40 years ago.
The location puts Smith-Madrone beyond the reach of casual wine tourists. I guess that's just the way they like it. And so do I.
Down to earth and casual. You won't hear lots of fancy wine words here, and instead of telling you what you're supposed to be tasting, these guys will let you draw your conclusions.
Smith-Madrone Will Be Great For You If:
If you're looking for a chance to meet the winemakers and sample some great wines without all the crowds and fuss of those fancy Napa tasting rooms, Smith-Madrone may be just the place for you.
If you love visiting small, boutique, artisan-style places of all kinds, you'll love it.
The owners know wine-speak as well as any snooty sommelier, but they won't inflict it on you. Their plain-talking style is perfect for people who just want to have some fun checking out a winery without being overwhelmed by fancy phrases they don't understand.
You also get a chance to decide what you think the wine tastes or smells like without having someone else tell you what you should be thinking.
The Wines at Smith-Madrone
They produce Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Riesling wines.
About.com's wine writer Stacy Slinkard says they make "the perfect all-American Cab to call on for celebrating Thanksgiving." All three of their varietals have won numerous awards - and they're one of the few Napa wineries to produce a Riesling of any kind, let alone an award-winning one, which Wine Enthusiast describes as "absolutely dry and fascinatingly complex." It's also one of About.com's Wine Best Picks
What Others Think About Smith-Madrone
Wine & Spirits magazine says their 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon was one of the year's best U.S. Cabernets. The Daily Meal thinks their 2013 Cab is one of the best in Napa Valley at any price.
About.com's wine writer Stacy Slinkard rates Smith Madrone's 2013 Riesling as one of the best to try for under $30.
Smith-Madrone is such on off the beaten path winery that it doesn't get too many online reviews. Those who have reviewed it give very high ratings. They love the owners and their stories and the excellent Cabernet Sauvignon.It gets 4.5 stars out of 5 at Yelp.
What You Need to Know Before You Go
Because it takes a while to get up and down the mountain, you may only have time for one or two other winery visits on the same day. You could also get in more stops if you plan them all close by at some of their neighboring Spring Mountain Vineyards.
They are open for tasting by appointment several days a week. You'll find a reservation request form here. Wine tasting fees are waived if you buy a bottle of wine.
This section is where you’ll find all the essential information that some people want to know, and others want to ignore.
Smith-Madrone is in the Spring Mountain District of Napa Valley. Production is about 4,000 cases per year.
Getting to Smith-Madrone Vineyards
To get to Smith-Madrone, drive up the mountain from the town of St. Helena, which will take about 20 minutes. The easy way to find them is to get the directions from their website.
4022 Spring Mountain Road
St. Helena, CA
Smith-Madrone Vineyards Website