The wine world lost two winemakers this week. Laurence Faller, 47, who made the wines at Domaine Weinbach in Alsace, died of a suspected heart attack. Longtime Hanzell winemaker Bob Sessions died after battling Alzheimer's disease for several years. He was 82.
I first met Laurence in 1994 on a trip to Europe that took me through Alsace. We tasted through a range of Weinbach's 1993s, ending with a Pinot Gris Quintessence de Grains Nobles 1989. After that first tasting, they welcomed me into their big kitchen for lunch.
Those '93s were Laurence's first vintage. Weinbach was run by her and her sister Catherine and their mother, Colette. The Fallers had a loyal clientele and there were often several tastings going on in their home at once, the ladies running in and out of rooms to trade bottles.
It was always a pleasure to meet with Laurence at Vinexpo and taste through the new vintage. Her wines met that perfect space between richness and elegance.
In 1995, Bob Sessions presented several vintages of Hanzell Chardonnay and Pinot Noir at Wine Spectator's New York office. I was blown away by the quality and longevity of these wines. The Chardonnay 1968 was stunning, as were the 1965 and 1962 Pinots. Although Hanzell's inspiration was Burgundy, the Chardonnay was not barrel fermented, nor did it go through malolactic conversion.
Bob was soft spoken and gentle, but his wines spoke volumes. I had the opportunity to visit Hanzell in 2003, see the vineyards and taste a range of wines. They were distinctive, and Bob had a way of taming the exuberant fruit that came off those vines.
Both Laurence Faller and Bob Sessions made beautiful wines. They made a lasting impact on me as a critic and taster, and I consider myself fortunate to have shared some of those wines with them.