We are very proud to have worked with Jean-Michel Cazes and Jane Anson on the English edition of his memoirs, titled From Bordeaux to the Stars in English, and to have published it a few months before his passing in June. Collaborating with a titan of the Bordeaux wine industry has been a real honor, and his book explores the story of Bordeaux’s 20th-century renaissance from the perspective of not just someone with a seat at the table but also one of the key drivers of that rebirth.
Jean-Michel was determined to make wine of ever-improving quality at Château Lynch-Bages, using technological developments. This included bringing in a specialist enologist, Daniel LLose, in the mid-1970s, when very few Bordeaux châteaux had one. Llose’s skill couldn’t entirely protect the château from some of the notoriously difficult vintages that were the curse of the ’70s. Still, Jean-Michel had a partner to help with mitigating as best they could many of the issues that these vintages presented.
During the period this excerpt highlights, beginning in 1976, Jean-Michel had been working at Lynch-Bages for three years, having come to winemaking without experience but with some exposure to it during his childhood in Pauillac. With his intelligence and resourcefulness, however, he was bound to learn and experiment in equal measure, changing previously established practices as he grew in confidence, both in the château and at the commercial level, including internationally. He was instrumental in promoting key Bordeaux châteaux in the US, for instance, and his development of his estate in Pauillac into a top-tier visitor attraction has not been rivaled in the region.
He will be much missed both in Bordeaux and across the wider wine world for his generosity and energy, as well as his intelligence and great instinct.
- Hermione Ireland
We had to urgently take care of Lynch-Bages. With the help of the engineer Paul-Jacques Larrégieu, Daniel LLose and I studied the most appropriate work to be done to meet the needs of the coming decades. We drew up a set of specifications corresponding to the vinification of the harvest of a vineyard of about 80 hectares, which seemed ambitious to us at the time, but time would one day prove that we were thinking too small. Taking as a starting point the metal vats installed in the old cowshed in 1975, we drew up a program to extend the equipment and renovate the buildings.
In 1976, we added five vats, giving us 12 for the 1977 harvest. Each one could contain 209 hectoliters of wine. The harvest went off without a hitch, but the summer leading up to it had been mediocre and the ripening of the grapes difficult, giving a forgettable vintage with a slightly vegetal character.
In 1978, we acquired six additional stand-alone vats of 180 hectoliters, so slightly smaller. Working in the cellar became more comfortable and the harvest, which was late that year, was good quality. The rainy summer was saved by six weeks of good weather in September lasting until mid-October, and the resulting wine was balanced, delicious, well-structured without being hard: the equal of the 1975, but less tannic and more supple. At Haut-Brion, the day after the harvest, I had the opportunity to taste a preview. I was struck by the quality, the finesse, and the “modernity” of the wine.
IN THE COMMERCIAL LANDSCAPE, we finally saw a patch of blue sky. In the spring of 1979, the market was buzzing. It seemed that, for the first time since 1972, the En Primeur sales campaign could be successful.
Knowing what was at stake, tension rose as we waited for the wines to be released. Brokers scoured the vineyards, the owners watched each other and hesitated. . . . Suddenly, at the beginning of spring, Henri Martin came out of the woodwork; offering his Château Gloria at 24 francs a bottle, an increase of 75 percent on the year before.
There was an outcry. The négociants, unanimous, accused him of “sawing off the branch on which we are all sitting.” Jean-Yves Parde, boss of the English company Delor (which had not yet completely disappeared), wrote an open letter to the profession along the same lines. Jean-Paul Jauffret and Philippe Cottin, whose wisdom I always appreciated, shared this opinion. Both of them advised me to try to calm things down, to set an example by “getting out” as quickly as possible at a “reasonable” price. My father wasn’t sure. If Martin was right, taking into account the hierarchy of the vintages, we should offer Lynch-Bages at around 32 francs. But we were frightened to make such a jump. For his part, Henri Martin, when I visited him, claimed he had sold out entirely—but was it just bravado? I had no way of checking.
We needed to sell and were not in a position to fail, so finally I listened to our friends’ advice of moderation. My father agreed with me and we set the price at 28 francs. Our price was well received, brokers and merchants congratulated us, and we were relieved to see the sales pouring in.
We waited for our wisdom to be imitated by our peers. Nothing happened for a fortnight . . . until one fine morning, when I learned of the release of Château X . . . at 32 francs! In the same breath, Y, Z, and the other Second Growths or “Super Seconds,” as they called them, also announced . . . all at 32 francs. A little sheepishly, I went to tell my father the news, who replied placidly and indulgently: “Well, we’ve lost money.”
The reality was that this successful campaign allowed us to begin our modernization program. Cautiously, because the payment of the sales during En Primeur doesn’t all come immediately—we received some at the end of 1979 and the balance in the middle of 1980. But as soon as we could, we created a modern harvest entrance and fitted out underground vats to allow pumping over during vinification and blending. The 1980 harvest, of average quality, was, for the first time, carried out in real technical comfort.
