Monday, June 07, 2010

MUSICAL CHAIRS ON LONG ISLAND WINE SCENE?


With the move of Richard Olsen-Harbich to Bedell, winemakers all over Long Island were surely buffing up their resumes this weekend. Possibly a few in the Finger Lakes and the Hudson Valley as well.

No one is going to replace Rich. He was a one-man band as far as winemaking and setting the tone for the house. He is the equivalent of Johnny Unitas or Joe Montana as far as Long Island wine goes. The question is - is Raphael (without Olsen-Harbich) the 49ers or the Colts? The 49ers of course followed up with Steve Young and another Super Bowl and several NFC Championship appearances. The Colts didn’t get back to ultimate pinnacle in sports until Peyton Manning arrived (who was born after Unitas retired).

But the answer is not clear. Who is the next Olsen-Harbich – that’s the $64,000 question? Harbich was a winemaker at the top of his game, who lead a team of his own choosing through some remarkable and innovative wines. He was self-assured, extremely knowledgable, and knew the way the game was played in the wine business. He could speak the salesmen’s language as well as charm the press. Big shoes.

So who then are some of the candidates?

So many decisions. I guess, you prefer, it should be someone from Long Island, who knows the players, the landscape, and who is a known quantity. Or, you can take a look at the Finger Lakes wineries. Or someone from the Hudson Valley?

Let’s start with Long Island. Firstly, does Olsen-Harbich’s move start the domino’s tumbling? It’s a good question. If they truly want to replace Olsen-Harbich’s true value, they would have to make a concerted play for either Roman Roth or Eric Fry. However, both are well ensconced (so, we thought, was Olsen-Harbich). They might have an opportunity with Roman, since the late Christian Wolffer isn’t there to fight a bidding war. But for the sake of argument, let’s say no to both. Where does that leave you?

A few of the possible candidates, then.


Miguel Martin of Palmer Vineyards. Experienced. Sure handed. Great European stylist, would fit right in stylistically. Be nice to see what he could do with the Raphael bankroll behind him. He’d probably be a solid person for the top five interviewees.


Les Howard of Pindar Vineyards. Local boy makes good. Lacks the experience of Martin, but is well known throughout Long Island. He made an instant impact at Pindar. He’d be an interesting, long-term choice. With someone like Howard, Raphael might bring in some real star fire power consultant for the first few years.



Gilles Martin of Sparkling Pointe and Sherwood House. Martin has tremendous background in wine. France. California. Long Island. And certainly would probably flourish given the opportunities at Raphael. It would be a chance for him to run his own show on a large canvas. Among the more intriguing possible candidates.

Of course, there are outsiders. And Raphael has enough recognition that they could possibly coax a Californian, Oregonian, or Washingtonian winemaker out to the North Fork. But it’s doubtful. As for the Finger Lakes, I think it doubtful. They are known for white wines, and Raphael is a red wine house. And the Hudson Valley? Even more doubtful, although a call to Kristop Brown might not be out of the way. With Millbrook and Benmarl on his resume, he’s worked at some of the better wineries in the Valley. If he doesn’t get the call to replace Olsen-Harbich (which is doubtful, could he be a contender to replace Rich’s replacement? Maybe.)

Anyway, lots to think about. Lots to watch.