HAAK VINEYARDS AND WINERY SOLD
Raymond Haak Retires -- For the Second Time
by Andrew Chalk
Haak Vineyards and Winery has been sold by owners Raymond and Gladys Haak. The new owners are Troy Kyle, Case Keenum, Austin Elrod, and Kyle Johnston (Raymond Haak retains a small stake and an advisory role). The new ownership group has varied backgrounds. Kyle is an entrepreneur with a focus in the medical equipment field. He built his own company, symplr, before selling it to private equity. Kyle met Keenum and Elrod at the University of Houston, where Kyle was studying business. Keenum and Elrod played football. Kyle Johnston is winemaker (along with Tiffany Farrell, Haak’s existing winemaker).
The winery came up for sale because Raymond Haak wanted to retire and his grown children had already pursued other careers. This is his second retirement, having retired as an engineer years ago only to start working 80-hour weeks as the owner of a winery.
Troy Kyle explained to me “We looked at four other wineries in our search but Haak, as well as being very well run, had a story”.
That story is the thing that guarantees Raymond Haak a place in the (not yet built) Texas Wine Hall of Fame - the invention of a whole category of Texas wine. He took the unlovely hybrid Blanc du Bois grape and subjected it to his engineer’s propensity to tinker. The result was ‘Madeira’, an 18% alcohol Blanc du Bois submitted to the estufagem process (in his homemade estufa) under which it is heated to 105-110 degrees fahrenheit for a period of 6-12 months. The result is an oxidative sweet wine with 18% alcohol and a character similar to that of Madeira. The critic Jancis Robinson, editor of the Oxford Companion to Wine, reviewed it and scored it “superior”. Thus, Haak, the boutique winery from Sante Fe, TX, became one of the first Texas wineries to be mentioned on two continents.
The incoming team is aware that this wine and derivatives are the halo wine of Haak, but they also see potential in the Malbec which has proven popular in the tasting room and in distribution through RNDC. More generally, they are doing a quality audit of each step of the winemaking process from the yields and clones of the grapes, to the equipment and techniques in the winery, to the quality of the oak used for ageing.
They plan to continue to use 100% Texas grapes which they currently source from the Texas High Plains, Sealy, and Houston.
Part of the marketing strategy is to focus on the massive and wine-loving Houston market. The tasting room at the winery will be supplemented by one in the nearby tourist resort of Galveston, and one in the booming northern exurbs of The Woodlands. Noticeably missing is an outlet on the Texas wine industry’s storefront, US-290 (between Fredericksburg and Johnson City). “That will come later” says Kyle. Pressed on a more central Houston location he admits to being attracted to The Heights as a way to attract younger drinkers. Haak’s price points are $15-$22 retail for the table wines, and $24-$28 for the Madeira. Somewhat higher than the $13 median price for wine sold at retail in the US market, so benefitting from the attention affordable in a (post-COVID) tasting room environment.
In stores, HEB and Total Wine carry their products.
For Texas wine lovers this looks like a win. A maker of distinctive Texas wines gets the new blood of a team in touch with the strengths imbued by its founder.