In memory of Franz Haas

David Gleave MW

Franz Haas has died at the age of 68 following a heart attack. He will be hugely missed.

I first worked with Franz in the early 1990s after we were introduced by Paolo De Marchi and the Franz Haas wines have been part of our portfolio since our very first list in 1997.

Franz, born in January 1953, was the seventh generation of his family to run the winery, but the first to bottle their wines. He studied winemaking in Geisenheim (German was his first language) and became a wine broker when he returned home after finishing his studies. He and his father held differing views on the future for wine in the Alto Adige. Franz was certain that viticulture in the region could only succeed by producing high quality wines, while his father continued selling less expensive wines in demi-john. Franz eventually took over from his father in the late 1980s and started transforming the estate.

Franz made excellent Pinot Grigio and Pinot Bianco, and took inspiration from Friuli to produce 'Manna', a blend of several different white varieties that combined weight and texture with perfume and balance. His real passion, however, was for Pinot Nero and a question or comment while tasting his Pinot Nero would be met with silence and an intense stare. Franz's emotional attachment to his passion and questing intellect made him appear like a character from the pages of a 19th century Russian novel.

His quest for improving his wines during a period of climate change pushed him into conflict with the authorities. He knew he had to plant vineyards at higher altitudes to obtain more sunlight (the sun sets behind the mountains early in the afternoon at lower altitudes) and, due to diurnal variation, a longer growing season. He planted above the limit set by the DOC regulations, so fought to get the DOC changed. The ever-improving quality of his wines vindicated his decision, and changes to the DOC regulations eventually followed.

Franz's other battle was with screwcaps. He justified his decision to move all his wines to screwcap - a decision that met with quite a backlash in Italy in particular - by saying it created “my perfect circle, from the vine right through to the screwcap.” By moving to screwcap, he avoided the loss of control that came with sealing bottles with cork.

We will miss this willingness to question orthodoxy. Franz was called “the Italian King of Pinot Nero” by the Italian newspaper La Repubblica, a title bestowed upon him due to the quality he achieved with his wines through his incessant experimentation with this fickle variety. He, of course, would have disagreed, as he would have said there was still so much to do to get to the level of quality he desired. That is a journey for the eighth generation of his family, who will greatly benefit from his wife Luisa’s experience, who worked with Franz for over 30 years.

I will be opening a bottle of Schweizer Pinot Nero tonight to remember Franz.