However, in 1981 we had a potentially serious incident. At the end of the harvest, with all our vats full, and a third almost finished with fermentation, we found that in a dozen vats, fermentation slowed down, then stopped completely. We had no idea why.
After a more or less normal start to the process, the yeasts seemed to give up the fight, leaving a sugar level in the must of around 10 to 12 grams per liter—the perfect breeding ground for bacteria, which would soon produce acetic acid. The specter of vinegar was looming, just like in 1973, but this time more serious and inexplicable. We tried the classic pied de cuve technique, which consisted of inoculating the recalcitrant vat with a little fermenting juice. It was a complete failure.
The prospect of losing two-thirds of the harvest kept me awake at night. Of course, we called on our mentor, Emile Peynaud, but he didn’t have an explanation either, although he did reassure us that he had seen this before, and advised us to add sulfur to protect the must and let the cold of the winter take hold, and then wait: “It will start up again in May.” It wasn’t an encouraging prospect, but I agreed with him. What else could we do?
Daniel LLose, however, refused to give up. He noticed that fermentation had finished, or stopped, in all the vats, except for the one with the number 12. That one continued to work, but very slowly. After having proceeded, for safety, to a light sulfiting of all the vats, he observed and waited for the end of the fermentation of this vat 12, which happened about 10 days later.
He then withdrew a few hectoliters, with which he sowed other vats. Another failure. Finally, he decided to empty the vat entirely but reserved a little of the liquid at the bottom that was loaded with active yeast. He then refilled the tank with the contents of one of the tanks that had stopped fermenting, and waited. The “12” began to ferment again, slowly, and managed to transform all of its sugar into alcohol. Daniel started the operation again, still in the same vat 12, and repeated the process until all the must had been transformed into wine. In the end, two-thirds of the harvest went into the magic vat and we celebrated the end of fermentation on January 1, 1982, two months late. But what a relief that it was finished!
We regularly spoke with Emile Peynaud and the specialists at the Bordeaux Institute of Oenology about our 1981 adventure. We would later learn that the same phenomenon affected many properties. In 1981, and especially in 1982, the Pauillac laboratory was overwhelmed with samples until Christmas. No one has a precise explanation. It simply seemed that the yeasts, which are after all living beings, failed for some reason. In 1983, the Institute’s team, led by Pascal Ribéreau-Gayon, was able to find the solution by demonstrating that the addition of “yeast hulls” was enough to stimulate and activate alcoholic fermentation by counteracting certain inhibitors. It was the last time such an issue occurred.
Meanwhile, the 1982 harvest was looking good. The weather was fine and hot during the summer with just the right amount of rain, and the grapes ripened early. The harvest started ahead of schedule and took place under a radiant sun—with the exception of a heavy storm which did the vines some good.
We introduced a change, a revolution in fact. Abandoning the hand-drawn color curves and the handwritten tables dear to the hearts of enologists in the 1970s, and at the time indispensable for monitoring the vat room, we bought an Apple II, the first portable personal computer in the young history of computing. With this magical device, I installed the VisiCalc software, the ancestor of Excel tables.
Impressed by its possibilities, I entrusted its use to my father-in-law João-Maria Carregal Ferreira. A retired airline pilot, he had been flying for African airlines for years and was fascinated by new technologies. In 1981, he fled his native Mozambique, where civil war had broken out after the 1975 declaration of independence, and now spent his time between France and Portugal.
He threw himself into learning about the fledgling computer. In the early hours of the morning, as we approached harvest, he settled down at the keyboard of the Apple II. Thanks to VisiCalc, we now recorded all the information necessary for traceability in an organized manner, noting for each barrel of grapes arriving from the vineyard which plot it came from, its analytical characteristics, its destination vat, as well as all the data covering the progress of fermentation. We archived everything on disc drives that are now prehistoric, and set up the very beginning of computerized wine management.
There can’t have been many of us in Bordeaux in 1982 to bring a computer into the cellar, and we may even have been the first. Of course, ever since the lightning progress of technology has seen new advances every year, and will continue to do so. . . .
The year 1982 was also when, for the first time—and I don’t think I’ve seen it since—the grape pickers took advantage of the weather to go to the beach as soon as their day’s work was over. The Atlantic coast, at Hourtin, was only 35 minutes away.
After so much good weather, the harvest was abundant, and we were still a little short of space. While managing the vats, we sometimes needed to store extra wine in a tanker lorry lent to us by a cousin who worked as a transporter. It stayed parked in front of our vat house for a month. I have also heard—although I have no proof—that some wine growers used their swimming pools for extra storage.
