Sam Smith of Curly St. James Winemaker Interview

As someone who grew up in Napa Valley, you must have many first memories of wine. Was there a moment that yo remember when you knew that you wanted to be a winemaker? 

Growing up in Napa with my father as a winemaker and seeing him work long hours and coming home dirty, especially during harvest were my first memories of the wine industry. 

The moment I knew I wanted to make wine was working with different wineries and seeing how each one did processes differently. It made me want to take what I had learned and do it my way.

What was your first wine job? I know your family has the brand Smith-Madrone Winery where you worked prior to founding Curly St. James. What other winemaker experiences did you have?

My first wine job/learning about wines was working as a server at Baccara Resort and Spa in Santa Barbara.  I have worked for a few different wineries in the Napa area as well as working harvests in Washington, New Zealand, Australia and Germany. 

As a winemaker, you taste (and spit) lots of wine, what wine do you feel bad about spitting because you love it so much?

If I’m wine tasting and I come across a wine I really enjoy I won’t spit.

You make a Napa Valley red wine? Can you share more about your 50/50 blend and why a blend vs. 100% Cab Sauvignon?

100% Cabernet sauvignon can be fantastic. That said one of my favorite parts of making wine is the blending process. It’s fun to know a vineyard bloc so intimately from when it’s crushed through its aging process to then have that knowledge disrupted by adding a new varietal or add a different bloc to the wine, the change can be mind-blowing. 

What was one of the biggest mistakes you have made in your winemaking career?

The biggest mistake for me in my winemaking career and in life was not traveling more before taking a job back in Napa. 

 I have lived and worked in a few different countries and every place you set up shop for a bit you get a different appreciation for the people and place and you learn and grow from those different experiences. 

Who has been the most influential mentor in your career?

There are so many wonderful influencers in a small community like Napa. Having grown up with friends’ parents who are winemakers, vineyard managers, and winery execs, and having both sides of my family involved in the wine industry has been huge in my life. I’d say the most influential mentors have been my father and uncle.  

What is something you’d like to share about Napa Valley that many consumers may not know or have a misconception about?

The valley is very diverse from a geological standpoint and has a highly varied soil composition. It’s fascinating to see the alluvial fans that develop from the hillsides and spread into the valley, and the views from the top of the vaca or Mayacamas mountains are spectacular.  I highly recommend the Oat hill mine trail in Calistoga, Moore creek park in St. Helena, Rector reservoir trail in Yountville, and Skyline in Napa. The microclimates that exist in napa are very different from one another and hiking through the valley lets you experience those differences which is what makes growing grapes in different ava’s so special.

What is your favorite after-work drink?

Mescal negroni 

What is your favorite local spot in Napa Valley?

There are so many great spots in napa, I look forward to eating and drinking through each town driving up and down the valley. In St. Helena it’s cook. Yountville it’s Ciccio’s, and in Calistoga, it’s Busters BBQ.

Best place to drink a beer is Anna’s Cantina in St. Helena.

In Yountville Cicco’s has my favorite dish, the pork Milanese but its not on the menu, a local’s secret.

Tell us something that would surprise people about you?

I absolutely love Muscat De Beaumes de Venise 

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