Published on November 9, 2017 | by Alastair Gilmour0
Meet Charles Bieler
A wine innovator, explorer, marathon runner and New York hipster, Charles Bieler has an eye for the creative opportunity, an ability to spot an opening before it materialises, and a knack for combining outrageous propositions into a winner.
He got his first big break from his father, who put him in charge of the family estate, Château Routas in France’s Provence region. Charles’ youth and creativity turned the winery around. Today, Charles is one of the most exciting winemakers in America and in 2014 was named in Wine Enthusiasts ‘40 under 40’ list, which salutes the leaders of a new generation of tastemakers
Charles continues to innovate across all sectors of the wine market. He produces the eponymous Charles and Charles Wines with his partner Charles Smith, himself a winemaking institution in Washington state, and he is a founder partner of the Three Thieves wine brand. Charles provides the role of the ‘Hustler’, alongside Joel Gott’s ‘Master’ and Roger Scommegna’s ‘Dreamer’.
While he’s firmly based in the US now – splitting time between his home in New York and wineries in California and Washington State – he spent his formative wine business years in Provence, including several years at the renowned Chateau Routas.
Cheers Magazine caught up with Charles mid-harvest to find out more about his latest projects and how his career was almost very different
Hi Charles. We heard you could have had a career in music, what made you switch to wine?
My father, Philippe, pulled me from the music in the mid 90’s, when I was 21. He called me, I was entering my senior year at University of Colorado at Boulder and said, “Listen, kid. I’ve got all this wine we’ve been making.” The winery is in Provence, in Coteaux Varois. The winery is called Routas, making lovely wines.
For my dad, who had been in finance, this was a more of a hobby later in life, but he wanted it to be a proper business. It was making him crazy that it was as hard as it was to sell stuff. He had started the winery in ‘92. I guess he called me, what was it ‘99, for those next years it would just been building inventory more or less.
He said, “Hey, listen kid. I just need one year of your life for you to come help me. I’ve never asked anything of you”, this is true, and always supported me, which he had. He said, in another year you can do whatever you want, but I need somebody to help me figure out how to get rid of this stuff. You can sell it wherever you want.
Looking back, it was pretty reckless of him of that time – he basically handed me the keys to the business!
So this was your first foray into wine?
I honestly had no intention of getting into the wine business, none at all. It was my dad’s thing.
I was born in London, but growing up lived in both New York and Montreal. I had an interest in politics and I was a ski racer at the University of Colorado, trying to make the US ski team. I had spent a little time in the winery and in the vineyards, summer breaks and winter breaks, but the wine business was my dad’s. I liked wine, but that was it.
Is it true you travelled the US in a pink Cadillac?
Ha ha, yeah I did! It was at a time when rosé was considered gauche, so I travelled the US in a pink Cadillac to promote the Routas rosé and helped light a fire under the category.
My soul hometown is Waterbury Center, Vermont. As I said, I moved around a lot, but that was the one place that was consistent, it’s where my mom still is. Waterbury is known for two guys named Ben and Jerry who started a little ice cream company there. They bought an Air Stream trailer, painted it cow colours, and went around the country scooping out ice cream and made it a national brand.
Here we were making lots of rosé, and were like, okay, they bought an Air Sstream trailer, I can buy an old Cadillac and paint it pink. This is going to be my method to get people to talk about something that made no sense to most people. Actually, pink wine did make sense. It was thought of as a sweet thing for someone who wasn’t sophisticated
Tell us more about the wines you make with Charles Smith under the Charles and Charles brand.
I’ve had a vision to make world class rosé in the Columbia Valley. So in July 2008 I called Charles, he was the only person with a Washington telephone number that I knew. And I think he’s the most talented winemaker in Washington State so could he either point me towards some great growers or can we do this thing together?
When I asked Charles about joining me in this mission to make world-class balanced Provencal style rosé he paused for a second as he had a lot going on, which I did as well, but them gave a confident, “we gotta do this”. So we started with total focus on making world-class rosé in the United States. But as I learned more about the opportunities for making Cabernet, Syrah and other varietals through Charles and his team, we realised we had to make more than just rosé. At this point, we’re dedicated to five wines: rosé, Cabernet blend, Chardonnay, Merlot blend and Riesling.
You’re also part of the Three Thieves?
This is a project with two friends, Joel Gott and Roger Scommegna. It started about the same time we received the offer on my dad’s winery, Routas.
We launched Three Thieves in 2002, and in that first year we came out with a litre jug of Zinfandel. It was a total lark to make fun of the wine industry by putting delicious Zinfandel into a jug. Jug wine was the icon of cheap and bad and we were playing with all of that. It launched this whole series of wines that’s been very exciting.
Charles Bieler’s Charles and Charles and Three Thieves wines are available across the North East. Ask your local Bar Staff for more details.
MEET CHARLES’ PARTNERS
Roger Scommegna: The Dreamer
Serial entrepreneur, connoisseur, grape grower and hotelier Roger Scommegna was born to an American mother and immigrant Italian father, learning childhood lessons about hard work and creativity that have shaped his career to this day. Roger has a rare talent for spotting opportunities and giving the public what they want. In 1983, looking to buy his first home and frustrated by the difficulty of finding available houses, Roger started a marketing company that ultimately became Realtor.com, the world’s most trafficked real estate website. He began a new chapter as a winemaker and hotelier in 1999, becoming a partner in the Boonville Hotel and building Signal Ridge vineyard in Mendocino County’s Anderson Valley. Other recent projects include up-start beverage companies, Black Dot Vodka and Bite Hard apple cider.
Joel Gott: The Master
A fifth-generation winemaker, he grew up in the business, learning everything he could from his father and grandfather, both legends in California’s wine industry. Joel made his debut at a very early age, helping out in the vineyards and cellars as a little boy. It was no surprise when he became apprenticed to Mike Lee, wine master at Kenwood Vineyards in Sonoma. Joel’s first solo act as winemaker came in 1996 with an intense Zinfandel from Amador County, a show-stopping wine that garnered Joel Gott Wines critical acclaim. In 2003, Joel formed the Three Thieves with fellow wine lovers, Roger Scommegna and Charles Bieler. The trio launched Bandit wines and The Show, amongst other side projects. Food is also on the bill for Joel—he and his brother revamped Taylor’s Automatic Refresher, a legendary St. Helena burger joint, and rechristened it Gott’s Roadside. Today, it’s a destination restaurant with three popular locations.