Smith’s labels tend to be stark, and his wines’ names reflect his philosophy that wine is meant to be enjoyed rather than revered.
FOLKS ON Bainbridge Island remember Charles Smith as that guy with the big hair who bought a little wine shop back in the late 1990s.
These days, Smith and his big hair have returned to the 206 in a much bigger way. In late July, Smith opened his new Georgetown winery — whimsically called Jet City because of its location at the north end of Boeing Field.
By moving his winery and team from Walla Walla to a 32,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art facility, Smith is poised to gain an even bigger following of fans, all while radically altering the Seattle wine scene.
Smith commands a 650,000-case wine empire, a company he built in his own image — in every way. His labels tend to be stark, and his wines’ names are whimsical and clever, reflecting his philosophy that wine is meant to be enjoyed rather than revered: Kung Fu Girl riesling, K syrah and Velvet Devil merlot among them.
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Smith grew up in California’s Central Valley and spent the early years of his adult life managing rock bands in Europe. His arrival in the Walla Walla Valley about 15 years ago caused a lot of heads to turn, thanks to his long, wild and spiral locks. There are rock-star winemakers, and then there is Smith, who has transcended beyond those ranks.
Some people don’t like Smith. They don’t like his style, his billboards, his brash nature. He doesn’t always play well with others, but that doesn’t tend to lead to success, and success is what drives Smith more than anything.
“I take the path of least resistance,” he says. “I don’t mean being passive, which means I don’t do anything. I go around obstacles, I don’t butt my head, I don’t get involved. I run my own race, and I don’t care what anybody else does. I hope everybody else is happy and successful, but that’s not my business.”
Smith’s business is to slake the thirst of wine lovers at every level. Millions of bottles per year head into the market with his name on them, and he intensely cares that they are the best they can possibly be.
It would seem only natural that Smith would land in Seattle. As much as he loves Walla Walla and its rural lifestyle, we always knew it couldn’t contain him. Perhaps Seattle won’t either; that remains to be seen. He’s a big personality with a bigger appetite for success. Under his big hair is a mind that doesn’t stop thinking several steps ahead.
When Smith showed up in Walla Walla, he had a little money he’d scraped together. Today, he’s one of the most successful winery owners in the state.
About 1,500 people showed up the first day at his winery, at 1132 S. Albro Place. Get there early and often because this is going to be a fun party.