Friends, today is a special day as we bring you one of the iconic figures in Washington wine. Charles Smith brought his rock star persona on the Washington wine scene starting in 1999 and the rest has been history. A remarkable, self-made man, Charles talks about starting his winery as well as his life as a rock band manager in his previous life. I think you will very much enjoy hearing more about his story in wine. Here is my exclusive interview with Charles Smith, Owner and Winemaker of K Vintners.
WWB: Some of the wine community may not know that you spent several years as a successful rock band manager. What was it like working with the Cardigans, one of the awesome bands of the ‘90s? What was the rock and roll road life like?
CS: I just started managing bands out of necessity. I was bartending at a little Rock-n-Roll bar in Copenhagen and started booking bands. People that eventually got their careers kinda started there. When I stopped working at the bar, I started to be their manager and that is what took me through the ‘90s. It was a lot of fun. I traveled around the world, saw a lot of great shows, met a lot of interesting people and formulated the ‘do it yourself’ attitude. Not so much attitude but the idea that I could do whatever I set myself out to do and that really related to the fact that I decided to make wine. I created something out of nothing with the music because I needed to eat. I started something out of nothing with my wine because it is what I wanted for my future and for my life.”
WWB: How did you decide to launch K Vintners in 1999 and later Charles Smith Wines?
CS: It really came back to a road trip on how I started K Vintners in 1999. I went through Walla Walla and was invited to a BBQ. I was encouraged to start making wine and was offered the opportunity to do so by the way of some free grapes. I found that this was the thing that I wanted to do for the rest of my life. One thing led to another and next thing I know I found that I was pretty good at selling and making wine, so I decided why not bring the wine to the people. Most people can’t afford the $35-$55 bottles of wine so I started Charles Smith Wines because I think everybody should have access to good wine no matter how much money they have. So, the idea here was simply take all the skill sets that you have, the ability to communicate the language of wine to everybody because not everybody speaks wine and put out varietals that I think people will find delicious. I was somehow redefining the way and perspective that people see things. For example, some people think that Riesling equals sweet. I started Kung Fu Girl… to me Riesling equals delicious and that is how I started Charles Smith Wines.”
WWB: I have enjoyed many vintages of your absolutely stunning K Vintners ‘Royal City’ Syrah, one of the great wines made in Washington which has landed on my Top 100 on multiple occasions. What was it about the Stoneridge Vineyard that first enchanted you? What kinds of flavor and aromatic profiles do you like to get from this beautiful wine?
CS: Agreed, Royal City Syrah is really something special. I didn’t plant the vineyard there, but I discovered it after it been never been harvested in 2005 from the 2004 vintage because the man who had it, passed away. I just felt there was something magical about the site and the soil. It was just completely isolated. The family that owned the vines worked really hard in the vineyard. I don’t know, it was just maybe some fairy dust and I was supposed to be there to make this wine. Turned out to be the first wine I produced that received 100 points. The flavors and aromatics of the wine are very much like if you took a shovel full of dirt, dug in and tossed (flipped) it over. It smells of this loamy, earthy, mineral-driven, complex, decomposing soil of things that are alive and undergrowth. It really has so much of this ‘not like anything else’ character about it. Wine is magical. It is something that you really can’t describe or quite understand and just accept that in some ways it’s a miracle and take it for what it is.
WWB: I’ve heard from several wine industry colleagues that you have an absolutely epic wine cellar. What are some of your favorite wines of the world that you have opened in the past year?
CS: am not so sure I have an epic wine cellar but I do have a lot of delicious wine. I am not a collector; I am a drinker. You might look at some of the wines I have and think ‘are you collecting these?’ No, the idea is that all the wines in the cellar are ready to drink. And it can be everything from a somewhat inexpensive German Riesling to German Rieslings that are 40 or 50 years old. It can be fresh, ripe mineral-driven white wines but what I really have is a cellar full of absolutely delicious wines that you could basically close your eyes, put your hand out, pick a bottle and it would probably be something that you would really fancy drinking. God, wines that I have opened in the last year... I would almost be bragging by mentioning it but I think when you find delicious wines, you drink them. I just happened to have a Magnum of 1961 Chambertin at dinner about three or four months ago and the wine was very pale, but color is not everything. The wine was full, delicious and super finesse driven. I do have my favorite things that I love to drink and I do love to drink Meursault, Chablis… I love Chateauneuf du Pape with roasted meats but one of the wines that really has my heart is Chianti. I love the idea that you put this on your table, pour it in your glass drink it with pasta, sauces or roasted meat. The thing is there is nothing else you want on your table more than this. It’s highly drinkable and you always know that there is more room in your glass for one more glass. That is what Chianti does for me.