Sunday, May 21, 2006

K Vintners Rocks: Literally, Figuratively

Always wondered what this guy looked like. Back in Austin, his House Wine, a Cab/Syrah blend behind a plain white label with fat black lettering, sells out by the palletful. I'd heard some things about him: some connection to rock bands, maybe he was a roadie or something, but now he was all about syrah. Gotta check that one out.

There's no worry of missing his place out on Mill Creek Road. The big white 'K' might make you swerve into the vineyard, though. His spread is less rock 'n' roll and more The Waltons at first glance, a big two storey whitewashed house with massive trees surrounding, all decked out in their new spring green. A quick running stream runs diagonally across the yard. Charles tells me he once saw a river otter swim past. "I thought it was the cat," he says.

He points to a pair of Levi's hanging awkwardly from a tree. "They're vintage," he proclaims proudly, and tells me how he hadn't washed them until he was forced to after a foray into the dusty attic.

The inside of the white 'K'd barn is where Charles has got the rock and roll going on. An inner sitting room is cleverly designed and accented with a leopard skin chair. While the outside's whitewashed, the inside is painted completely black. His barrels stack up on one wall behind the tasting table they've set up for the weekend. Candles flicker everywhere, and you get the feeling you're in someone's personal shrine. Which you are. A current release of a rather kickass high end Syrah/Cab blend bears the name 'The Creator', and a sketch of Charles wearing a halo over his frizzy grey mane. Kinda egotistical, but I'm gonna give it to him. The wine's the real deal. Big and luscious but somehow unheavy, and some of the earthiest American syrah I've had yet.

The earth he's got rocks, too. Or, I should say, is rocks. The vineyard is on an old dry riverbed studded with large stones, the first vineyard I've seen like that on my Western route.

Interview with Charles Smith, K Vintners

C&D: Nice trees.

Charles: These are some of the oldest trees in the state.

What kind of trees are these?

The largest one in the middle is a tulip poplar. That whole thing blooms...


That's the largest in the state, that one.

So, how'd you get involved in wine?

I was thirsty. Wanted to make my own booze.

Right on. What did you do before that?

I managed rock bands in Europe. I Hate Juliet Productions in Copenhagen. Early '90's to 2000.

Who'd you work with?

Oh, the Cardigans, the Raveonettes...a lot of bands from Scandinavia. I worked a lot with Craig Leon, who did the first Ramones record and Blondie, Suicide, Talking Heads, 45 Grave, and on and on.

So, elaborate on the entry into the wine world.

The whole winemaking thing...with my parents. My father's French, my mother's Welsh and we made wine at home, a couple barrels a year for the family from the East of Sacremento, Sierra Foothills area. That's pretty much it. And when I got to my mid-thirties, and I decided, you know, what am I gonna do for the rest of my life, am I gonna stay in the music business? That didn't seem so interesting to me. So I went back to something I always loved, and it was wine. On a road trip with Sune from the Raveonettes, we were driving through Mexico up into the Northwest and we drove through Walla Walla and that was pretty much it. I came back the next year.

You moved to this property?

Yeah. I've never been anywhere else.

Did you look at this property, and go, "Damn, this is the place for Syrah"?

I looked at the property and said, "Damn, this place is ugly, but maybe I can do something". When I moved here, this place was trashed. There was no vineyard here, it was all above ground irrigation, it was just awful. But it was a beautiful spot, the soils were good, and a good location, and I said, this is gonna be the place.

What style of wine did you have in mind to make?

I wanted a wine that was suave, kinda sexy. I want the wines to be feminine, but like a woman who knows what she wants. Something with a lot of finesse and depth and elegance. And I don't like oaky wines, or blockbusters, or monster tannic wines, I like wines that are sophisticated.

When was your first vintage out of this location?


How many cases?


Where are you now?

4500 with K Vintners, and then my other project, House Wine, that's 100,000.

What was the idea behind House Wine?

I came back from Europe, where wine is accessible to everyone and (here) there'd be wines with twenty dollars' worth of packaging and fifty cents' worth of wine in the bottle, and (they) charged ten bucks. And I thought, why don't I put twenty bucks' worth of wine in fifty cents' worth of packaging and charge ten bucks. And that's why I started House Wine. And House Wine had to do with using the most common wine language in the world, 'house wine' is the most common term. And I wanted to be not about the winery or about the varietal but about the wine and the people who were gonna drink it.

Talk to me about the rocky riverbed you're on.

It's a bitch to farm. But it retains the heat, has nice minerality, the drainage is really good, and we're at a little higher elevation than down in the valley, which helps radiate heat in the evening when the sun goes down. So it's really nice. Besides, it looks really cool.

Riff on the concept of terroir.

It's a place. And this is a place, and that's terroir. That's it. If you have an interesting terroir that doesn't stretch over vast amounts of land, it can be very specific. For instance, here, this is a very specific terroir.

What does it impart in terms of structure or flavor?

It imparts the place. Where the wine comes from. It places the wine somewhere in the world, not in a bottle but in the land. It's not my philosophy, it's just a fact. The wine in the bottle in those barrels is from that vineyard and are from those plants that come out of that soil that come from this area. And there's not another wine that tastes like this.

Next up: Ron Coleman of Tamarack Cellars proudly displays the high numerical scores on his wines...and I'm okay with it. Stay tuned.



Anonymous maggie said...

I'm so glad you got to meet Charles. He's a breath of fresh air, no? Maybe more like tasty second hand smoke from the bong. His wines cannot be denied.

10:57 AM  
Anonymous JM said...

Sounds like your having fun. Charles is a trip for sure. His wines do kick ass, definitely in my top 5 WA faves.

9:39 AM  
Blogger Davis Love The Nerd said...

just sat next to charles on a plane ride and shot the shit with him and googled him when i got home and came up with this site. What a trip this dude was, great guy, except for the fact he told me he was an originating member of black flag(which it looks like was a lie) but he is wearing a black flag shirt in the pic which is funny.

10:19 PM  
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