Few winemakers have a story quite like Charles Smith

It was 2001 when Charles Smith went to see Matt Tucker, commercial vice president of Banner Bank. Smith was seeking $250,000 to launch a winery in Walla Walla, Washington.

Smith didn't look like most winemakers. He looked more like a lost member of The Ramones. And he had a funky business plan. It listed the vineyards Smith was working with and how much he had in bottle.

Tucker said: Come back tomorrow - with a sample of the wine!

Smith came back the next day with two bottlings from his initial vintage, 1999.

The wine was so good Tucker said: Congratulations, you now have a $250,000 credit line. Your wine is the collateral.

Smith spent 9 years managing rock bands in Scandinavia. But he was a newbie in the wine business. So the bank was taking a risk.

Turns out Smith was a marketing genius. In a recent interview Smith explained to a journalist the secret behind his success.

The simplicity of the label is almost like a courtesy. You’re going to help me pay my bills and survive, and I’m going to talk over you? No, I’m going to communicate in your language. The packaging tells the story.

Smith knew that most people don’t speak wine. So he communicated in a language they can understand. He created simple but distinctive black-and-white labels. And called his wines easy to remember names like K Syrah, Velvet Devil Merlot or Kung Fu Girl Riesling. 

And this was how Smith ended becoming one of America’s most influential Winemakers. And how his wine sales quickly scaled to levels wineries only dream of.

All by making a product people like, in a bottle that’s easy to remember.

P.S. This piece was originally posted in my Nishi weekly newsletter where I share colorful thoughts on copywriting + loads of helpful resources and interesting stories. Subscribe to my newsletter here.

( « The power of saying who you’re not for)