A vineyard: The past, present and future
Dr. Wayne Smith was part of a trio of local docs who got the wine bug in the late 1970s. They all planted vineyards.
As it turned out, the rumble of the tractor and the solitude of vineyard rows was the perfect antidote to Smith’s high-stress doctor’s life. He sold his grapes, which he farmed organically, to Nevada City Winery until 1987, when he decided to make his own wine.
This harvest marks the Smith family’s 20th anniversary as a winery. And this summer, they opened a tasting room, right in the winery amid the barrels. They are open from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays and by appointment.
On Saturday, they are celebrating with an open house, also from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sample past, present and future wines, enjoy food pairings catered by Villa Venezia Restaurant and live music by the Whitewater Band. Tickets are $15; Smith Vineyard Wine Club Members are free.
It is a great opportunity to see one of the most beautiful vineyard properties and one of the cutest little wineries in the area.
Smith Vineyard is located on 13719 Dog Bar Road. You can reach them at 273-7032 or http://www.smithvineyard.com.
Due to health issues, Wayne Smith’s son and daughter-in-law, Gary and Chris Smith, took over the vineyard and winery in 1999.
“The concept of farming and making wine scared us silly,” Chris Smith said. But she and her husband, who both are NU graduates, felt it was important to keep the property in the family.
They leased the property to Joe Damiano, a highly respected vineyard manager who had previously managed Indian Springs Vineyards.
“Watching him was really helpful,” Chris Smith said. “We started to get the idea that we could do this.”
The second generation Smiths took control of the operation in earnest in 2003, their first harvest and first year of making their own wines. The third generation
immediately pitched in.
“Cody, our youngest son, was 11,” Chris Smith remembered. “But he shoveled grapes into the crusher.”
Now 16, Cody drives the tractor collecting the grapes being picked in this harvest. His older brothers ” Kevin, 20, and Kyle, 23 ” are both off at college now, studying psychology and business, not winemaking.
Will they come back, I wondered?
“They are very competent and could walk into any winery and get jobs as cellar hands,” their mother said. “We are also proud of Cody’s award he received last year in FFA for viticulture.”
In the meantime, Gary and Chris Smith are happy running the operation. The 10 acres they farm is a hand-full, but manageable.
But farming offers no guarantees. Because of inclement spring weather this year, they harvested three tons of chardonnay, though the vineyard typically produces 13 to 15 tons.
New wine-tasting room
Winemaking was trickier.
“There were so many decisions we never had to think about before.” Chris Smith said.
But they learned. They now produce about a 1,000 cases a year, comprising chardonnay, merlot and cabernet sauvignon. Two years ago, they budded over some of the vines to syrah and primitivo, which they will harvest for the first time this year.
“For us, the wine starts in the vineyard in the spring with the grapes. We try to have the wine express the flavors of the grapes,” Smith said.
Tasting their 2003 and 2004 merlot demonstrated that point. The wines are quite different. The 2003 is stylish, medium-bodied and elegant. The 2004 is full-bodied with more weight, more oak and bigger tannins. Yet both wines showcase the spicy, herbal fruit quality that is the hallmark of that vineyard.
Finally, I asked Smith about the future.
“You dream and hope that it will transfer to the next generation,” she said. “There is something to be said for keeping agriculture alive in Nevada County, both preserving a rural lifestyle and maintaining open space.”
I hope they keep it alive for many generations to come.
Rod Byers is Director of Marketing at Nevada City Winery, is a CSW certified wine educator, teaches wine classes at Sierra College and is a California State Certified Wine Judge. He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 530-913-3703.
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