Charlie answers the Napa Register’s 10 Questions:
March 6, 2019
Charles F. Smith is the winemaker and jack of all trades for Smith-Madrone Vineyards & Winery.
After graduating from Santa Monica High School, Smith went to school at the University of California Berkeley, where he discovered wine, and San Francisco State University, where he studied for a master’s degree in English literature, which to this day remains uncompleted.
In his “wild oats” days, he worked as a probation officer, a furniture mover and a taxi cab driver in San Francisco.
In 1971, he earned a K-12 teaching credential. After teaching for a while, he joined his brother Stuart Smith at Smith-Madrone in 1973.
Smith has lived in St. Helena for 46 years.
- What was your first job?
I was 15 and on the staff of a wonderful Boy Scout camp called Emerald Bay on Catalina Island.
I think I earned about $300 for the summer, maybe less. But no matter, it was a place I loved dearly.
- How did you get into the wine business?
I followed my brother into the business. It was a hobby that got completely out of control.
- What is the biggest challenge the wine industry has faced?
I’m a conservative on land use issues and I think over-regulation in Napa County is on the verge of strangling small wineries out of existence. Not everyone who owns a small winery is a billionaire.
- What’s on your to-do list?
To see more of the world, especially Africa and India. I’d like to take a serious run at a large canvas drip painting on my garage floor à la Jackson Pollock, whom I love.
- Who do you most admire in the business world?
I like just about everything about Warren Buffett except his diet. Way too much sugar even for a guy like me who has something of a sweet tooth.
- What is one thing you hope to accomplish in your lifetime that you haven’t yet?
I’d like to think that the best wine Smith-Madrone ever produced is still in the future.
- If you could change one thing about the wine industry, what would it be?
I’d eliminate the 100-point scale for judging wine and replace it with the old Davis 20-point scale.
- What’s something people might be surprised to know about you?
I belong to both the NRA and the ACLU.
- What was your childhood ambition?
I wanted to be, variously, Babe Ruth, Mowgli or Batman.
- If you could be anywhere right now, where would you be?
I’ve never been to Yellowstone or Yosemite in the winter. Either of them would be just fine provided a warm fire wasn’t too far away.