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WINE REVIEW: SMITH-MADRONE 2018 Chardonnay ‘Estate Bottled’, Spring Mtn Dist., Napa Valley, CA ($45)

by Andrew Chalk

Smith-Madrone is over 50 years old, but one of the quiet heroes of Napa. So quiet that its consistent commitment to quality may have gone unnoticed in an environment of wineries that seem behaviourally equivalent to screaming teenagers on a Spirit airlines flight.

This wine, like all Smith-Madrone wines, is dry-farmed (i.e. the vines are not irrigated). The grapes grow on the top of Spring Mountain, a beautiful district of Napa Valley set out on either side of narrow, tortuous Spring Valley Road.

Stuart (L) and Charles (R) adopt a Breaking Bad personna
Stuart (L) and Charles (R) adopt a Breaking Bad personna

The soil is very important to founder Stuart Smith and winemaker Charles Smith. In their words

“Our soils are mostly deep-red Aiken Stoney Clay loam, part of the Aiken, Kidd, Forward complex of soils which are volcanic-based, well-drained and deep. The underlying geology is the very old (250,000,000 years) Franciscan Series Assemblage, unique to California coastal ranges, which includes altered mafic volcanic rocks, deep-sea radiolarian cherts, sandstones, limestones, serpentines, shales and high-pressure metamorphic rocks, all of them faulted and mixed in a seemingly chaotic manner as a result of the Pacific Tectonic Plate subducting under the Continental Plate and shears both off into an aggregate mix. Overlying this formation is the much younger weathered Sonoma Volcanic soil that forms our soils of today”

Their style is unapologetically artisan. Emanating distinctiveness that doesn’t stress the inherent qualities in the grapes, and never produces ‘paint by numbers’ wines. That deep commitment to authenticity has been a model for many young winemakers.


Appearance: Burnished gold hue;

Nose: Tropical fruit of pineapple and mango. Ripe golden apples. Lime. Toasty notes;

Palate: Vibrant acid, underlying phenolic backbone contributes to a rustic mouthfeel, tropical fruit shines through;

Fascinating to sip through during a Godfather rerun, or with roasted poultry, pork chops, or almost any type of seafood. Newcomers to wine might like to try this as their first chardonnay (America’s most popular white grape, by a country mile) since its nose and palate amount to a kind of “reference case” for New World chardonnay. However it talks to you, I think you will like it. Recommended.


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