This week the wine world lost two of its most quietly influential figures.
I first met Jean-Michel Cazes who has just died at the age of 88, in 1984. At the time, he was one of a small number of Médoc Crus Classé owners who lived at the château and took a daily interest in his vineyards and the way the wine was made.
At that first encounter, and all the others over the decades, what struck me most about him was the twinkle in his eye. Cazes was a man who was interested in everything and everyone.
From insurance to wine
Like his neighbour Anthony Barton, another Médoc resident, Cazes did not move straight from adolescence into winemaking. He was an engineer at IBM until he was 30, when his father who ran a successful insurance business in Pauillac and was mayor of the town, handed him Château Lynch-Bages, the family estate in Pauillac.
Over the following half-century, he achieved the rare feat of raising a château that was ranked on the fifth, or lowest, rung of the 1855 classification to the point at which it could compete with second growths in prestige and price.
His success was not limited to Lynch-Bages, however. In 1977 he founded a negociant business called Compagnie Médocaine des Grands Crus and 10 years later, he worked with the insurance giant AXA, to found Axa-Millésimes. This business began by restoring the image of the Pauillac second growth, Château Pichon Baron, followed by investments in Châteaux Pibran (also in Pauillac), Suduiraut (Sauternes), Domain l’Arlot (Burgundy), Quinta do Noval and Passadouro (both in Portugal), Disznókő (Tokaj, Hungary), as well as Outpost Winery (Napa, USA), and Platt (Sonoma, USA). In 1988, he acquired Villa Bel-Air in Graves, followed by La Livinière in Minervois, which was renamed L’Ostal Cazes. In 1992, he introduced the Bordeaux brand Michel Lynch, and in 2005 he purchased Domaine des Sénéchaux in Châteauneuf-du-Pape.
At a time when wine tourism in the Médoc was woefully underdeveloped, he opened an exhibition space for contemporary artists and opened Lynch-Bages to tours. The nearby Cordeillan Bages was transformed into a Relais & Chateaux hotel and restaurant, while the Hameau de Bages was developed into one of the most attractive tourist attractions in the region.
Among his many roles, Cazes was President of the Winemakers Association of Pauillac and Director of the Conseil des Vins du Médoc.
In 2006, he handed the reins to his son, Jean-Charles, but remained one of the leading figures of the region.
Paul Dolan, who died in California at the age of 72, was a very different figure physically to the avuncular Cazes. Often pictured in denim, he looked every bit the cowboy and enjoyed riding horses. A fourth-generation winemaker, he was a pioneer of organic and biodynamic winemaking in the days when both were little known in California. I first met him at Fetzer Vineyards in the 1980s when he was planning the launch of Bonterra as the state’s first major organic brand. His passionate belief in the importance of the soil and biodiversity was at odds with much of an industry that still focused more on what happened in the winery than the vineyard.
As CEO of Fetzer, Dolan built it into a major brand that was sold to Concha y Toro in 2011 and renamed Bonterra Organic Estate last year. In 2011, Dolan was named “Agriculturist of the Year” by the Redwood Empire Fair Board of Directors. Many will remember the generosity with which he shared his knowledge and experience.
Additional reporting by Peter Douglas.