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.
1. 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.
2. 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.
3. 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.
4. What’s on your to-do list?
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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.
5. 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.
6. 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.
7. 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.
8. What’s something people might be surprised to know about you?
I belong to both the NRA and the ACLU.
9. What was your childhood ambition?
I wanted to be, variously, Babe Ruth, Mowgli or Batman.
10. 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.