Brothers Charles and Stu Smith started their 37 acre vineyard a top Spring Mountain in 1971. With vineyards planted to Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Riesling and most recently Cabernet Franc and Merlot they produce about 4,000 cases combined. One would expect them to build their reputation on Napa Valley staples of Cabernet Sauvignon or Chardonnay, but at Smith-Madrone their known for their Riesling. The Riesling is considered to be on par with celebrated Riesling producers from around the world and is often on wine writers “best of” list each year. With breath taking views of Napa Valley the dry farmed vineyards are anywhere from 1,300-2,000 ft. above the valley floor. Doing almost everything themselves around the vineyards and winery Charles and Stu deserve the accolades they receive.
With 13 acres planted to Cabernet Sauvignon, the 2005 is a blend of 82% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Merlot and 9% Cabernet Franc and saw 22 months in new American oak. It is neither fined or filtered. Soft and lush at the beginning, with good black cherry and currant fruit and medium tannins this wine has nice character and complexity. A long lingering finish on the back of the palate, “this is one of the best Cabs I’ve had all year” said my drinking companion. This is not a big Cab, with huge tannins but a Cab. with finesse and structure. With less than 1,500 cases of the 05 produced this bottle is a steal at approximately $45. If you can find it make sure you grab a bottle or 2 and while at it if you can find their Chardonnay or Riesling one should stock up on those too. www.smithmadrone.com
Michael and Robert Crane have been making wine since 2001 using grapes from their families 9 acre Crane Ranch Vineyard in the Oak Knoll district of Napa Valley. The vineyards are on the valley floor and on the hillsides above and are overseen by Jon Anthony Truchard. Using organic and sustainable farming methods they produce less than 400 cases each of their wines.
Winemaker Al Perry has been making Crane Brothers wines since the beginning. He also makes wine for Robert Biale Vineyards where he is also co-owner. In his 25 year plus career, Al has made wine for some of the most well respected wineries in Napa Valley including Stags Leap Winery and Opus One as well as for Yalumba in Australia.
The 2006 Brodatious is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Syrah and is aged in French oak. Big and juicy at the beginning this wine has nuances of black cherry and berries. Spices and oak along with softer tannins gives it a nice lingering finish. ABV is 14.5% and should retail for about $35
Robert Craig has been in the wine industry for over three decades having been General Manager of Hess Collection Winery and helping to emphasis the the unique qualities that mountain fruit can have when making wine. Mountain fruit is better structured, concentrated than valley fruit & can age better. He’s helped develop hundreds of acres on Mt. Veeder & when he started his own winery in 1992 he wanted to use fruit from both Mt. Veeder in southern Napa Valley & Howell Mtn. further north and across the valley. He also makes a limited wine from Spring Mountain. Known for their big style Cabernet Sauvignons Robert Craig Winery has garnered not only some great press over the years, but also a cult like following. I had the chance to see Robert once again when he was in town and taste some recent releases. I also had a chance to chat with him and he is looking forward to the 2010 vintage and says production could be lower than previous vintages.
Here is what I tasted with Robert and my thoughts….
The 2009 Durell Vyd. Chardonnay Sonoma Valley was just released and I was one of the 1st people to taste it. Lively and soft I found it very well balanced with good fruit, oak & mineral characters. Only 588 cases produced.
The 2007 Howell Mtn. Cabernet Sauvignon had big tannins, a good fruit character and nice long finish. Built to last (like all his Cabs.) this shows the depth of how mountain(2,300 ft up) fruit differs from valley fruit. He recommends decanting. 1,488 cases produced.
The 2007 Mt. Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon has softer tannins, bigger concentration of fruit combined with good acidity and see’s almost 2 years in french oak barrels. One of his most age worthy wines and patience will be rewarded. 1,480 cases produced.
The 2008 Affinity Cabernet Sauvignon is considered by many to be his flagship wine. A Bordeaux blend of mostly Cabernet, followed by Petite Verdot, Merlot, Cabernet Franc & Malbec offers some unique flavors thanks to the mix of grapes and changes from year to year. Currants and spice are prevalent along with a medium body make the 4,780 cases produced always a winner with the consumer and the press.
He also makes small amounts of Zinfandel and a Mt. George Cuvee. His wines are not found everywhere, but they’re well worth the search. So next time you’re looking for a big Napa Valley Cabernet or if you’re a collector Robert Craig wines needs to be in your collection. You won’t be disappointed.