By Lenn Thompson, Executive Editor
Rich Olsen-Harbich, long-time winemaker at Raphael in Peconic has resigned that post and will take over the head winemaking duties at Bedell Cellars starting next week, joining a winemaking team that includes Bedell's founder and now founding winemaker Kip Bedell and consultant Pascal Marty. The news was first reported on Twitter by Howard Goldberg.
Olsen-Harbich succeeds Kelly Urbanik, whose contract has run out told me in an email "I don't have any current plans -- just going to take a few days to think about things. I'm keeping all of my options open."
Bedell's owner Michael Lynne described his new winemaking team as "a dream situation for us" when I spoke with him earlier today, pointing to Olsen-Harbich's "experience, accomplishment and knowledge" as three key reasons for the hiring.
"Our founding winemaker, Kip Bedell founded this winery 30 years ago. Rich has been working out here for 25," Lynne said in describing and discussing Olsen-Harbich's understanding of local viticulture and winemaking.
Olsen-Harbich describes his departure from Raphael, where he's served as head winemaker for more than a decade, as amicable, adding that he "Still has some wines to finish there; to get bottled. I'll help with the transition there."
"I was winemaker at Raphael for 14 years and did a lot," he said in a quick phone interview, "I was ready to pursue new challenges. I look forward to working with people at Bedell that I've known and respected for a long time -- Dave Thompson (vineyard manager) and Donna Rudolph (assistant vineyard manager), Trent (Preszler, CEO) and of course Kip, who I've known and been friends with for many years."
"I'm excited. I haven't been excited like this in a few years. This is a great opportunity for me."
This is an dramatic -- and potentially important -- winemaking change on North Fork -- one that brings two seemingly divergent styles together -- Olsen-Harbich's natural winemaking philosophy, spontaneous fermentations and terroir-expressing style and Bedell Cellars' polished, perhaps more-international style, one that focuses largely on blending.
Lynne said that they just don't know how Olsen-Harbich will change Bedell's wines but said that it's always "very exciting when there is a new creative force" behind a project.
Will Olsen-Harbich get to employ the spontaneous fermentations he's become so fond of in recent year? "That's why they hired me!" he said before adding that the overall wine program will remain the same -- the focus on blends, the expression of the fruit coming in from the vineyard.
With the addition of an experienced, talented winemaker like Olsen-Harbich, Bedell Cellars, already one of the top producers in the East Coast, seems poised to take things to the next level. It can take years for a change like this to really be felt, but it bears watching.