I first met Bernd in 1982, in Munich, where I was living at the time. A wine pal of mine was his agent for that market, and I was invited to a gathering in honor of a visit from Bernd. I bought and loved the wines, and Bernd was, to say the least, an “interesting” guy.
His wines were in my first-ever offering of German wines to the American trade, a toe-in-the-water I floated in May of 1985. When I’d visited Bernd at the winery in Kallstadt, he also suggested a logistical and financial mechanism whereby my portfolio could be shipped, involving his old friend (and mine) Walter Strub.
Bernd’s was an outsized personality, and the tributes are bound to pour in, and they’ll be full of affection, anecdotes, and a kind of amazement that such a gargantuan persona could have walked among us.
His wines were as original as he himself was. This will also be much discussed and warmly remembered.
I have a few small observations that I think might escape many of the remembrances and encomia. Call them sentimental.
For all the cheerful bellow of Bernd’s ambience, he had a courtly side, and was invariably (and sweetly) polite to new people, especially women. Perhaps I’m guilty of reading too much into this, but I sensed a tender side to Bernd that didn’t have many chances to show. My wife reminded me that Bernd would walk his dog on Sundays to visit his mother in the next village over (Freinsheim, a stiff mile-plus walk each way, but through the vines and pretty). He was devoted to her. He was wonderfully dear with children, who adored him, especially little kids, and if you ever saw Bernd he was a large man, as stout as an oak, and with a face that could be gruff in repose, but which glowed with mischief and sweetness when he smiled.
You’ll hear much about his sybaritic ways, and the stories are all true; I never knew a hedonist as expansive or indefatigable as Bernd. I couldn’t keep up with him. His friends were legion, and all of them had tales of the most recent debauchery.
And yet he was extremely solicitous of his dog. The creature was a stray whom Bernd picked up while in Portugal, and whom he named “Perro,” which, conveniently, is Spanish for “dog.” I heard about this animal before I ever met him, in the course of a recounting of great dinners recently eaten. He asked me about a particular restaurant I’d just visited, in Bernd’s general neighborhood, and I said I liked it very much. “Haven’t you been?” I asked.
“I don’t go there,” he replied. How strange; Bernd was a guy who liked to chow down. So I asked “Why not?” and he said “Cause I can’t take my dog. If my dog doesn’t go, I don’t go!” My colleague Bill Adams made some remark to the effect that this must be a remarkable dog. “Haven’t you seen my dog?” said Bernd. “Here, I’ll show him to you.” He then moved toward a tiny little cabinet carved into the wall, large enough to maybe hold a typewriter, and Bill and I glanced at each other in horror – does he have the dog in the cabinet, we were thinking? Ahhhhhhggggghhhh….but no – Bernd returned with a studio portrait of the dog, to our mutual (and assuredly to him, inexplicable) exhalations of relief.
“He’s fatter now than he is in the picture,” said Bernd, adding “Of course I feed him everything; he eats better than I do.” We then heard a tale of a visit to a Michelin 3-star in the Black Forest whose chef and Bernd were chums – as he was with most of the top chefs of Germany. Arriving with Perro under his arm, the chef scooped him out and shooed Bernd away into the dining room. Don’t worry, we’ll take care of him. Later, on his way back from the loo, Bernd detoured to the kitchen, only to see his dog eating from three sterling silver bowls arranged in a line on the floor, and if you want to know just one thing about Bernd Philippi, know this: He is probably the only man whose dog ate a three-course dinner at perhaps the greatest restaurant in Germany at that time.