The wine industry lost two members recently who made contributions to the Virginia (and other) wine industries: Joachim Hollerith, winemaker and former partner of American Nursery in California; and Nancy Parker Knowles, publisher of the Wine Gazette chain of quarterly tabloids in Virginia, the Finger Lakes and New England, where she was owner of Greenvale Winery in Rhode Island. Hollerith died in Germany, where he owned a family winery in the Rheinpfalz region, at the age of 61; Parker was 85 and died in Boston.
Joachim was an important early member of the post-Prohibition Virginia wine industry. He was invited by Dr. Gerhard Guth to plant a vineyard for a small winery south of Culpeper called Rapidan River Vineyards in 1978, and to become its winemaker. He had earned a degree in winemaking from the Geisenheim Institute of Winemaking in Germany. Rapidan River made wines in the German tradition, mainly a dry and semi-dry riesling, and a gewurztraminer, all of which I remember fondly.
In the early days of the Virginia wine revival, Rapidan River was one of the few wineries exclusively focused on vinifera grape varieties. Despite the challenges of farming these delicate grapes in a humid climate, Rapidan River wines were consistently in the best rank of Virginia white wines. In the early 1980s when riesling was still popular with American wine consumers, Rapidan River’s rieslings were classic in style and very popular. In 1983 when the Vista Hotel in Washington, D.C. opened, the Rapidan River riesling was its house white, and was so much in demand it was nicknamed “Rapid Dan” by beverage staff. I was the wine steward at the Vista at the time and witnessed firsthand how popular the wine was.
As detailed in Wines in Eastern North America from Prohibition to the Present by Hudson Cattell, Rapidan River was acquired by Jean LeDucq in 1985 who founded the more well-known Prince Michel Vineyards on Rt. 29 in Leon, Madison County, and had already brought Hollerith with him as winemaker and vineyard manager in 1983. Hollerith’s winemaking skill helped establish Prince Michel’s reputation for quality during his tenure there for the next decade until his protege Tom Payette became winemaker.
Hollerith left Prince Michel in the early 1990s and was a partner in American Nursery based in Lake County, CA which sold grapevines to commercial vineyards.
Hollerith returned to his hometown in Germany’s Pfalz region where his family has made wine since the 17th century, and specialized in the new German trend of pinot noir production (known there as “spatburgunder”) until his health declined.
For decades, Joachim Hollerith made important contributions to the wine scene, in Virginia and beyond, first with his winemaking, then with his nursery business. He was easily recognizable in trade shows and other industry meetings with his handlebar moustache and friendly but business-like manner. Unprompted, he gave me ten cabernet sauvignon grapevines at the end of one such show.
When I first met him, in the early 1990s, he lived just around the corner from the old lace factory on Rt. 29 just north of the Rapidan River, with his wife Gitte and their children. His now-grown son Jonathan has been working up the road for the last few years at Early Mountain Vineyards as the vineyard manager, in concert with viticulturist and consultant Lucie Morton.
The company ethos at Early Mountain (founded by Steve and Jean Case of AOL) is a collaborative team approach, explains CEO Peter Hoehn. Accordingly, Jonathan, who has been vineyard manager and collaborative winemaker with Steve Munson, will become co-winemaker (officially) with Munson as well as vineyard manager, in the European tradition. Jonathan, who bears a striking resemblance to his father including beard and smile (but minus his father’s famously curly coif) is at the moment moving his family back from Germany to begin his new expanded duties at the end of January.
Lucie Morton was quoted by Washington Post wine columnist Dave McIntyre, saying of Hollerith ““Joachim brought much-needed European savoir-faire to the Virginia wine scene, both in the vineyard and the cellar. It was very challenging in those days.”
Well-known Virginia winemaking consultant Tom Payette (a Rapidan resident) recalls that he first came to know Joachim around 1984 while working under him in the Vineyards at Prince Michel (he was still in college at the time). Joachim placed his trust in Payette to lead Prince Michel and the LeDucq winemaking after he mentored him to be able to handle the responsibility.
“Joachim adapted his ability to grow grapes to many regions and was a leader in close density spacing both on the East Coast and in Napa,” says Payette. “He had the ability to make you want to work harder and to perfect your skills: Never giving up or resting and always looking for solutions that made/make sense. I still carry that instilled attribute from him today and for that I am very thankful.”
Payette adds that “Joachim was a great, kind and driven person but always reaching out to others and looking for new ways to succeed at whatever he planned to do. He warmly mentored so many of us “back in the day” with that great mustache and bearded smile. My thoughts go out to his family.”
Annette Boyd, long-time Executive Director of the Virginia Wine Board Marketing Office, says “I enjoyed working with Joachim. He was a consummate professional, dedicated, smart and talented. He was also had a great sense of humor and loved life. I remember him bringing his family to many events in those early Virginia wine days. His love of his family was always obvious.”
I’ll remember Joachim as a dedicated wine professional and important positive European influence on Virginia wine quality who had an excellent balance in being quality-minded but also being generous to all in the industry, and being a devoted family man.
Nancy Knowles Parker planted a vineyard with her husband Cortland in 1980 on a family farm called Greenvale in Rhode Island, then opened a winery on the site in 1992, which is now run by her daughter, Nancy Parker Wilson.
The Parkers established a weekly newspaper chain in New Jersey now known as New Jersey Hills Media Group including 17 newspapers and 14 websites in north/central New Jersey. Mrs. Parker was publisher emerita; two of her children, Elizabeth Knowles Parker and Stephen Ward Parker, are co-publishers.
Through their interest in wine, the Parkers established quarterly regional tabloids that included the Long Island, New England, Finger Lakes and Virginia Wine Gazettes.
Former editor of the Virginia Wine Gazette, Laura Rydin, said “I’m so sorry to hear Nancy will not be with us anymore – I have missed her phone calls and visiting her house near Newport, RI, all those summers ago. She was such an advocate for the East Coast wine industry and was always so incredibly supportive of me and everyone at the Gazettes.”