Fall is the time for rosé — well, so are summer, spring and even winter — and Band of Roses is full of the floral aromas and stone fruit flavors that are perfectly suited for all seasons.
This excellent, inexpensive wine is made by a wine industry rock star: Charles Smith is a dynamo of a guy with a Phyllis Dilleresque shock of hair, signature dark glasses, black jeans, black T-shirt and an “I-can-do-it” attitude. He swept into Washington State’s winemaking scene in 1999 with $5,000 someone loaned him, an old van and no experience. He scrounged grapes, equipment and a winery from friends to make his first award-winning Syrah, 330 cases of which he released in 2001. A decade later he was the fourth largest producer in the state, with an annual output of more than 600,000 cases.
Along the way, the 56-year-old Smith has produced wines that have garnered 110 scores of 95 points or above on a 100-point scale, and he has been named winemaker of the year by both Wine Enthusiast and Food and Wine magazines, the company’s website says.
In interviews, Smith, who retains the confident demeanor he developed as a rock band promoter and manager, describes himself as the Forrest Gump of winemaking: “I just keep going.”
Helped by that attitude, he built his reputation by producing well-made, inexpensive wines. “A product people like, in a bottle that’s easy to remember,” is his slogan and the foundation of his success.
The company’s website mythology is that Smith had no interest in wine until his late 20s and early 30s, when he was traveling around Europe and the world booking and managing rock bands, including the Danish indie rock duo The Raveonettes. “It was the wining and dining of a rock ’n’ roll life on the road that sparked Charles’ passion for great wine,” the website says.
However, according to a 2017 article and interview in Forbes magazine, Smith, who grew up in San Francisco, picked up his love for good wine in his early 20s, working in bars and restaurants in such wine-focused California areas as Lake Tahoe, Palm Springs and the Napa Valley. He had a solid work ethic and a talented palate, and at 28 he became the wine director at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Palm Springs.
The sway of a girlfriend lured him to leave the job and follow her to Denmark, where he was unsuccessful in finding work in wine. He ended up pouring drinks and booking bands in a Danish honky-tonk bar. That’s how he got into managing bands.
His years in the rough and tumble music business turned out to be a good training ground for his return to wine. To promote the bands’ performances, he drew thousands of black and white posters, developing a bold graphic style that he later used to shape the identity of his wines, the Forbes article says.
Smith also learned how to make things happen.
“I have always had a do-it-yourself mentality, if you want to start a band, get a guitar … if you want to do something, do it. Put into action whatever it may be you want to do. I woke up one day and said ‘I’m going to do this,’ (make wine) and lo and behold, here I am,” Smith said in a video made for the 2014 ceremony when Wine Enthusiast named him Winemaker of the Year.
In 2016, Smith sold one of his six lines of wines, The Modernist Collection, which includes Band of Roses and Kung Fu Girl Riesling (which I wrote about in this column in 2014), to Constellation Brands for $120 million. He still makes all of the wines in the line, and Constellation handles the marketing.
For Band of Roses, Smith uses 100% Pinot Gris grapes that are grown in his sustainably farmed vineyards. The juice is fermented in stainless steel vats for 20 days and then aged on the lees for two months, the tasting notes say.
The result is a wine that earned 91 points from the Washington State Tasting Panel. Panel member Meridith May described Band of Roses as having aromas of peach and wild flowers. “Minerality comes into play after the first verse with a chorus of Asian pear, camomile and apricot. This 100% Pinot Gris goes even more floral on mid-palate with a bloom of lilacs and peach blossom traveling to the beat of a zesty drum.”
Band of Roses Rosé is widely available in all 50 states and goes on sale for a remarkable bargain price of $11.
Suggestions of wines in the $10 range are always appreciated. Warren Johnston can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.