Robert Haas, whose Tablas Creek Vineyard did a great deal for Rhône-style winemaking in the United States, died at age 90 on Sunday.
His 65-year career in the wine industry began in the 1950s at his family’s New York retail outlet, M. Lehmann, Inc., which is now the famed Sherry-Lehmann. In the ’60s, he started his own importing company, Vineyard Brands, which brought wines into the United States from Burgundy, Bordeaux, and, most importantly, to his legacy, Rhône.
That work led to a close relationship with the Perrin family of Château de Beaucastel, in the southern Rhône. In 1985, Haas and the Perrins started scouring America for properties that would be well suited to Rhône varieties such as Syrah, Grenache and Viognier. In 1989, they settled on the west side of Paso Robles, home to cool nights, hot days and limestone soils.
Together, they imported and planted Mourvédre, Grenache Noir, Syrah, Counoise, Roussanne, Viognier, Marsanne, Grenache Blanc and Picpoul Blanc in what became a 115-acre vineyard.
Though no longer a nursery, Tablas Creek sold more than five million grapevine cuttings to more than 600 vineyards in California, Washington, Oregon, Texas and Virginia, spreading the Rhône gospel of blending. Today, Tablas Creek produces about 30,000 cases of wine per year.
“We are all sad, but he had a great, long life, and it ended on his terms, with his family around him,” said Haas’ son Jason, who is the winery’s general manager. “You can’t ask for more than that, I guess. And knowing he squeezed every bit he could out of his life is an inspiration for me, for sure. It has really been wonderful, amidst all this, to hear from all the people whose lives he touched.”
The younger Haas is working to ensure his father’s impact is understood by the next generation of wine lovers, saying, “I think, for all the impact that he’s had, his innate privacy meant that most wine lovers still don’t know who he was.”