Napa Valley AVA
Lettie Smeding transformed herself into a high-caliber winemaker
The owner of Flying Horse Winery, Hendrik Smeding, met his future wife Lettie when they were both zoology majors at the University of California Davis. Both had taken a wine appreciation course and soon realized their relationship encompassed more than just mutual love of the grape.
Smeding had been born in the Netherlands (his family immigrated to the Sacramento area in 1964) while Lettie was a product of the Napa Valley with deep roots in grape growing and winemaking. It was natural that the couple would one day get married and raise a family.
Hendrik Smeding became interested in the real estate business and became successful, but a thought was always in the back of his mind.
“Both my wife and I came from ag-related backgrounds,” he confided. “We had always lived in rural areas and had always been interested in someday growing something. My wife in particular, had numerous friends that were in the wine industry and we both enjoyed drinking and even making a little wine on the side.”
In 1997, the Smedings finally found some acreage in the northern end of Pope Valley, in a place called Smell Valley. They purchased the 1,400-acre property and put the place to dual use. The couple bred and raised Arabian horses, having as many as 49 on the property at one time. They also planted a small (4 ½ acre) vineyard that they named the Garden Vineyard, complete with a beautiful lawn setting.
“We started growing grapes to make into bulk wine for the bulk wine market,” Smeding added. “Then we began looking for some additional property that was already planted. A real estate broker told us about Flying Horse and we checked it out. It seemed like the perfect place for us and we made a deal.”
Flying Horse Vineyard was first introduced by Bryant Morris just over a decade ago in homage to the wonderful flying horses that abounded on merry-go-rounds as early as the late 1800’s. The famous carousel horses of that era graced the labels for the initial Flying Horse Winery just as they still do today.
“We liked the initial concept and we bought everything connected to the winery and the brand,” Smeding further explained. “While we wanted our own brand, we saw certain advantages to keeping everything the way it was.”
As far as the winemaker chores were concerned, the Smedings interviewed a number of prospective winemakers before coming to a distinct conclusion. Practically everyone interviewed showed an alarming preponderance for changing jobs frequently, thus raising a red flag.
“We wanted someone who would be with us for a long time, and it seemed that most winemakers tended to jump around a bit. Lettie and I talked it over and she had already done some home winemaking. She wanted a chance at doing it herself,” he said.
That decision has proven quite fortuitous for both the Smedings and Flying Horse Winery. Using a number of UC Davis viticulture and enology textbooks and any other available additional information, Lettie Smeding transformed herself into a high-caliber winemaker.
“It certainly helped that she has a great palate,” Hendrick Smeding professed. “She can make some really tough decisions during the winemaking process and so far her choices have been right on the mark. It is certainly a plus when the wine industry periodicals and competition judges give her wines extremely high marks.”
Flying Horse Winery will produce around 1,600 cases this year, a representative figure for a winery operation that is actually only a couple of years old.
Is expansion a possibility for the future?
“We really don’t think in those terms,” Smeding answered. “There is no set figure as to where we want to grow. We are planning to add some 15 acres of plantings in the near future and that will significantly affect our production capabilities. What we grow can always be sold on the bulk market, and the time looks good from that standpoint. The recession of the past few years has cleaned up Napa Valley’s bulk inventory to a high degree. The light crops of the past two years have also made less high quality wine available.”
Two Smeding sons will probably follow into the family business. Hendrik IV, 26, is finishing his viticultural studies at Cal Poly and Bergen, 25, is a business major at nearby Pacific Union College. Bergen already assists with sales and marketing, while Hendrik helps his father in the vineyard. Both will probably enter the business upon graduation.
A Note from the Smeding Family
Dear Platinum Series Members,
Our family has a four generation history of working in agriculture in the Napa Valley. Our Flying Horse Winery is a small family owned and operated winery. Hendrik runs the day to day winery business, Lettie is the winemaker, Hendrik Jr. works on our vineyard and Bergen works with marketing and sales.
Flying Horse Winery is situated in Oakville, the heart of the Napa Valley. Our philosophy is to make the best wine from the best grapes in the best manner. In doing so, it has been shown that Flying Horse embodies the spirit and degree of excellence that friends have come to respect and treasure.
Our 2009 Flying Horse Napa Valley Petite Sirah was made from a vineyard location within the historic Aetna Springs Resort. This wine is made from 95% Petite Sirah and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon grapes. This Petite Sirah is a big wine bursting with expressive red fruit, flowers, mint, licorice and new leather. It is wonderful in its overall balance. The sweet floral notes add brightness to the substantial, lingering finish.
The Smeding Family