Last week, I had the opportunity to sit down with Food and Wine Magazine‘s Winemaker of the Year, Charles Smith. He isn’t sitting on his laurels after getting his fancy award. Besides his K Vintners and Charles Smith labels, he’s currently working on projects in Italy, California and Washington. Working mostly in partnerships, he likes answering to no one… it allows him to remain unique. And unique he is. Simply looking at him you know he’s not the average winemaker bear.
He really is a rock star — he’s got the hair for it.
Tasting through his portfolio, he proudly declared, “It’s all about the wine,” with a grin that could light up a stage. His wines are ripe and in-your-face, much like his ego, which could fill a stadium. But he backs up the bravado with fantastic, award-winning juice. His labels tell you about the wine inside, like Charles Smith Eve Chardonnay, which sports an apple, reflecting the racy juiciness on the other side of the glass. Or Charles Smith Boom Boom Syrah, with explosive, concentrated red fruit, tannins and tobacco.
But his K Vintners label is where the critics fawn all over him. The grapes are foot-crushed, he uses native yeasts, and an old school basket press. The effort does not go unrewarded for the consumer. Perhaps my favorite of this label was his limited-production Viognier. Everything you’d want from a Viognier: peaches, honeysuckle, red apple, mouth-watering acidity and a long, luscious finish. But the SUPER ripe syrah, from various vineyards in Washington’s Walla Walla Valley, showcase terroir in its purest form: CliftonVineyard Syrah displays lush, ripe (but not sweet) black fruit and robust tannins; whereas the NorthRidge is pretty, elegant with bright. elegant red fruit. Same methods used but completely opposite outcomes. So cool when a winemaker understands the terroir concept and wishes to display it.
You’ll pay heartily for the K Vintners wines, from $32+ but the Charles Smith line ranges from $15-$20. Worth the sheckles and I certainly learned why Food and Wine Magazine regaled him with honor.
Thanks for the great kudos!
Just wanted to clarify that the Viognier IS under the K label (not CSW) and that the Clifton & Northridge vineyards are actually in the Wahluke Slope AVA (Not Walla Walla). Each of K’s syrahs are single vineyard, some from Walla Walla Valley (Phil Lane, Morrison Lane, Wells) and some from Wahluke Slope.
good ramble/blog/write-up. thanks for the ‘juice’. One of the coolest days i’ve had in this biz. lunch at ellas was wild, wines fandamtastic and charles…well hell what a flowing source of info, opinions, wine, laughs and INDIVIDUALISM. charles said the food at ellas was the best he had while in florida all week, they did a great job for us. ciao.
Thanks for writing about these because I’ve seen these labels but had not heard all the press tidbits. I’ll be sure to give them a chance now because the labels made me not want to pick them up for some reason.
Yes, they are a bit, um, amateurish looking. But that’s how Charles marches… to his own design.