It has been too long since I mentioned Serge Hochar and his great Lebanese wine estate Chateau Musar. A quarter-century ago, Serge came to Kansas City on frequent trips because people here bought his wines.
I don’t know why we’ve seen so little about him in recent years. I suppose that his fame is worldwide and his fortune dependent on wine markets around the globe. And it’s all too easy to forget: He was a winemaker to his bones but a salesman out of necessity.
No one was going to tell his story better than he could. Although it’s hard for me to fathom, that penetrating mind, that impish character (wine writer Jancis Robinson’s words), and his steadfast love for his estate and its wines has been silenced. He died on Dec. 31 in a swimming accident.
On his trips here he would graciously offer older Musar wines from his cellar. It was one of the remarkable strengths of Musar wines that, though they might taste too light or too earthy to age gracefully, they would most often do so anyway. Giving wine enthusiasts a chance to experience those aged wines was a real treat.
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Scurrying around in the backroom getting wines decanted and ready, Serge was always instructing me — I was happy to learn everything I could from him. And it wasn’t just tasks he was teaching, it was more like life lessons.
His stories were unlike any others in the wine business. He famously made wine for years in the midst of Lebanon’s civil war. He sat through one particularly frightening bombardment drinking a bottle of 1972 Musar, giving his fate over to God while the rest of his neighbors huddled in a bomb shelter.
His stories were instructional, too. It was his insistence that every wine, every bottle, every glass was to be checked for absolute purity.
Bear in mind we’re talking about hundreds of glasses here and there were usually just a couple of us to get things ready. I remember being upbraided for my lack of diligence and, because it was Serge, I could only react by nodding and saying, “OK, what should I be doing differently?”
Local wine and food maven Mark Huebner remembers a trip to LC’s Bar-B-Q with Serge. Serge would point to the menu and ask, “What is that?”
Mark would explain it to him and Serge would order it. And then he would point to the next thing on the menu and after hearing Mark’s explanation, he ordered that, too. He ordered everything on the menu. It was a good meal for all of us.
But it was Serge’s ironclad belief in the importance of his work that was most persuasive. He would brush away the hushed awe when people found out that he and his team had risked their lives to make these wines. No, what was more important to him was that the wine was alive.
“Wine is a living thing,” he would always say.
Serge taught me and so many others to respect that amazing ability for wine to reflect time, place and people in a malleable evolution. I hope that Serge can rest easy, at least a bit, knowing that he made Chateau Musar into the estate his father dreamed it might be.
Knowing that Musar will carry on through the strengths and hard work of his children.
And knowing that he made a thousand disciples, each of us trying to remember to seek life in a glass of wine.
Wine columnist Doug Frost is a Kansas City-based master sommelier and master of wine. To reach him, send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.