Saving the Idea of “Reserve” At Smith-Madrone Winery
You can swing a dead cat in this Valley and knock over five or six “Reserve” wines before the feline makes a full revolution. But, say what you will about the term “Reserve” on wines (The term isn’t regulated”. “There are too many synonyms for the term”. “It’s just a marketing gimmick”), the fact is it can be saved.
I’m perhaps one of the few people remaining who gets curious when I see a wine granted “Reserve” status. As it turns out, I have seen numerous “Reserve” wines that are more exceptional than the rest in the same portfolio. Plus, there’s always the fact that you can usually justify a higher price for a “Reserve” wine. These are just a couple of the reasons why nearly every winery in this Valley has offered its customers a “Reserve” wine.
So, I was very curious when I heard that after 41 years of making wine up on Spring Mountain in Napa Valley, Smith-Madrone Vineyards & Winery has only now gotten around to releasing a wine they designate as “Reserve”: THE 2007 COOK’S FLAT RESERVE. “Curious” isn’t actually the right word. “Shocked” hits the mark more squarely
As far as I can tell, there are only three reasons why the folks at Smith-Madrone would have waited 41 years to release a “Reserve”:
1. They are just lazy
2.Smith-Madrone had no need to produce a Reserve wine.
3. They just couldn’t figure out what a “Reserve” wine should be
If you know or have followed the work of the Brothers Smith, you can rule out #1. So is it #2 or #3? Here’s what the Smiths say:
“We founded the winery in 1971 and as we planted the estate we identified one specific 8-acre block as an unusual, distinctive terroir,” says Stuart Smith. “Local oldtimers called this vineyard block Cook’s Flat, in honor of George Cook, and over the years we have watched and studied the grapes from this plateau in the midst of our mountain vineyards,” he adds. “We have spent 41 years here meticulously farming, making wine and ruminating on what would go into a wine we’d call a Reserve,” explains Charles Smith, the winemaker (and Stu’s brother). “The Cook’s Flat Reserve represents the very best of which we are capable in a given year. It can only be made in small quantities and will only be available when warranted by superior quality. It is the ultimate distillation of our experience and expertise.”
Here’s the thing about this undefined, ambiguous designation: The term “Reserve” CAN have real meaning that ought to give wine lovers pause. In my view, the guys at Smith-Madrone got it right. It strikes me that a “Reserve” wine must, above all, be made in small quantities relative to similar wines in a producer’s portfolio and must be made in small quantities because there is no other alternative. That’s clearly what’s going on at Smith-Madrone. Furthermore, what’s really compelling about the new Smith-Madrone Cook’s Flat Reserve is the promise that it will be made only when the quality warrants it. You hear this occasionally, but you rarely see it. Given the 41 years it took Smith-Madrone to put “Reserve” on a bottle, I have justified confidence that they’ll truly reserve the Reserve for vintages that warrant the designation.
Finally, while I’m not necessarily wed to the idea that a brand new producer can’t have the chops or experience to produce an authentic “Reserve” wine, I admit I am prejudiced to the point that I put much more stock in the idea of a “Reserve” being produced after a few good years of contemplation, experimentation, observation and dedication. Though 41 years does seem like an excessive bit of contemplation, experimentation, observation and dedication.
As for the wine? Only 171 cases of the 66% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Merlot and 11% Cabernet Franc red blend from the 2007 vintage were produced from a single vineyard plot of vines in the neighborhood of 1,800 feet on Spring Mountain on the west side of the Valley. The blend was aged in French oak for two years before settling and aging in bottle for three years before release. The wine will retail for $200 per bottle.
I’ve not tasted the 2007 Cook’s Flat Reserve from Smith-Madrone.
I want to.