It was the first time I had seen my friend Kevin since April, when we were at a house party hosted by Pioneer Wine Company and Charles Smith Wines. This time we found each other at the same house for a an after-party for Pioneer’s portfolio tasting. I reminded him about the night before I flew to Walla Walla, Washington and saw Charles Smith’s newly opened downtown tasting room.
“Oh yeah,” Kevin said, “how’d that go?”
“Well,” I responded, smiling, “I wasn’t able to coordinate my flight to get a ride with him from the airport.”
“What about that party?”
“It was awesome. So much fun.”
Charles Smith began producing wine in Walla Walla in 1999, and released his first vintage under the K Vintners label in 2001. Since then, he has developed other labels and projects, and opened a tasting room in downtown Walla Walla when I visited in April.
The tasting room was a simple and spare lounge, a few couches and tables, boxes lying around, lots of open space, and a bar for pouring with his signature graphic design behind it, alerting people to available products. It felt like a place to relax and drink wine, rather than stop, taste, and purchase, as is the goal of many tasting rooms. Having spent four years in Walla Walla as a college student, it gave me a sense of how the town has been changing over the last five years, and how people from my younger demographic were becoming part of the wine scene in Walla Walla.
That evening, the relaxed lounge became a vibrant bar for its opening dance party. A giant pan of paella with the most refreshing flavor of saffron stood in the back while Danzig’s former bassist pooled through his vinyls and played old school rockabilly and the staff popped and poured, plowing through some of Smith’s finest fermented juice. Smith’s entire library of wines was available that evening, everything since 2001 by the bottle, with a selection by the glass I had never seen in a tasting room.
I first met Charles Smith years ago, when I was walking my dog and dropped by the tasting room where I worked to say hello to my co-workers. After a few glasses of wine, we went to the K Vintners tasting room to hang out after closing time. Charles sat on his porch, and my dog was becoming noticeably thirsty.
“Um, is there any chance she can get some water?” I asked.
“Yeah man,” Charles responded, and came out with a pot full of water.
Charles Smith has a reputation for being big in every way. Big personality; highly concentrated wines; in-your-face labels; long curly hair; a rockstar lifestyle both in his past and now selling wine. He also possesses a down-to-earth friendliness whenever I have spoken to him, which I venture to say is the actual foundation of his bold traits; he is a promoter of the spirit of life in wine.
When we encountered each other at the party in Dallas, I reminded him of the story when he gave my dog water, knowing he wouldn’t recall it.
“Oh, was I nice about it?” he asked.
Just as the smell of a wine can influence the flavors on my palate, my memories of someone such as Charles Smith evoke pleasant memories of fun and friendship. While they remain fresh in my mind ever time I look at one of his labels, it is a challenge to convey these intangible tastes to those unfamiliar with Smith’s charisma. A common challenge, and perhaps the linchpin for anyone selling, promoting, and serving wine; a fine opportunity to reminisce about these anecdotes.
Second two photos by Adam Sachs