Inside Seattle’s Jet City Winery

Winemaker Charles Smith transforms a former Dr. Pepper bottling plant into the largest urban winery on the West Coast

In 2014, Charles Smith won Wine Enthusiast’s global winemaker of the year. It was an accolade he thinks fondly on (with more than a note of surprise), but it was telling of the years worth of work invested in his Washington state wines. His latest project, unveiled on 25 July, happens to be a wine destination of epic proportions. Charles Smith Wines’ Jet City winery, now open to the public, stands as the largest urban winery on the entirety of the West Coast.

A one-time Dr. Pepper bottling plant with unprecedented views of Boeing Field and Mount Rainier, the space features a two-story tasting center and will house production and pouring of all Charles Smith’s wines. Smith partnered with acclaimed architect Tom Kundig, of Olson Kundig Architects, for the project, and the result is 32,000 square feet of multi-use space.

“Georgetown is one of the oldest neighborhoods in Seattle and it still has the same feeling it did 20 or 30 years ago,” Smith explains to CH on the location. “It felt like old Seattle. It has always been home to breweries and crafts people. I wanted to be in a place where people were making thing.” Smith was driving around Georgetown scoping out properties and was immediately taken by the space and its potential—as well as its views.

This isn’t your standard wine-producing facility. Smith’s vision from the start was greater than that. “First and foremost,” he says, “I am a winemaker and this is a winery, but because of the space afforded here we can do so much more. The open floor space where the tanks are and barrels—that’s the heart of it. But this is like an old warehouse, with a lot of spaces that we realized should be public spaces.” Further to that he shares, because of the large windows, “the outside becomes the inside and the inside becomes the outside. It’s more interactive.”

Smith realized that in order to be interactive you need people and the idea of hosting events became a reality. Their private grand opening, 12 August 2015, will feature a musical performance by Jerry Lee Lewis, and there’s more to come. “I want people to come to my place and know they can use it for many purposes. It allows me to express myself more,” he says. “There’s music and food and elements of everything that I love with the core being the winery.”

Once you’ve made the wine you can never go back. You’ll live with it for the rest of your life

Remarkably, Smith is a self-taught winemaker. “I try to make sure that I don’t learn anything too much because it takes away the spontaneity of it.” On his start, he notes, “I took everything I had skill set-wise and applied it to what I was doing. That’s just the way I am wired. I really want to do good work.” Since, he has consistently produced an array of great wines. This is also something that appeals to Smith. “You only get to do it once a year. Once you’ve made the wine you can never go back. You’ll live with it for the rest of your life.”

For people not familiar with the wines—K Vintners, Charles Smith Wines, C&C, Wines of Substance, SIXTO and Secco—Smith describes them best, and he starts with their face value. “I am known for very progressive and contemporary labels. The dynamics of my packaging tell you about what you will find inside. It’s the same with the winery. Here is my heart. I make something that people consume. It’s an awesome responsibility and I never shrink to fulfilling that responsibility. You get everything and more because I put everything into it.” There’s a playfulness to Smith’s wines, and his winery, but the experience of it all of is top quality.

Images courtesy of Charles Smith Wines