Charles Smith Reinvents Substance

Washington winery with "chemical symbols" on the label returns with a new direction
Jul 8, 2014

The Washington wine label Wines of Substance was invented in 2006 by a couple of Walla Walla hotshots—Waters' winemaker Jamie Brown and Greg Harrington, founder of Gramercy Cellars. It had a promising early run. Some of the wines hit 90 points on the Wine Spectator 100-point scale. The black-and-white label design emulated the periodic table of the elements you might recall from chemistry class, assigning two-letter symbols to the grape varieties used to make the wines, priced at $14 to $20.

When Waters was sold last year, the new owners declined to pick up the brand. Fellow Washington winemaker Charles Smith, realizing that the chemical-symbol idea fit neatly with his own black-and-white graphics for wines such as Boom Boom Syrah, Velvet Devil Merlot and Kung Fu Girl Riesling, bought the label instead, announcing the purchase this week.

Smith, maker of Charles Smith Wines, K Vintners, ViNO and the Italian label Secco Bubbles, saw Wines of Substance as "a smarter version of Magnificent Wine Company," a brand he started with labels such as "House Wine," which he later sold to Precept Brands. Although he didn't like what he thought was an imitation of his own branding when Substance first appeared, he said, "I got over it, and the wines were pretty good."

Wines of Substance had been foundering by 2013, when the new owners of Waters passed on picking up the label. Production had diminished and, on closer inspection, Smith didn't think the wines he found in inventory—amounting to barely 1,000 cases—were as good as early vintages. He quietly sold them off at discount before announcing his purchase officially.

Smith has re-thought the idea. "If you're making a brand called Wines of Substance, shouldn't the wines be substantial?" he asked rhetorically. He's making the new wines in the same style as his own, using open-top fermentors and indigenous yeast to ferment grapes from good vineyards. He has no plans to purchase bulk wine.

The first bottling, a 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon to sell for $15, is made from the higher-elevation Goose Ridge and Frenchman Hills vineyards. The label, festooned with the chemical symbol "Cs," conveniently echoes Smith's own initials. He also plans to add small-batch wines, often as few as 200 to 300 cases of each. A single-vineyard Sauvignon Blanc will be the initial offering under the $25-range "Super Substance" label. Both wines set for release in spring 2015

Smith realizes he has a whole periodic table to fill in, including perhaps some small-batch wines from lesser-used grape varieties. "They're the more exotic elements," Smith smiled.

Winery Purchases and Sales Red Wines United States Washington Cabernet Sauvignon
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