I was greatly saddened to learn yesterday of the death of Robert Haas, one of the most influential people in American wine. He was 90.
Over those nine decades Bob Haas lived a full life and brought the Old World and New Worlds close together. He brought many new wines to the United States and instilled in many of us a new (or enhanced) appreciation of the amiable complexity of wine through his company Vineyard Brands. Haas's name on a wine label was enough for me to try it - he just wouldn't endorse a bad wine.
Vineyard Brands has prospered, and it has a terrific and highly recommended website I encourage you to visit. It's chock full of information and photos that will intrigue any wine lover (and it's a great study aid for your WSET pursuits). After he'd set up Vineyard Brands in the 1960s, he met the Perrin family, proprietors of the now-legendary Château Beaucastel in Châteauneuf-du-Pape. He forged a deep and meaningful relationship with the Perrins that, in addition to a strong growth in the interest in Rhône wines in the u.S., led to two important legacies: the creation of Tablas Creek and the establishment of a nursery for Rhône varietals.
Haas and the Perrins felt California's Central Coast could produce great wine from Rhône varieties like syrah, grenache and mourvèdre among others. Joseph Phelps was already having great success with Rhône varieties north of San Francisco, but Haas and the Perrins felt that the additional warmth and particularly the soil of Paso Robles held great promise. They also felt their grapes had to come from the best vine stock available, so they turned to a source that was, practically speaking, unavailable in the U.S. - the Perrin's own vineyards in France. Haas built a nursery and began the time-consuming process of bringing in vine cuttings and waiting through a three-year quarantine to prove them disease free. Once approved, the began propagating the vines and since the early 1990s, his nursery has distributed more than five million cuttings to grape growers throughout California.
The wines of Tablas Creek are wonderful but I suspect the nursery, with its contributions to vine growing across the state, will be the longest-lived of all of Bob Haas's contributions to wine in the U.S. And, of course there is Vineyard Brands that makes it possible for us wine lovers to enjoy a carefully curated portfolio of wines from around the world and especially from Haas' beloved French countryside. I had the privilege of meeting Bob Haas on several occasions and always considered him one of the great gentlemen of wine. He had an infectious passion for wine and took immense joy in sharing that passion. It may be a cliché but in Robert Haas's case it is so true, that his contributions will live on for many years to come.