Many moons ago, first released in 1999, Charles Smith put Columbia Valley, Walla Walla & Washington State on everybody’s radar with his K Vintners brand.
By Mark Gmur, CWE
Many moons ago, first released in 1999, Charles Smith put Columbia Valley, Walla Walla and Washington State on everybody’s radar with his K Vintners brand. In 2017, after selling the Modernist project to Constellation Brands for a cool $120 million, against all expectations, he did not retire or go on extended vacation, he immediately launched his new company – Wines of Substance. Expectations were very high for the new company. Fast forward to 2020, he has not only met those expectations, but he is now starting to soar well above them again, in true Charles Smith fashion.
Charles Smith is a staunch believer that everyone should have access to good wine, no matter how much money they have. “Good wine doesn’t mean expensive wine, it means good wine,” he says, adding; “Making something that’s highly drinkable, super delicious, and affordable, then I think I’m doing my job as a responsible winemaker, because if you have the skill sets to make really high-end wine, you have the skills to make accessible wine, too.”
All of the vineyards making up Charles Smith’s Substance Cabernet Sauvignon are designed with a slightly different spacing than your typical vineyards. Rather than a 6’ x 8’ spacing, the vines are spaced 7’ x 4’. This dense planting allows the winery to prune for 33% better quality and concentration. The vines yield about 6.4 pounds of fruit versus the more typical 11 pounds of fruit. This is one of the main keys to the high quality of the juice.
He buys no commercial yeast. The wine is fermented with native yeasts, which adds 10 -12 days just to the fermentation process, and then follows that up with 2-3 months of native malolactic fermentation which most winemakers run away from, so can you can start to see how special this wine really is! After that he does an extended maceration on the skins for 30-45 days, which is way longer than most wines at this price, which normally macerate for just 6 days or less. The reason for the native yeasts and malolactic fermentation is to add intense unique character to the wine, while extended maceration results in a deeper, richer and more intense mouthfeel. Substance Cabernet Sauvignon then spends 12 months in the barrel. And the list goes on…
Just two months ago, Charles Smith proved once again that he could defy logic, when his 2017 Substance Cabernet Sauvignon received a 91 Point score from Wine Spectator and was ranked #49 on Top 100 Wines of 2019. “It’s the real deal, and if it was from Napa, it would sell for 3-4 times the price” Wine Spectator wrote. Of the same wine and vintage, Jeb Dunnuck (formerly of Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate) wrote, “Precise and vibrantly structured, with black cherry, espresso and spice flavors that take on richness toward polished tannins. Drink now through 2024″ – and awarded it 93 Points. Keep in mind, this is a wine that normally has a mere $12/bottle wholesale price behind it.
When we were informed that Charles Smith was launching his new Substance “Elemental” Cabernet Sauvignon, an On-Premise label of the same Substance Cabernet Sauvignon (but now a restaurant and hotel exclusive label), we were eager to spread the word.
Substance “Elemental” Cabernet Sauvignon will boast a national average wholesale price of just $10 a bottle, which is simply unheard of for a wine of this stature.
Charles Smith is showing everyone again how committed he is to making super high-end wine affordable to you, and me. To Charles, it’s quite elemental, really. To the rest of us, well, I guess we are still catching up to this dynamo of the wine industry.
Let’s raise a glass and toast to Charles, Washington’s best (and most famous, unique, passionate, etc) winemaker!