Winemaker Charles Smith of K Vintners is going to be a character on Pokemon!
No, really. I'm not making this up.
Turns out that Smith has been going to Japan to sell his wine since 2003, and a creative director for Pokemon is a big fan of his wines. As a cartoonist, he also loves Smith's labels; no wonder.
Smith made a special wine for the launch of a black-and-white Pokemon version. Returning the favor, the Pokemon team asked if he would like to be a character in an upcoming video game.
"I thought I would be standing around in the background," Smith said.
But just look at this guy -- he's already a cartoon star; it just took the Pokemon team to recognize it. Turns out he's going to be the new Ash!
"They made me the Pokemon trainer for the new game," Smith said, relaxing on his porch on the outskirts of the noted entertainment industry capital of Walla Walla, Washington. "I introduce the game and say, 'My name is Charles. My power is passion. I'm passionate about all things, all the time.' "
They got that right. I had the honor and test of spending several hours in Smith's company last week, and it was exciting, exhausting, frustrating and occasionally exhilarating -- as when we drank that last wine.
I'll admit that when I first met him, I did not like him. He roared up on his customized Harley Davidson late for an appointment with two British journalists and me and immediately announced that he had a hangover from passing out in a beer bar in Oregon the night before, a 3 1/2 hour ride away. He verbally abused his employees and bragged about how he's the only winemaker in his region who knows how to pick the right barrels. My tasting notes say this about his Viognier barrel sample: "Nice intensity -- I mean the wine. OMG is he arrogant."
Smith, a self-trained winemaker, has been the beneficiary of some 100-point scores from the Wine Advocate, and his K Vintners small-lot Syrahs are highly sought after. He also makes wines with very cool labels for Charles Smith Wines and owns 1/3 of the budget House Wines label, although he says Precept Brands -- which he originally sold an interest to in order to get some marketing help -- pushed him away from the winemaking over the last couple of vintages.
He invited us for dinner made by his Italian wife, Ginevra Casa, at his Walla Walla farmhouse.
(The story of how they married last year: Both were former sommeliers now in the wine industry -- she imports Prosecco -- and they had known each other for some time, but were involved with other people until they connected in the late fall. Within two months he asked her to marry him. She wanted to invite her friends and relatives, but he said we have to do this right now or never. So they're married; her diamond is huge.)
I knew wine geeks around the world would pay hundreds to switch places with me, but I went reluctantly. Many of his tales of going out for dinner in Denmark, where he lived for several years, and Spain and Napa Valley ended with him passed out underneath a pool table or under a shady tree, etc. But the English women really wanted to go, so we went.
I had forgotten that he had been a sommelier at the Ritz-Carlton. I imagined an evening of struggling not to irritate him because I'm not Jay Miller, who gave Smith 100 points for the worst wine of his we tried all night, Royal City Stoneridge Vineyard Columbia Valley Syrah 2007. It was 16 percent alcohol, syrupy and hot and monolithic, and was exactly the kind of wine Parker haters complain about. And Smith had a bug up his butt because Stephen Tanzer hadn't liked it; he kept complaining that Tanzer had said, "I can't believe the same guy who made these wines made this."
Smith really is a great winemaker; you just have to avoid Jay Miller's favorites. The K Phil Lane Walla Walla Valley Syrah 2007 ($70) was delightfully complex, with great black plum fruit and notes of cola, smoked meat and black pepper. It's soft in the mouth but still has good acidity, and changes with every sip. Casa's favorite, the K Wells Vineyard Walla Walla Valley Syrah 2006, was spectacular as well.
Casa is a great cook. We had, from memory, bruschetta with fresh mozzarella and capers; fried lamb tsukune with 6-hour tomato sauce; an salad of lettuce from their neighbor's organic farm; an excellent morel risotto; chicken scallopine with morel sauce. For dessert we had their neighbor's very ripe, end-of-season strawberries with good vanilla ice cream. I think I'm forgetting a pasta course; it was all as good as it sounds.
Smith was very generous with his cellar. "I'd rather drink these wines than leave them to my young wife," he said.
Here are the wines that six of us drank in one evening:
Gaston Chiquet Tradition 1er Cru Champagne Brut NV
Gaston Chiquet 1er Cru Champagne Brut 2000
Kung Fu Girl Washington State Riesling 2009
Charles & Charles Columbia Valley Rose Volume II 2009
Clos du Papes Chateauneuf du Pape blanc 2007
Domaine Rossignol-Trapet Chapelle-Chambertin Grand Cru 2000
Canalicchio Brunello di Montalcino 1990
K Cougar Hills Walla Walla Valley Syrah 2002
Mas Foulaquier le Rollier Pic Saint-Loup Coteaux du Languedoc 2001
K Wells Vineyard Walla Walla Valley Syrah 2006
Charles Smith Wines Royal City Stoneridge Vineyard Columbia Valley Syrah 2007
G. Huet Le Clos du Bourg Vouvray Moelleux 1961
That's two full bottles per person; I believe only the 100-point wine had any left in the bottle when the Brits and I left, though I'm sure Charles and his wife polished it off.
I have winemaking notes from our less-pleasant interview earlier, about his beliefs in warmer fermentation ("A lot of people are really nervous of their fermentation temperatures. They're always at 74 degrees. You're going to be stumbling over the fruit when it's that cool. We're trying to get the fruit out of the way, so you can appreciate everything else.") and crushing by foot ("It sucks, but it's the best way to do it. You can't get athlete's foot because the carbon dioxide kills everything.") and why he went to Walla Walla instead of California ("You don't go to Italy to open a pizza place. I didn't want to be at the end of something; I wanted to be at the beginning.")
From the dinner, though, I have very few notes written down. But for some reason, after I painstakingly wrote down every wine I noted above, I took the trouble to record the quote below. I don't remember exactly why he said it, though I do remember something about him going up to fetch his boxing gloves if I agreed with Tanzer. But I think it's appropriate dialogue for the new Pokemon trainer, Master Charles.
"I will hit you so hard that I will knock out your diaphragm." -- Charles Smith