Charles Finkel (born September 25, 1943) is a designer, entrepreneur, artist and founder of Bon-Vin, Merchant du Vin, and The Pike Brewing Company in Seattle, Washington. Charles began marketing wines from small family owned California wineries in the 1970s and was the first to market the wines of Washington State throughout the country. In an article in Wines and Vines Magazine in 1970, Finkel was the first to use the term "boutique wines" to describe small, family owned wines of quality.
He was the first importer to introduce Belgian beer along with craft beers from England, Scotland, Belgium, France, Norway, and Germany to America through Merchant du Vin. He designed the labels for beers including Ayinger Celebrator, Samuel Smith Celebrated Oatmeal Stout, Organic Chocolate Stout, Imperial Stout and Winter Welcome, Lindeman's Cuvée René, and Pike Brewing Company.
In 2011, Draft Magazine named Charles as one of 10 Beer Innovators. He is married to Rose Ann Finkel, Vice President of Pike Brewing Company.
Charles was born in Flushing, Queens, New York in 1943 and moved with his family to Broken Arrow, Oklahoma in 1947. His father worked for American Airlines in Tulsa, Oklahoma. From 1962 thru 1966 he studied design and marketing at University of Oklahoma. He was first introduced to wineries in Livermore, California and the Napa valley in 1963. During his senior year at the University of Tulsa , he managed Mayo Meadows Liquor Store.
In 1966 Finkel moved to New York to work for Monsieur Henri, a wine importer and wholesaler in NY and visited the wine growing regions in Spain, France, Germany and Portugal. Finkel met European wine merchants and vineyard owners who visited Monsieur Henri in NY. At age 25, he was named "salesmen of the year". In 1967 Monsieur Henri appointed him S.W. sales manager. Charles relocated to Houston, where he met his wife, Rose Ann (née Martin).
In 1969 he founded his own wine importing company, Bon-Vin, Inc, with offices in Tulsa and Houston. The Houston Chronicle in September 1971 called Charles and his business partner, Robert Conley, the "whiz kids of the wine world." Bon-Vin imported to America the wines of Chalonaise including Chateau de Chamirey, Mercurey, Clos Solomon Givry, Le Vieux Chateau Montagny and Veuve Amba sparkling Rully. In Bordeaux, they represented Descas Père et Fils, and pétits châteaux including Caronne Ste. Gemmme-Haut Medoc, Caillon-Grand Cru Classe Barsac, Milon- Pauillac, Lescours, Laniote, La Serre and Le Chatelet-St. Emilion, Junayme- Fronsac, Millet- Graves, La Rame- St. Croix du Mont, and Bourseau-Lalalnde de Pomerol. Vineyards from other French regions included Huet-Vouvray, La Noe- Muscadet, Maucoil and St. Pierre- Chateauneuf du Pape, Jan Bourdy-Jura, Bodegas Matines Laquesta-Rioja, Delafoce–Porto.
In 1973 Bon-Vin acquired Robert Philips Wine Importing Company of Stamford, Connecticut adding the wines of George and Ludwig Schmidt-Rhine wines, Blondel-Marchal-Champagne, J. Vidal Fleury-Rhone and Henriques and Henriques-Madiera.
In 1969 Bon-Vin became the exclusive agent for Ste. Michelle, now known as Château Ste. Michelle, in Washington State. During this time Charles convinced the winery to change the appellation from "American" to "Washington State" and added a back label to bottles that shows the latitude of Washington State in comparison to the European wine growing regions.
In 1974 Bon-Vin was acquired by U.S. Tobacco as part of their purchase of American Wine Growers, which included Ste. Michelle. Charles and Rose Ann moved to Seattle, Washington where Finkel was Vice President of Marketing at Château Ste. Michelle, part of the team that built the château in Woodinville, Washington.
