el presidente

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Vineyard & Winery Management is a magazine aimed at the trade, rather than the consumer, for whom I contribute a column on the technical side of winemaking and grape growing here in the Northwest. The current issue features a cover story of general interest, with some interesting background on Charles Smith and his many winery projects. Unfortunately, just as I posted a link to it yesterday, the magazine took it off the website.

So here is a small excerpt instead:

When he first arrived in Walla Walla, says Charles Smith of K Vintners (http://www.kvintners.com), his goal was to find individual vineyard sites that would be very expressive. He looked at Red Mountain, the Wahluke Slope and Walla Walla, ultimately eliminating Red Mountain (“too many people were already focusing on Red Mountain and doing good work; it didn’t make sense for me”) and settling on the other two.

K Vintners was designed, he explains, “as a small, artisan, small batch, handmade winery.” He ticks off the qualifications behind the description: “native yeast, foot crushed grapes, spontaneous M-L, basket pressing, single vineyard-based wines.”

The winery was launched with a pinpoint focus on syrah, and quickly established its brand with a strong, iconically graphic label featuring a large, black, block-letter K set against a stark white background.

“The idea was to communicate the language of wine to people who don’t speak wine,” Smith explains. “Back in the old days you would have a brand for your livestock; this is like a brand ‘K’. It speaks in a language that you can understand. And I like black and white; it’s always in style. If you’re using the alphabet and making syrah, you’re going to use the letter K.”

His designer and collaborator on all his labels is Rikke Korff, also known as The Denim Guru for her work as design director for Levi’s Red and Vintage Collection. “She has a great eye, incredible talent, and she’s all about getting to the truth, the nucleus, the focal point,” Smith enthuses. “Rikke was able to take all the things I wanted the graphic to say about texture, vision, strength... we listed about 40 words that needed to fit into the design. It couldn’t have been anything else but K. The letter K is a big-bodied letter, two arms, two legs, it’s strong and sturdy. It’s anchored to the ground, solid, real, you can’t knock a K over. It suggests the wines are strong, balanced, potent. I think we nailed it.”

Most of the K Vintners syrahs are vineyard designates, but over the years other varietals and blends have been introduced, and along with them, a variety of unusual names have appeared, such as “The Boy”, “The Beautiful”, “The Hustler” and “The Creator” – each with its own particular story.

“Each type of wine deserves its own name,” Smith believes. “For example, The Boy is grenache, and I didn’t want a K on the front label because that’s for syrah.” The name, he continues, comes from a song by a French singer named Serge Gainsbourg, and a line from the song is quoted on the label. “I don’t make up stories,” says Smith; “the wine already has a story. It has to tell me its name. The Beautiful was named that because every time people would taste it out of barrel, they would say ‘wow that was really beautiful!’ So eventually I wrote ‘The Beautiful’ on the barrel. Simple as that. The Hustler was a special wine – 34 months in barrel – a big, powerful wine with lots of finesse. It reminded me of Jackie Gleason, a big man, suave, light on his feet, a dashing, handsome rogue of a guy.”

NOTE: the photo above was taken of the American 35 installation done by Charles Smith this spring in downtown Waitsburg.


Janicejean said...


Link appears to be wrong - leads to:

Feature Story
Sangiacomo Family Values
Intelligence in the Vineyard

Wawineman said...

That was one heck of an article. Were you ever a research scientist? Too bad the link changed...

PaulG said...

Wouldn't ya know it! The link worked on Wednesday morning; went away on Wednesday afternoon. C'est la guerr

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