Revered Bordeaux wine ‘ambassador’ Jean-Michel Cazes dies
The former owner of Château Lynch-Bages, Jean-Michel Cazes, a “wine ambassador extraordinaire”, has died at the age of 88.
Born in 1935 in Pauillac, where his father was later Mayor, Cazes built an impressive career in engineering before joining the wine world. After completing an engineering degree from the École nationale supérieure des mines de Paris (1958) and an M.S. in petroleum engineering at the University of Texas, he joined the French airforce for a short time, followed by roles at IBM and STAD (Empain-Schneider Group), where he was president.
He returned to Pauillac in 1973 to work with his father, André, at Château Lynch-Bages, which the family had first rented in the 1930s and then owned since 1938 (although the 1855 classified growth dates back to the first half of the 17th century). He took over management of the company with the aim to renovate the vineyards and equipment, and put together “a talented team capable of bringing out the best of the rich terroir of our properties”, he stated at the time.
In 1975, he started on essential modernisation of the property, necessary due to its poor condition, which lasted for fifteen years, gradually re-establishing the style, “finesse and regularity” of the wines, the company said. He also embarked on low-key marketing in China and the Far East from the 1990s onwards, which helped Lynch-Bages become one of France’s strongest wine brands in China.
Cazes continued to oversee the family estates – which included Château Villa Bel Air, Château Les Ormes-de-Pez, Château Cordeillan-Bages (which he converted into a hotel and two Michelin-starred restaurant), L’Ostal Cazes in Languedoc, Domaine des Sénéchaux in Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Xisto in Portugal – until 2007, when his 32-year old son Jean-Charles Cazes took over management of the company. However he continued to work with winemaker Brian Croser on the joint-project they had created in 2002 in partnership with Bollinger, Tapanappa in Coonawarra, South Australia.
In addition to the family wine and insurance business, in 1987 Cazes was also appointed by French insurance business AXA Millésimes to establish and manage its wine business. Its assets included Château Pichon Longueville Baron, Château Suduiraut, Cantenac Brown, and Petit Village chateaux in Bordeaux, along with Port producer Quinta do Noval in the Douro Valley, and Hungarian Tokaji producer Disznókő estate. He managed these until 2000.
Cazes has been described as “a wine ambassador extraordinaire, a wine ambassador international and a wine ambassador of Bordeaux”, while Croser called him “a great custodian of the traditions of Pauillac”, and “the man I most admire”. “[He] but is a perfectionist informed by sound science and reason in an age when myth and spirituality resonate irrationally,” he said.
Cazes was made a Chevalier de la Legion d’Honneur in 2002 for recognition for his contribution to French life and was also awarded a lifetime achievement award by the drinks business and the Institute of Masters of Wine in 2011