As clichéd as it sounds, I think it is accurate to say the entire wine world was saddened to learn that Lebanese winemaker Serge Hochar died in an accident while spending a New Year's holiday in Mexico. In the two days since his death, there has been an enormous outpouring of grief, sympathy and warm memories with the news of his passing.
It may seem odd that a winemaker from Lebanon, a place few people outside the trade would associate with wine (at least in the modern era), could have such a far-reaching impact. Serge Hochar possessed that reach thanks to a striking personality - one part mystic, one part wine visionary, and one part innovative technician, with a pinch of sly joker thrown in for good measure.
His winery, Château Musar, was established by his father Gaston in 1930 when Beirut was considered the Paris of the Middle East and few could imagine the strife that would engulf the region over the next half-century. Serge took over the winery in 1959, and today, his son, also named Gaston, continues the family tradition. They have made wine at Musar every year save one since the winery's creation, trucking grapes through shellings and domestic upheaval, always doing what Serge described as "nature's work."
Serge Hochar was one of those unusual people who had a dramatic impact on nearly everyone he met. He had that knack of talking with you with a laser-sharp focus, giving you the impression that his attention was riveted on the one conversation, however brief. When Serge Hochar spoke with you, you were the only person in the room. He seemed to take everything in and respond to the heart of a question, though sometimes the response wasn't immediately clear in its full dimension. I came to think of him as Wine Yoda.
As a journalist, I sometimes found it maddening to talk with him because I couldn't write fast enough to take down everything germain that he said - he was all wheat and no chaff. Reading back over that statement, I realize that could imply he was exhausting to talk with but strangely, despite the density of his ideas, a conversation with Serge Hochar was always refreshing. It was clarifying, and the ideas he ventured resonated for days after.
Hochar was a striking individualist. His wines (including those made today by his son) are like none other. Made from old vines that have seen much from their ancient slopes, the reds from cabernet sauvignon, carignan and cinsault and the whites made from native grapes obeidah and merwah are quirky, intense and thought-provoking. Much like Serge Hochar who lives on through the many memories of the people he touched and the great wines he made that continue to evolve. For more information about Serge Hochar and the wines he made, see my post from September, 2014, A Vat Full of Miracles, in which I profile Serge Hochar and taste through a dozen wines with him.