Aug. 11, 2010 - Issue #773: The Fringe hotspots
Charles Smith shakes up the wine establishment
Charles Smith is no exception. The "rock star winemaker" from Walla Walla, Washington has made his mark in the wine world with his big hair, bold labels and an iconoclastic "kick ass" attitude. His earliest wines were labelled simply "House Wine" and "Red Table Wine," written in blunt handwriting, signaling a no-fuss approach to marketing. They were uncompromisingly simple, and unapologetically so.
This appeal to the common drinker seems to have legs, however, as he's recently received numerous nods as one of North America's best winemakers. His motto—"It's just booze, drink it!"—is perhaps the antithesis of your average wine snob's mantra, but his crafting has backed up any havoc he may have wreaked on the wine world. His line of wines has since expanded to even more distinctive varietals—Boom Boom Syrah and Kung Fu Girl Riesling are just two examples—and while the labels continue to attract new fans while offending the old guard, his success lies in two simple rules: know your audience and know your strengths.
First, the majority of new wine drinkers buy wine looking to take it home and drink immediately. Smith embraces this marketing fact by cramming as much fun into a bottle as possible. The labels jump off the shelf, the wines jump out of the glass, and they're easy to remember, making it simple to find the next time you find yourself back at the liquor store, looking for "that wine with the bomb on the front."
Second, he's not re-inventing anything here, he's merely doing the best with what he's got. Washington's soil and cooler climate conditions determine what he can and cannot grow, so Smith would be foolish to go fishing outside of those limits. He simply makes killer wine like his Merlots ("The Velvet Devil" and "Holy Cow"), Chardonnay ("Eve") and a cheeky Cabernet Sauvignon ("Chateau Smith") with tasting notes to match ("Pure Washington! Cedar, No 2 pencil, and tobacco leaf").
With this much fun crammed into every bottle, you'll forget all etiquette. So grab the glass by the bowl—breaking the rules never tasted so good. V
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