Sunday, August 08, 2010

Richard Olsen-Harbich and the Green Breast of Bedell Cellars

“And as the moon rose higher the inessential houses began to melt away until gradually I became aware of the old island here that flowered once for Dutch sailors' eyes - a fresh, green breast of the new world. Its vanished trees… had once pandered in whispers to the last and greatest of all human dreams; for a transitory enchanted moment man must have held his breath in the presence of this continent, compelled into an aesthetic contemplation he neither understood nor desired, face to face for the last time in history with something commensurate to his capacity for wonder.” - F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

I was driving back to the Hudson Valley after I had recently visited with Richard Olsen-Harbich at his new digs at Bedell Cellars. I stood under one of the archways of the outdoor tasting pavilion that frame the immense vineyards at Bedell. Rich and I were jabbering away, as we leaned on the white porch rail, with the rolled up awnings flapping in the summer breeze. The sky was a bright blue and the golden sun morning sun tinged the leaves of the vineyard. We were looking out over the row after row after row of verdant vines uncoiling over the undulating Long Island ground.

Rich was like a little kid. He was pointing to the Viognier in that corner, the Chardonnay over here, the Merlot over there. He was like a little kid with a new box of toys, or a painter who had been presented with colors he had never seen before.

He had changed since I had last seen him. He was excited. He chattered and laughed. He had shaven his beard. Lost weight. He showed me the tanks and barrel rooms. He walked me around the vineyards.

Bedell represents an incredible change, challenge, and opportunity for Olsen-Harbich. He will be let loose in a vineyard with almost 30 year old vines. It is his first foray into such Old Vine designations.

I asked him, “So, is ‘Gnarly Vine’ older than ‘Old Vine’”? He laughed. But the question was not lost on him. The concept of playing with such timbered wood is a very exciting opportunity. It’s been a solid growing season, if not a little dry. But not a bad year to make wine in at all.

Bedell is one of the most established houses in the North Fork. Their sales and marketing team are second to none. Bedell has always been about quality (their Musee’ is tremendous and highly acclaimed), but there has also been a sameness about the line. Olsen-Harbich is one of the North Fork’s most inventive winemakers. To know he will be let loose here is exciting. He bright blue eyes wander and dance as he talks.

He will be making lots of individual wines. Blocks of wine. He will play with numerous things. He’s not just going to make one big batch of Merlot. That’s not Rich. He’s a winemaker who likes to try a lot of tiny little strokes to get where he’s going. That’s how he rolled up scores of 90 or better from Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast. Will he continue his experiments with natural winemaking as he did with his highly acclaimed Naturale wines at Raphael? Will he do some Old Vines designations? Will he make blends? Or lots of single block designations?

Certainly Bedell lends itself to this level of more high-end wine making. One cannot imagine that Michael Lynne brought Olsen-Harbich over to Bedell to make great big batches of Merlot. Still, Olsen-Harbich will have to balance the market demand that has been created by Bedell’s exceptional sales and marketing team, feeding that line of estate and entry level wines, as well as create a new line of exceptional wines that will transcend the current line.

Rich is the Grand Prix winner that the Bedell racing team needed. With his drive, imagination, and passion, Bedell will reach new heights.

But it’s fun seeing him start to realize what he has before him, there on Long Island, somewhat like those old Dutch sailors coming to terms with what they were seeing for the first time. In Richard Olsen-Harbich I saw in his face that he was coming to terms with “something commensurate to his capacity for wonder.”