For the first time in its 11-year history, the Food & Wine magazine American Wine Awards has named a Washington State vintner as its Winemaker of the Year.
Joining the likes of Helen Turley, Robert Foley, Mia Klein and other (mostly Napa-based) luminaries, Charles Smith was recognized for his track record of knockout wines, excellent values, and an outsized, rocker personality to match.
Smith grew up with a family tradition of home winemaking, and then spent a decade managing rock bands in Europe. Mainly on impulse, he moved to Washington, tasted some impressive Walla Walla wines, and set up shop in 2001 as K Vintners, specializing in intensely flavored, small-lot Syrah.
With no formal training and no corporate fanfare, Smith rapidly developed a following among critics and consumers alike, and the volume was only amplified as he launched two new, larger brands, The Magnificent Wine Company and Charles Smith Wines: The Modernist Project, both focused on value-priced wines.
Smith’s ex-rocker persona – complete with an unforgettable head of hair – has made its mark in local and national wine circles. But more important, his personality infuses all the wines – as a winemaking philosophy that emphasizes that wine should, above all, taste good, that people should like to drink it, and that wine should be flat-out fun.
All the grape varieties Smith works with, now ranging from Cabernet and Syrah to Chardonnay and Riesling, come through with big fruit flavors and mouth-filling intensity.
The same spirit goes onto the labels: edgy design, bold colors, huge letters, catchy names… all screaming, “You’re gonna like this wine!”
Food & Wine magazine clearly liked the Charles Smith range of wines, giving a boisterous upstart the same recognition bestowed on veteran wine industry all-stars.
The American Wine Awards were formally announced in the October issue of the magazine, now on newsstands, and the awards themselves will be presented in Napa tonight.