Wine of the week: Smith-Madrone, 2021 Napa Valley, Spring Mountain District Rosé
Rosés are serious wines that just happen to be pink, according to Charles Smith, winemaker of Napa Valley’s Smith-Madrone.
“Quality rosés aren’t throwaway wines,” he said. “The French, in places like Tavel and Anjou and elsewhere, take rosés seriously.”
Smith is the winemaker behind our wine of the week winner — the Smith-Madrone, 2021 Rosé, Napa Valley, Spring Mountain District, 14.1%, $30. It’s a sassy rosé with high-toned, tart fruit — cherry and strawberry — plus supple texture, great minerality and a crisp finish.
“As to house style, we’re trying to make a wine with a little more flavor interest than is normal in most American rosé,” Smith said.
The rosé is a blend of one-third merlot and two-thirds cabernet franc.
“The juice wasn’t extracted until the following morning, after crush,” Smith explained. “All of this contributes to its intense color and lovely flavors and aromatics.”
The winemaker calls the rosé the result of a “happy accident.”
“We hit on the merlot-cabernet franc blend more or less by accident several years ago,” Smith said. “We put the juice together in a single tank for fermentation. Rosés seem to be popular, so we thought, well, why not give it a try? We were delighted with the results. ... That wine became the template for the others which have followed.”
Smith, 78, grew up in Santa Monica. Wine first piqued his interest when he was in high school.
“I read an article in a magazine about a diner who ordered the oldest bottle of wine in the cellar of a great French restaurant,” Smith said. “It was made during the Napoleonic era and was served and drunk with much fanfare and reverence. I was fascinated.”
Smith went to UC Berkeley in the 1960s where he immersed himself in English literature.
“It was at Berkeley that wine became a serious hobby for me,” he said.
The hobby ultimately led to a career in wine for Smith. His brother, Stuart Smith, founded Smith-Madrone in 1971 and today the brothers work side by side. The founder is the general partner, while Charles is at the helm of winemaking. The winery relies on mountain vineyards for its fruit, with elevations between 1,300 and 2,000 feet, on steep slopes.
The duality of harvest and fire season can be unnerving for vintners. At Smith-Madrone, they have a pragmatic approach.
“My brother Stuart has installed hydrants and fire stations adjacent to all the buildings, while the vineyards are kept free of unwanted vegetation,” Charles said. “Vineyards are a great firebreak if they are properly cultivated.”
At the end of the day, Charles has made peace with the whims of Mother Nature.
“Farming and winemaking are weather-dependent, and a certain level of uncertainty is part of the job,” he said. “It’s best to cultivate a phlegmatic attitude; like baseball, it’s a long season.”
You can reach Wine Writer Peg Melnik at email@example.com or 707-521-5310.