Living the Dream: Haber Family Wines
Characterized by appellation and terroir, the Napa Valley is home to some of the most extraordinary wines. Where diversity unveils true character, and passion emanates from a blend of artistry, science and mother nature. For Sue-Marie and Ron Haber, the world of wine would lead them on an incredible journey filled with dedication, adversity and triumph.
Co-Founder of W&W Glass LLC, Ron Haber spent over 40 years working in New York and throughout the United States in the family architectural glass business based in Nanuet, New York. Working and traveling did not stop Ron and his wife, Sue-Marie from pursuing their avid love of wine. Together, Ron and Sue-Marie really fell in love with Howell Mountain Cabernet while attending a three day wine immersion weekend in Florida.
“Beth Nickel presented their single vineyard wine portfolios which introduced us to Howell Mountain fruit. Once we tasted the fruit from the Vogt Vineyard, we said, ‘now that speaks to us’,” said Proprietor of Haber Family Wines, Sue-Marie Haber.
With a penchant for 100% Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon, Ron and Sue-Marie traveled frequently back and forth from New York to Napa. A haven for the wine enthusiasts, Napa Valley fueled their passion. “Boxes of wine were sent to my office,” said Proprietor of Haber Family Wines, Ron Haber. “I think we counted that we belonged to 13 wine clubs at one point.”
Before long, the Haber’s had built relationships, developed a sense of community and decided to find a vacation home that they could retire to. Immersed in the lifestyle, the future Napans began a search for a property on Howell Mountain that would allow them to belong to and contribute to a community rooted in enology and viticulture.
“We told our real estate agent, Howell Mountain, Howell Mountain, Howell Mountain,” expressed Sue-Marie. “We preferably wanted land that that had never been planted so that we could plant the clones we wanted to.”
Sue-Marie and Ron were unable to find their dream property on one of their early trips. “So, I went back east and Ron flew to a trade show in Las Vegas. As he landed, our agent called and said, ‘I found it and you have three hours to make a decision before it goes on open market’,” said
Sue-Marie. “So, here we are, site unseen, unable to speak with each other and this was before pictures on phones.”
After reaching out to a local friend for advice, Ron made the decision to purchase the property. “The discussion led me to put down a non-refundable deposit, sight unseen on a credit card,” explained Ron.
Within one time sensitive decision, the Haber’s changed the course of their life. Given just five weeks to do their due diligence, Ron and Sue-Marie worked with one of the top vineyard design and vineyard management companies to ensure the property was plantable to grapes. “We closed and then five weeks later we planted our first .99 of an acre,” recalled Sue-Marie. “It would end up taking us three years to plant our 2.5 acre vineyard.”
With the purchase of their “retirement” property, the Haber’s had another decision to consider. Did they want to be growers, or become vintners? “I was college hunting with my daughter and we came out to say hi to the babies,” said Sue-Marie in reference to their early growth. “It was so exciting as bud break each year continues to be. In that moment, I called Ron and told him to begin work on the label, let’s do this.”
With 40 years experience in the construction industry, Ron’s plans for retirement shifted to a new career path overnight. “There was no retirement. I never was in quotes,”retired”. Which was really a great decision,” explained Ron.
Together, Ron and Sue-Marie launched Haber Family Vineyards with a label dedicated to Ron’s father who had started the family glass business in 1944 combined with their new respect of place on Howell Mountain showcasing small lots of 100% Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon.“We went the 100% Cabernet route because that’s what we love and we were going to follow that love,” said Ron.
Collaborating with Winemaker,Tim Milos, the Haber’s sought out mountain fruit that would enable them to begin production while they waited for their vineyard to mature. “We knew we had to find a winemaker right away. After a few interviews, a friend recommended we talk to winemaker Tim Milos. We had the opportunity to first meet Tim at a dinner in New Jersey. Within fifteen minutes, we knew he was and still remains our guy” said Ron. “We still kid with Tim that he had his check before salad was served.”
With Tim’s guidance, and while the new vineyard was taking hold, the Haber’s decided to not wait seven or eight years for their first Howell Mountain Cabernet. As luck would have it, the Haber’s found beautiful fruit from Diamond Mountain and released their first vintage with a 2006 release of 380 cases in late 2009. Their first Howell Mountain production was in 2007 with 47 cases released in 2010. “We knew it was small and we did not have any intention of selling it, but as of today, we have only 6 six bottles left. We sold it all,”explained Ron.
As the Haber’s worked tirelessly on their label, they remained in New York with the planned remodel of their vineyard home starting in early 2008. The vineyard was evolving and the promise of a bright future in the wine industry beckoned. That all changed one distinct afternoon in December of 2008.
“I was home wrapping gifts and Ron called and asked me to sit down,” recalled Sue-Marie. “Then he told me that our investment in a large fund whose main investment was Bernie Madoff was gone. Bernie Madoff had been arrested for his Ponzi scheme. At that moment, with Ron’s retirement being partially invested with the fund, we did not know what that impact was going to be.”
Handing the reins over to the next generation, Ron and his brother had completed the sale of their business to their children in 2005. The transaction enabled Ron to plan for the future which led to an investment with a trusted, close friend. After the news broke, the reality hit like a ton of bricks. “I had sold my family business, after working there for 40 years and with all that planning for the future in the Napa Valley, Bernie Madoff made it almost all disappear without any warning,” said Ron.
Suddenly, all of their hopes and dreams were at risk. The home they had put all of their heart and soul into was 95% done yet so far away. “We flew out to spend one night, probably the only night in our house. Our neighbors gave us blow up mattresses, our designer put a rug out and a couple of chairs, we cooked in the kitchen, we were devastated,” said Sue-Marie.
Ron and Sue-Marie took one last moment to look over all they had accomplished in a valley they now called home. “We flew back to New York and had many meetings with our financial team as the reality set in. After months of anticipation, a plan emerged and there was a ray of hope.”
“Our financial team came back to us and gave us three years. They told us to tighten our belts and watch every penny,” recalls Sue-Marie. “It was a definite and immediate lifestyle change. I could make a chicken last a week.”
From that moment on, the couple was not taking one minute for granted. They were able to cut back and finish their home and moved out to Napa permanently with Sue-Marie moving out in 2010 and Ron commuting until spring of 2012. Together, they dove head first into a business they loved on a Mountain they dreamed of. Over the next ten years, Ron and Sue-Marie attended every industry function, making early connections and friendships that remain today. Furthermore, the Haber’s also hand sold every bottle and continued to work with an amazing vineyard management team, and remained loyal to their talented winemaker,Tim Milos, who remains with them today.
“This is our passion. We love to grow and make wine. As for the Madoff debacle, we are better off for it. We gave this new business everything we had with a deep appreciation for the opportunity we were given in this beautiful valley,” said Ron.
The story behind Haber Family Vineyards is a reflection of the American dream and a glimpse into a relationship filled with love, strength and vitality. Together, Ron and Sue-Marie Haber faced adversity and came out on top. Proving, dreams do come true.
Article By: Valerie Owens