Until a few weeks ago, I had never heard of Hahn Family Wines. But while I was skulking around a wine shop one Saturday afternoon I came across two bottles from a sustainably farmed vineyard in the Santa Lucia Highlands near Monterey, California. Truth be told, I was trying to make off with the store’s remaining stash of Hacienda Arinzano Red from a recent #winestudio session when the Hahn labels, adorned with a black rooster print, caught my eye. While I’m not usually one for impulse purchases of wine I know nothing about, I immediately made a place for them in my cart. Why? It’s all in the name.
My paternal grandmother’s maiden name was Hahn and, as it happens, today is her birthday. Or, rather, it would have been her 108th birthday. A glimpse of her family name on the bottles brought back a flood of memories of Evelyn Hahn Walsh, a woman whose presence I miss every day. I was curious to learn more about the family-owned winery in California, wondering if we might be connected through a random relative, several generations removed.
Turns out we’re not. Hahn Family Wines was founded by Nicky and Gaby Hahn, originally from Switzerland. My grandmother’s family hails from Ireland and, as it turns out, their last name was originally Hand, not Hahn. I’m sure there’s a story there, somewhere . . . .
Hahn Family Wines – The Story
But once my curiosity has stirred, I’m not easily deterred from delving into whatever has piqued my interest. So I did a little research on Hahn Family Wines. Nicky and Gaby Hahn purchased their land back in 1979 when the neighboring parcels were used for cattle grazing. They saw potential to make great wines and planted grapes instead, producing their first vintage in 1980. In fact, they led the charge to establish the Santa Lucia Highlands AVA, which was approved in 1991.
Current plantings include 650 acres in Santa Lucia Highlands and an additional 461 acres in nearby Arroyo Seco, most of which is planted to Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Hahn produces three tiers of wine:
- Hahn Family Wines – fruit-forward, balanced wines from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir
- SLH Wines – four estate vineyards expressing the best of the Santa Lucia Highlands AVA
- Lucienne – single-vineyard bottlings of Pinot Noir
Vineyards are farmed sustainably, and the four SLH sites are certified Sustainability in Practice, a program that encompasses water and soil conservation, efficient energy use, natural pest management, and health and safety measure for all employees. If you’d like the specifics, including the use of cover crops and the deployment of falcons for pest control, there’s a lot more to read on their website .
My Hahn Family Story
If you saw a picture of my grandmother, taken later in life, you’d assume she had been born with the proverbial silver spoon perched in her mouth. But that wasn’t her story at all. The eldest girl in a family of six kids, she took responsibility for helping raise her siblings when her father died. Despite her considerable athletic talent, she turned down an athletic scholarship to take a job to support the family.
She married my grandfather, James Francis Walsh, in 1936, and gave birth to my father two years later. When World War II broke out my grandfather went to fight with the Navy, serving as a tail gunner in a B-17 bomber (aka the Flying Fortress.) Evelyn, now pregnant, held down the domestic fort, taking care of a toddler and preparing for a baby, wondering if she’d ever see her husband again. I can’t even imagine her fear and anxiety.
My dad has some memories of that time and the only things I know about it come from him: my grandmother never, ever talked about it. In fact, she never spoke about hardships or problems. She just took them on, persevered, and moved forward, relying on her Catholic faith to see her through. It’s probably the thing that most defined her.
After the war, my grandfather took a good job with the Dupont Company. The two of them saved their money and did well, buying a house and sending two sons to college. Later in life they enjoyed themselves more, taking vacations and playing golf. When they went out, whether to church or to dinner with friends, Evelyn was always perfectly put-together: her clothes conservative yet fashionable, her make-up natural yet polished. And her manners were impeccable.
When we cleaned her apartment after she died, I found her Emily Post Etiquette book. Printed in 1923, it’s the perfect remembrance of her – full of advice on how to do everything just the right way. There are suggestions for single women on how to interact with men in a social setting that are uproariously funny when viewed through modern eyes. And the table setting diagrams sent me into delirium. But Emily Post and daily mass were the tools Evelyn used to cope with a life that was, at times, harsh and unforgiving.
My grandfather passed away in 1977, leaving her on her own for 25 years. As she aged, her health faltered but she refused to cede her independence. She didn’t have a driver’s license, but she knew the bus schedules by heart and wasn’t afraid to walk 15 blocks to the bank. And she never left home without her Arden Pink lipstick, the same shade she’d worn in her 20s.
Grandmothers Just Know
You probably get by now that talking about feelings and trouble-shooting problems wasn’t her wheelhouse. She never did that sort of thing. But she was highly intuitive and always knew when something was wrong with you. Many years ago, I paid her a visit during an extremely tumultuous time in my life: a failing relationship that had brought years of misery was finally in its death throes. As we sat on the beach, she asked me how I was doing. I replied, “What do you do when everything in your life is going wrong?” In typical Evelyn fashion, she responded, “I go to church and pray,” knowing full-well that her advice was falling on deaf ears. She didn’t pry for details or commiserate with me; instead, we went to dinner, took walks on the beach, and said no more about it.
A couple of weeks later, I received a small package in the mail. Inside was a beautiful note from her, saying how wonderful it had been to see me. It was attached to an envelope that rattled when I shook it (do we ever get too old for that?) I had no idea what it could be, but I shouldn’t have been surprised when her rosary tumbled out. She knew I wouldn’t use it to pray, but that’s not why she sent it. She was sharing what made her feel better, showing me how she coped with uncertainty and sadness in her life. The gesture came without judgment or expectation that I’d go back to church: it was her way of reminding me that we were two women connected through blood, family, and history. A connection bigger than any problems life could throw at us.
I’ve never forgotten that day. And her rosary sits in an honored place in my home, where I see it whenever I walk down the hall. It’s unlikely that this non-believer will ever go back to church again, but my heart is indeed full of reverence – for a beautiful soul who was tested by life but never let it beat her. A woman whose strength and courage make me stand in awe. I hope there’s more than a little of her in me.
I love you, Mom-mom. Happy Birthday!
2015 Hahn Family Wines Chardonnay ($13 retail)
Grapes come from the Arroyo Seco vineyards, where grapes are cooled by breezes sweeping in from Monterey Bay. This 100% Chardonnay wine spent time on the lees and was aged in French oak (40% new; 60% neutral.)
Color: Clear lemon yellow.
Nose: Apple and pear give way to tropical notes of pineapple, passion fruit, mango, and vanilla.
Flavors: Ripe pear, banana, and golden apple. Texture is creamy and round, with medium acid.
Verdict: A lovely, ripe Chardonnay with acidity; nice on its own or with lighter meals.
2015 Hahn Family Wines Pinot Noir ($13 retail)
Also from the Arroyo Seco vineyards, these grapes benefit from a gradual ripening season that allows them to develop the full range of aromas and flavors while keeping that all-important acidity. Wine was aged in 40% new French oak; 60% neutral.
Color: Deep ruby red, slightly pink at the edge.
Nose: Strawberry, cherry, and cocoa reined in by a mineral/metallic component.
Flavors: Red berry and cherry, cocoa, dust. Spicy licorice on the finish. Silky tannins. Savory.
Verdict: Especially for the price, this is an easy-drinking Pinot that will appeal to most palates.