In 1978 Finkel founded Merchant du Vin, a wine and beer importing company, based in Seattle, Washington. He was the exclusive agent for states west of the Mississippi for D.G. Yuengling brewery of Pottsville, Pennsylvania. As the exclusive U.S. importer, Merchant du Vin acted as the sole United States agent for English breweries Samuel Smith Brewery and Melbourn Bros; German breweries Brauerei Ayinger and Pinkus Müller and Belgian breweries Orval, Lindemans and Rodenbach.
According to Michael Jackson in Ultimate Beer, "Portland and Seattle are the top two craft-beer markets in the world. Perhaps because the beer-importer Merchant du Vin was located in Seattle, that city's restaurants were among the first in the nation to add specialty beers to their menus." Pioneer brewer Bert Grant wrote in his autobiography, The Ale Master Grant, Bert (1988). The Ale Master. Sasquatch Books. ISBN 0935503196., "Give Charlie some credit for importing all those wild beers. He sort of primed the pump so that when the microbrewed beers showed up, people were prepared to taste something different." Market Watch Magazine called Merchant du Vin "America's most impressive specialty beer importers."
The book Brewing in Seattle notes, "An entire book could be dedicated to the influence Charles Finkel and his wife, Rose Ann, had over not just Seattle's brewing culture but the entire American craft brewing industry. Before establishing Pike Place Brewery in 1989, the two had already created America's first boutique wine importing business and later a beer importing company that first introduced America to many of the most popular beer styles in craft brewing today."
Pike Brewing Company
Charles and Rose Ann founded Pike Place Brewery (now known as Pike Brewing Company) in 1989, tapping the first keg on October 17, 1989. The brewery originally shared space with Liberty Malt Supply Co. at 1432 Western in the LaSalle Hotel building in Pike Place Market. Liberty Malt Supply Co., purchased from John Farias, was a home brewing and wine making shop and mail order retailer established in 1921. The tile, copper and stainless steel brewery had a four barrel copper kettle hand-crafted by Seattle's Alaska Copper and Brass and Jason Parker was the Head Brewer. Original beers brewed included Pike Place Ale and Pike XXXXX Extra Stout.
Pike Place Brewery and Liberty Malt Supply moved to 1415 First Avenue, Seattle, WA in 1996, a three-story gravity-flow 30 barrel steam brew house adding The Pike Pub and Microbrewery Museum. The brewery's name was also changed to Pike Brewing Company. Pike Brewing Company, The Pike Pub and Liberty Malt Supply, as a part of Merchant du Vin, were sold in 1997. The pub and brewery continued but Liberty Malt Supply was closed.
Charles and Rose Ann Finkel reacquired Pike Brewing Company, including The Pike Pub and brewery, on May 1, 2006.
Charles met Rose Ann Martin at a wine tasting in Houston, Texas in 1968, they were married in 1969. They have two adult children, Andrew Finkel of Seattle, WA and Amy Finkel of Brooklyn, NY. Together they were the Seattle Slow Food Convivium Leaders from 1999 to 2004 and served on the national board of The Weizmann Institute of Science during the same period. Charles judged the Slow Food Awards in Bologna, Italy in 2001 and in Torino, Italy in 2003 and has served on the boards of Planned Parenthood of The Great Northwest and Hawaiian Islands and The Epiphany School.
1997 – Lifetime Achievement Award at the Midwest International Beer Expo's Legends of Beer dinner. Master of ceremonies was the beer authority, Michael Jackson. He described Finkel as "one of the most influential people in the beer marketing world."
1998 – Recognition Award from the Brewers Association
2011 – Named one of '10 Beer Innovators' by DRAFT Magazine
2014 – Named a 'Culinary Trailblazer' by Puget Sound Business Journal
2015 – Pellegrini Foundation Award
2016 – Named to 'Seattle's Food & Beverage Hall of Fame' by Seattle Magazine
2000 – Published The Brewer's Companion by Randy Mosher
2011 - Art Curator for Oxford Companion to Beer
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