Saturday, June 05, 2010

Bedell Upgrades With Richard Olsen-Harbich

There are three great winemakers that practice their craft on Long Island - Eric Fry at Lenz; Roman Roth at Wolffer; and Richard Olsen-Harbich at Raphael. These seemed as imovable at the great pyramids and the Sphinx. (No disrespect to many other fine winemakers out on Long Island). These were the grand men of wine, each as iconic as they are different. With Olsen-Harbich's move to Bedell, there has been a sizemic shift in NY State wine.

While I was surprised Rich was moving, when I heard the news from him directly (I can't lie I read about it first from Howard G. Goldberg's tweets and Len Thompson's posts), I was not shocked.

I recently gave a nice review to Bedell's Estate Merlot. But Bedell Cellars, while making good quality wine, had grown moribund in terms of the wines it made - Chardonnay and Merlot. It was button down and straightforward. They have a great owner, a great staff, but the winery seemed to lack an overall plan outside of it's committment to merlot. There was wonderful wine, but no real excitement.

While at Raphael, Olsen-Harbich evolved into one of the best winemakers on the entire east coast, and I have wondered in print if he might ever jump to California or Washington or Oregon. But wine communities are small, incestuous things.

At Raphael he started making field blends with wild yeasts like Naturale, and had created wonderful Merlots, Cab Francs, and other incredible wines. Rich has positioned Raphael as one of the most forward and exemplary wineries on the east coast. He was a man of vision and careful quality. One thinks, with more marketing and better showmanship Naturale should have been as much a cult wine and as enticing as Gravner's Italian field blends (they taste just a good). Rich leaves a legacy at Raphael of great wine, and three or fours years worth of exceptional vintages in the cellar.

I count Rich as a friend and a colleague. I can tell you there is no one more pasionate about great wine than he. And I cannot express in print how happy I am for him at this great opportunity. In the end, I don't think he could have said anything but yes. I think he will accomplish great things.

Bedell is a sophisticated and classy company. But they upgraded when they got Rich. In gaining Olsen-Harbich, Bedell now has a winemaker that can make great wines and match the comapny's ability to promote and market. Lynne has set up one of the best wineries on the Island, but like a great racing team, he lacked a big name driver to steer the big car. If Bedell is smart, and I think they are, they will let Olsen-Harbich shake things up somewhat, and they will make a big deal out of what he does. If they do, Bedell will soon graduate from one of the better houses in New York state, to one of the great houses on the entire east coast.

I think Michael Lynne is that smart...don't you?