In a Shot: Interview with James Kellaris and Thomas Haehn of High Def wines reveals further insight to a medium bodied, tart, tropical fruit, mineral packed summer daily libation great for raw, rich or spicy foods.
Earlier this season my wife and I took a day trip to Harrisonburg, VA and decided to check out the Court Sq. Theatre then came across this little beer and wine shop called Downtown Wine & Gourmet. When scrolling through the different wine bottles in this warming little market I came across a familiar label. High Def Riesling is a great value Qualitätswein (late-harvest or over ripe grapes) wine made by James Kellaris & Thomas Haehn (Co-owner of Von Schleinitz Estate, Germany). They make this wine in the southern sloped Mosel Valley.
There is something to be said about people who are professional and go extra miles to deliver information to those who ask for it in a humble manner. I've had the opportunity to speak with James Kellaris personally as well as him and Thomas Haehn over the internet and was able to gather up this special interview for The Next Rounds on Me:
Johnny Cocktail: As a guy who seems to get involved in many things, what first grabbed your attention to get involved in the wine business?
James Kellaris: I’m a rare breed; I’ve been in the wine business since I turned the legal US drinking age! I started with Roanoke Valley Wine Company in 2002, though I’ve also worked for two other companies since returning in 2008. The story is simple; I graduate from University with a degree in French Lit and Modern European History. Frankly, I didn’t want to teach either of them by the time I finished my classes! I was working in a fine dining restaurant after graduation, and I ran into a wholesale wine rep that happened to work for Roanoke. I pestered him to get me an interview and the rest is history.
JC: What lead you to securing a winery in Germany and why did you choose this particular region?
JK: After working in wholesale for 5 years, I turned to the national import business to further my wine business “education”. I worked for the premier German wine importer in the US, Rudi Wiest Selections for almost two years. During this time, I was promoting the very best estate-bottled wines of Germany. While traveling the country, I began to see the demand for a high quality “entry-level” Riesling from Germany. Up until recently, most wines above 17.99 retail from Germany were very good/to great. But at the same time anything below that (and ESPECIALLY around ten bucks) was just awful. After leaving Rudi Wiest Selections, I returned to Germany with a partner to see if I could find a good source for a value wine; I found it in Bernkastel at a co-op facility called Moselland. Though it is a large winery, we were able to source some great juice and blend a wine we really liked.
JC: What is your winemaking philosophy; that is, what are you trying to achieve with your wines?
JK: The winemaking style is to preserve the varietal character of Riesling in a medium-dry style; this highlights the great minerality and fresh fruit and makes it a great pairing for food.
JC: Currently what are the biggest challenges facing your winery?
JK: Misconceptions about the quality of German wine; The reality is that the top wine educators in the world are obsessed with German wines, especially Riesling. But due to the efforts of some large corporate marketing in the last few decades, US wine drinkers in general have a poor impression of this region. The fact that those writing the wine books that consumers buy in Barnes and Noble all (almost unanimously) love these wines should tell us something!
JC: Who or what other wineries or winemakers do you admire?
JK: Hansjorg Rebholz of Rebholz winery in the Pfalz region of Germany. Christian Serafin in the Cotes de Nuits of Burgundy. Pierre-Cheval Gatinois in Champagne. The Foucault brothers at Clos Rougeard in Saumur, France.
JC: What would you be drinking right now if you weren’t drinking your OWN wines?
JK: Haha; I rarely drink my own wine, though I like it (of course!). My wine drinking depends on the season; It’s really hot outside, so I haven’t touched a red wine in quite awhile. I drink lots of dry French rose, prosecco, Loire valley whites, etc. If it has high acid and minerality and little to no oak, I like it! In the fall/winter, I begin drinking reds again; I like Rhone, Languedoc, Northern Italy, just about any wine that is well made and shows it’s regional personality.
JC: Aside from wine, what are other alcoholic libations you enjoy endulging in?
JK: Beer is a NECESSITY for wine guys. Think about it; we work with wine EVERY SINGLE DAY…ALL DAY LONG…I like light, fresh beers with low alcohol to cleanse the palate and refresh; Kolsch, Pilsners, Lagers, etc.
JC: Besides making wine, what else does James Kellaris do?
JK: I have two lives; I do the wine business during the day, but in the mornings and in the evenings I train in Thai Boxing. This has been a lifelong pursuit. Though I chose a career outside of the ring, I do fight about two to three times a year at either 170lbs or 180lbs. Though it looks violent and scary to the uninitiated, to those that train it is a beautiful expression of strength, heart, and skill. Plus, the shorts we wear in the ring are cool. j/k
When asked about what else to expect from the HD wine camp in the future, James stated that there wasn't anything new in the works but when visiting the website I came across an add for an HD Sweet Red wine I was unfamiliar with. I was able to contact Thomas Haehn and he added:
Sweet red was only released in a couple of states so far. We already sold out and the next shipment will arrive late September and hope to get better distribution in the later part of the year. We do not have distribution for HD sweet red in VA, the only places where it is currently available is Nashville TN and in the state of MN.
I will update the website as things change.
High Def Riesling is Straw/Yellow Chartreuse in color and is a light to medium bodied wine. It has notes of orange blossoms, golden apples, cherimoyas and wet rock. The wine is off dry (3.1% residual sugar per bottle) with a sharp tart finish and subtle hints of spice. I enjoyed my HD with sushi which worked very well and based on the body, flavor and acidity I would highly recommend High Def with rich or spicy foods.
* UPDATE: I was in contact with James' partner, Thomas Haehn, recently regarding further understanding of the HD line. He added these additional comments post interview:
(Regarding blending) While James and I play an important role in the concept and promotion of the wine, the true quality control is actually provided by Konrad Hähn, the owner and winemaker of von Schleinitz estate who works with us and the local coop Moselland to provide us with the high quality blend we desire. His 30+ years of tasting and blending experience in the Mosel region as the owner of von Schleinitz estate bring an important part to the HD concept. He also is responsible for the HD Sweet Red blend.
(Regarding Wine Style) The idea behind James explanation is that in a wine with residual sugar it is important that the sweetness does not become the dominant part, but rather acts as a supporter of the rest that is provided by the wine. The about 3% risidual sugar provide the wine with enough to show off the fruit, but little enough, that the minerality and crispness of the wine is drowned, which is the case with many other value priced Riesling wines. The acidity that is a typical characteristic of Riesling grown in cool climate, like the Mosel is the true benefactor in the food pairing, acidity keeps the palate fresh and longing for food.
Click here to visit the High Def Riesling website!
Click here to visit the Von Schleinitz Estate website