The man who brought a little bit of Chateauneuf du Pape to California will soon be honored by the organization spawned by his efforts in the vineyard and skills in the cellar.
On April 5, the Rhone Rangers organization will present its second Lifetime Achievement Award to Robert Haas, partner and founder of Tablas Creek Vineyard in Paso Robles.
Haas began his career in the 1950s, traveling through wine caves in France searching for fine wines to bring to America for M. Lehmann Inc., his family’s retail shop in New York City. During that time, he forged lifelong relationships with many of France’s most celebrated wine producers.
In the 1960s, Haas met the Perrins of Chateau de Beaucastel, became their American importer through his company Vineyard Brands, and worked with them to introduce Americans to the great wines of the Rhone Valley and Chateauneuf du Pape.
In 1989, the Haas and Perrin families, convinced that California was ideally suited to the growing of the Rhone’s traditional grape varieties, established Tablas Creek Vineyard. They shepherded the eight most important Rhone grape varieties through the USDA quarantine process, and made high-quality clones, propagated in high-tech greenhouses on the Tablas Creek property, available to growers around America.
They continue this work today through a partnership with NovaVine nursery. More than 600 growers and wineries around the country have planted Tablas Creek clones, spurring the growth of the modern Rhone Ranger movement in America.
Asked about his vision for bringing vines from France to California, Haas said, “In the early 1970s, Jean-Pierre Perrin accompanied me when I was visiting my then Napa Valley suppliers of Vineyard Brands: Freemark Abbey, Chappellet, Clos du Val and Phelps. We took a little tour of the valley and Pierre remarked that it was extraordinary that, in a climate that seemed extremely apt, there were none of the grape varieties traditional to the Rhone. It was this experience that was the beginning of the idea of doing it ourselves.”
Today, the Rhone Rangers number roughly 150 wineries, all dedicated to making wines from the 22 grape varieties originally made famous in the Rhone Valley. These varieties include Syrah, Viognier, Mourvedre, Grenache, Roussanne, Counoise and Picpoul.