Life is good for Charles Smith. In 2016, the award-winning Washington winemaker sold five of his brands to Constellation for a reported $120 million. While many of us might call it a day after cashing such a check, the self-described “Forrest Gump of winemaking” keeps on going.
With long, striking white hair, and a background working as a Danish band manager, Smith’s reputation as a “rock and roll” winemaker precedes him. But when he’s not making wine for his new “Wines of Substance” portfolio, the self-taught winemaker says he likes to take life at a slower pace.
He starts each day with his personal trainer and a specific ritual. “Every morning, we put Classic Rock on the TV, and try to guess what’s going to be the first song,” Smith tells VinePair. “The deal is, if one of us gets it right, we don’t work out that day. Instead, we roll a big fat joint, grab a bottle of Champagne from my cellar, and head out onto the dock to drink and have a smoke.”
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In a wide-ranging interview with VinePair, Smith contemplated why John Prine’s “In Spite of Ourselves” might be his Desert Island Disk (“It’s such a f*cking happy, beautiful, lovely song”); which book he would take to keep him company on said desert island (“Moby Dick” or “On the Road”); and his favorite word (hopefully).
Oh, and we talked a bit about wine, too.
1. What’s the bottle that made you fall in love with wine?
Parducci Sauvignon Blanc, 1977 (or 78?). It’s the most simple, basic white wine and it was served by the glass at the spa hotel where I worked as a waiter. I’d swipe a little bit every now and then and drink it myself. It was fresh, white, and minerally, and I can tell you exactly what it tastes like to this day.
2. FMK three varieties: Cabernet, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay
F*ck Chardonnay, marry Pinot Noir, and kill Cabernet Sauvignon. Why? Because Pinot Noir is something I want forever. Chardonnay is something that’s delicious and hot, but I don’t want it all the time. And Cabernet is — in the end — just a little boring.
3. You’re on death row. What’s your last-supper wine?
[Extremely long pause] I would have to go full circle back to where I come from. So I’d want an ancient bottle of Zinfandel from Amador County. I was born in Sacramento and I think we will return to the place of birth at death, so I want to drink wine from my favorite place.
4. You can only drink one wine for the rest of your life. What is it?
Riesling. There’s so many variations, from stone-cold, mineral dryness, to opulent and sweet, and everything in between. They drink great in their youth, and drink great with age, so it would never become boring. [Any preferred regions?] I would pick the Mittel Rhein. It’s obscure for most people, but they make great wines with the minerality and snap of the Mosel, but with the potential richness of the Rheingau.
5. You can only drink at one bar for the rest of your life. What is it?
The Andes bar in Copenhagen, Denmark. They close at 5 and reopen at 5:05. It’s a rock and roller place.
6. What’s the best and worst wine on your rack (or in your fridge) right now?
I think my best is a bottle of 1834 Madeira. The reason why it’s my favorite is that I can open the bottle and come back to it over the next week or two, and it’ll be just as good as when I opened it.
My worst is a bottle of Dauvissat Chablis 2002 from “Les Clos” vineyard. It’s one of the greatest producers in the world, and I have two bottles that are completely perfect, but another one that I can tell from the color is totally f*cked.
7. If you could no longer drink wine, what would be your beverage of choice?
My own blood because I’d want to die. [Laughs]. O.K., that would be one answer. The other would be Junmai Saké because it’s so delicious and real. Another would be mezcal because it’s the thing closest to wine.