California wine pioneer, Nicholas “Nicky” Hahn of Hahn Family Wines died last week at his home in Zurich, Switzerland. The man credited with bringing Pinot Noir to the Monterey area was 81-years-old at the time of his death.
Hahn’s life reads like a novelization of the California Dream. In the 1930’s, his parents fled Germany to escape the Nazis. The family sought sanctuary in Switzerland where Nicky was born in 1936. The Hahns refugee plight then took them to Portugal, Cuba, and Florida before they ultimately settled down in New York City where the winemaker-to-be spent most of his formulative years.
As an adult, Hahn began his professional career working for a tomato grower in South Africa. He then climbed the rungs of the corporate worlds in Paris, New York and London before ascending to the position of Chairman of software giant CA Technologies.
However, like many other tech guys to follow, Hahn felt the call of the wines. In the 70’s, he purchased a ranch in the Santa Lucia mountain range and planted Cabernet Sauvignon. The new vineyard, Smith & Hook released their first vintage in 1980. By the time of the vintner’s death, Hahn Family Estates owned 1,100 acres and produced 400,000 cases annually.
However, Hahn’s greatest mark was quality, not quantity. After organizing a campaign among his neighbors, Hahn succeeded in gaining recognition for the Saint Lucia Highlands as a American Viticultural Area (AVA). In the late 90’s, Hahn realized that St. Lucia’s microclimate is remarkably similar to Burgundy. So, he pulled out the Cab and planted Pinot Noir instead. The gamble paid off and today the region is a leader in Pinot.
“My father left me with one indelible lesson: there are many dreamers, but it is not enough to dream,” said Philip Hahn, Nicky Hahn’s son and chairman of Hahn Family Wines, in a prepared statement. “We must also do, and that is exactly what he did. He voyaged to California and created a new AVA. And there was nothing on this Earth he desired more than watching the grapes glisten in the sun setting upon that which he named the Santa Lucia Highlands. He built something truly meaningful, and I’m proud to carry on his legacy.”
Nicky Hahn is survived by his wife, Gaby Hahn, and his two children, Philip Hahn and Caroline Hahn.
In lieu of flowers, the family has asked for donations in his memory to Oceana, a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting and restoring the world’s oceans. Laura Wright (firstname.lastname@example.org) is handling memorial donations.