Monday, August 9, 2010

A tale of Oliver Haag in Two Cities

When I first learned about German Rieslings, then later about the subcategory of Mosel Rieslings, I began to learn from Randy, owner of The Wine Country, about how special the Rieslings of Fritz Haag Estate were. These Rieslings always seemed the most pure, the most classic, the most full of stuffing while still delicate on their feet... full of mouth-filling flavor and crystalline beauty. In a quest to find out more about these beautiful wines, I learned that they were made from a site called Brauneberg, a wine village dating back to Roman times, when it was called the Latin name Dusemonde or "sweet mountain." It was later named a more Germanic sounding Brauneberg, or "brown mountain," which, while being less poetic, was an accurate description of this site which, unlike other hills covered with vineyards, Brauneberg was not topped with a rich forest of trees which served as a sponge for rain water, but instead was topped by an almost bare hilltop, with little to no water reserve. This hillside vineyard is therefore dry and brown.

Aside from the legend of the wine village and hillside vineyards Juffer and Juffer Sonnenuhr was the legend of the man, the winemaker Wilhelm Haag, whom I met the first time I attended a Rudipalooza tasting with Randy, back in 2006. Wilhelm Haag is a legend because he has worked his family's winery from the age of 20 to the age of 70, 50 years of winemaking, while being, I believe, the head of the VDP at some points..... the details of which I am unclear about, but I do know he was a major advocate of quality wines in the Mosel region. I also know that as a person, he is very kind, generous, open, and hilariously funny. In my various meetings that I have had with him since that first time at that tasting in 2006, he has told some funny jokes with great delivery - charm, I think it is called - for example, he said of his wines from the vineyard Juffer ("virgin" in German), "it is the only virgin that gets better with age." Guffaw guffaw...

Anyhoo... approximately 5 years ago, Wilhelm Haag did retire and pass on his estate to his son, Oliver Haag. Oliver Haag worked for years for the Wegeler estates, and finally, he had returned to run the family estate and carry on the strong tradition on great winemaking in the Mosel. I had met Oliver Haag on several occasions going to taste in Germany, but I didn't really get to know him as a person until in July this year when he came to work with us in California, and I got to work with him in both San Francisco and Los Angeles.

And here's what I found out about Oliver Haag - he is a terrific person, super smart and knowledgeable, generous and great to work with. In San Francisco, we dashed from one restaurant to another - Slanted Door, RN74, Vanessa's Bistro & from one wine store to another - Wine House, Wine Club, and many others...

In Los Angeles, similarly we hopped from account to account - starting with a breakfast meeting at 9:30 am at Starling Diner in Long Beach (pictured above with owners Ed and Joan), then to The Wine Country to see Randy (top), then up to picturesque Santa Monica, and ending the evening with a wine dinner at 3 Square Restaurant in Venice, where chef/owner Wolfgang Gussmack orchestrated a 4-course meal replete with savory dishes that went beautifully with the Fritz Haag wines.
Working those long days in SF and LA with Oliver were hard and tiring - I won't lie to you! - but he made it worthwhile by being a wonderful person to work with, confirming to everyone, me included, that behind the delicious Mosel Rieslings of Fritz Haag Estate is now yet another terrific and genuine Haag leader and winemaker.

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