A good-sized sample of Seattle notables also were on hand last Wednesday to celebrate the new Tom Kundig-designed facility in Georgetown.
“What do you guys want?” Charles Smith asked sarcastically, as he stood at the open door of his formidable new Georgetown winery, Charles Smith Wines Jet City, last Wednesday.
What did these VIPs want? They wanted in. They wanted to sip ‘06 Cristal and nibble caviar inside Smith’s expansive and austere Tom Kundig-designed facility.
After that — and as promised — they wanted to stand amid the giant tanks and watch Jerry Lee Lewis defy expectations (“The Killer” is 79; it was probably the most Googled fact of the night) by rattling the piano keys and singing about great balls of fire.
“Cristal? Really?” I asked as one of the servers filled my glass. Smith does make a sparkling wine, but this occasion called for a higher price point.
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“Really,” she said. “Welcome to Charles Smith.”
The man himself was head-to-toe in black, his buoyant burst of gray curls easy to spot as he worked the room, ever gracious — but also with an eye on the schedule.
He ended the first-floor Cristal reception right at 6, when he directed everyone upstairs for caviar and a proclamation from Mayor Ed Murray.
Then it was back downstairs and into a cavernous main room filled with tanks, tables of wine and Tom Douglas-catered bites, with Aerosmith blasting from the speakers.
At 7:30, the garage doors were rolled up and a new wave of people poured in, eager to grab a glass and join the party.
“This is all about once-in-a-lifetimes,” said Smith, who turned 54 last Saturday.
That’s why the big party, the mayor, and Lewis, who flew in from Mississippi with his band just for the occasion.
Smith has been a Lewis fan all his life — despite the piano legend’s craziness.
“I have my own craziness, as well,” Smith said. “We’re passionate people. You drive a car really fast you’re gonna have some scratches, some dents. You drive it really slow, you’re not going to get anywhere very quickly and it’s not going to be that fascinating. I go. I do things.”
It was not his intention to be a big producer with his own winery, he said.
“But one step after another and I saw the next corner and I went around it and went around it. And here I am.”
There, too, was Mariners Marketing V.P. Kevin Martinez, fresh from Hisashi Iwakuma’s no-hitter against the Baltimore Orioles. It was the fifth no-hitter in franchise history.
“It was fantastic,” Martinez crowed. “I was sitting with a small group, watching the swings, and I thought, ‘This could be the day.’ You knew early on. It was magnificent.”
And let’s not forget Kyle Seager’s over-the-shoulder catch in foul territory, Martinez added. It wouldn’t have been a no-hitter without him. (Amen to that.)
Jeff Renshaw and his wife, Kinuko, came from Japan for the opening. Renshaw grew up in Woodinville and now works for Orca International, which imports and distributes Smith’s wines in Japan.
“People buy them first for the label, but they come back for the quality,” he said.
More than once, Charles Bieler was referred to as “the other Charles” because of his and Smith’s “Charles & Charles” wine.
“It’s all right,” Bieler told someone. “I just show up and pretend like I own the place.”
In the room: John Braseth from the Woodside/Braseth Gallery; Bruce Pavitt from Sub Pop records; people connector JJ McKay; documentary producer Michelle Quisenberry; Seattle Center Director Robert Nellams; Pat McCarthy of DeLaurenti Specialty Food & Wine; and Dr. Saul Rivkin.
Fran and Peter Bigelow, whose Fran’s Chocolates relocated to nearby Airport Way last fall, came over to welcome Smith to the neighborhood.
Brian Canlis (there with his wife, Mackenzie) told me that the new tasting menu at his family’s storied restaurant starts Aug. 18, “And it’s going to be special.”
There was Ken and Sasa Kirkpatrick, Rick Rasmussen of Alaska Airlines with his wife, Monica; and Charles Simonyi and his wife, Lisa.
Michael Cepress, who has guest-curated “Counter Couture,” a show at the Bellevue Arts Museum, told me that board members are a bit bent about an ad for the show that features a woman in a leather jacket — and nothing else.
I looked it up. Eh. At least it’s shot from behind.
Holland America honcho Stein Kruseand his wife, Linda, stayed close to the stage, waiting for Lewis. Just behind them stood SIFF Managing Director Mary Bacarella.
In the front row stood Charles Smith’s half brother, John Smith, who flew in from Cambridge, England, for his brother’s big opening. The two men have the same father but only met in 1997.
“I think we were both quite surprised,” he said.
How would he explain his brother? I asked. Smith laughed, thought for a second, and took his best shot.
“Well, I think he has an extraordinary creative ability, and the ability to carry things through,” he said. “From when he was first making wine, he hasn’t looked back. The basis of his business is innovation and persistence.
“He enjoys creating. That’s what gives him a real buzz, to do something new.”
Smith himself put it this way: “I wanted to bring the wine to the people. I didn’t want to open in an outlet mall or a storefront in Woodinville in a strip mall.
“I wanted a fully formed, a fully realized winery where people can visit the winery for real and whatever is going on that day, they can watch it through the windows downstairs and upstairs.”
And if you’re lucky, Smith will be holding the door open.