The wines, once finished, seemed good, really good, almost too good. They had an unusual character. The alcohol level was quite high, the tannins were very supple, and there was a lot of flavor. The style was clearly different from previous years. The vintage was a kind of UFO, and we weren’t quite sure what to make of it.
Around December, Emile Peynaud suggested to the small group we were forming for promotional operations in France and abroad that we should organize a tasting of the vintage. Bruno Prats from Cos d’Estournel, Michel Delon from Léoville-Las Cases, Claude Ricard from Domaine de Chevalier, Thierry Manoncourt from Château Figeac, and I met Peynaud in Bordeaux, at Francis Garcia’s restaurant, Chapon Fin.
The lunch was kicked off by a comparative tasting of our newborn vintage. A little anxious, I set off for Bordeaux with my sample. We all tasted it in silence. I immediately felt a great relief: all the Lynch-Bages wines showed a distinctive character—and what’s more they fitted in perfectly among this distinguished company. When the tasting was over, I rushed to a phone to congratulate Daniel LLose: “Bravo! Our 1982 is magnificent!”
In the weeks that followed, merchants, brokers, and journalists came from all over to get to know the new wine. As we ourselves had perceived at the beginning, some found it too good, too supple, and criticized its supposed lack of aging capacity. This was particularly true of the old-guard English critics, who were fairly unanimous in reproaching it for a lack of tannic structure. In reality, there was no lack of it, but the tannins had a different profile that year.
They were more savory, more supple, more ripe. Some people also criticized the wine for being too low in acidity, which, according to them, would not allow it to age well.
In reality, this was exactly the type of wine that Emile Peynaud had been advocating for the past 20 years. I can still hear him telling us: “A good wine is a wine with low acidity, without harshness. It is not the acidity, but the quality of the tannin that allows the wine to age harmoniously.”
Despite the disagreements at the beginning, consumers loved it, and therefore so did the trade. A wine that could be drunk early; what could be better for merchants? The Primeur campaign was successful in the spring of 1983.
The subsequent harvest confirmed the recovery. The month of September, hot and very dry, made up for the summer’s distinctly average weather. In terms of quality, without reaching the level of its predecessor, the 1983 vintage was good. Commercially, it was somewhat overshadowed by the extreme media coverage of the previous vintage, and sales were lackluster, but went ahead without a hitch. We were, by this point, more or less out of the rut of the 1970s, and could finally look forward to the future with more peace of mind.
At Lynch-Bages, the following years were marked by many improvements. We repaired the roofs and enlarged the vat house, which by now bore no resemblance to the old stables and cowshed. We installed seven new tanks and for the first time chose stainless steel, which was stronger, easier to maintain and held the temperature more evenly—something that had previously been prohibitively expensive to achieve.
Harvests follow one another and are rarely alike. The 1984 harvest, carried out in rainy weather, gave us wines that were a little diluted, but nevertheless pleasant. The Cabernets resisted better than the Merlots but it was an average harvest in terms of volume and quality. Fortunately, the technical means we now had at our disposal allowed us to work comfortably. The 1984 was soon eclipsed by the 1985 vintage. During the winter, it was bitterly cold and three beautiful hundred-year-old trees in the Lynch-Bages garden were destroyed by the freezing temperatures. I had climbed them so often as a child that I was sad to see them disappear. In terms of quality, the year was excellent. The summer was superb, the grapes were picked in perfect conditions of maturity. The wines were balanced, the concentration good, the tannins supple and melting. . . .
Later, well after the spring En Primeur sales (which were a success, with the dollar peaking at nearly 11 francs in 1986), I received a visit from James Suckling, then columnist for the New York Wine Spectator. Charged by Marvin Shanken to cover the wines of Bordeaux, he came in the autumn of 1988 to taste the latest vintages. We received him at Lynch-Bages. He seemed to appreciate what we offered him. As he left me, he said in a mysterious tone: “You will have good news tomorrow.” I asked what he meant, but he did not say anything more and went on his way. The next day, I received a phone call from a New York importer who congratulated me: the Wine Spectator had published, for the first time, its list of Top 100 Wines of the Year. Lynch-Bages was at the top with its 1985. I was filled with joy.
One day later, another phone call. It was Ab Simon, the head of Seagram’s Château & Estate Wines Co. He told me that he had recently reviewed his wine stocks. He found himself a bit light on a few vintages. Which ones? Finally, he said: “1985! I need a bit more 1985 Lynch-Bages!” I burst out laughing and asked him if he had read the Wine Spectator. . . .
YOU NEVER KNOW where wine will take you.
Autumn 1984. It was 7pm and I was still at my desk in the insurance agency. The telephone rang. On the other end of the line, a man with a pronounced French regional accent from the Béarn department introduced himself, rolling his r’s: it was the fashion designer André Courrèges. He immediately asked me a question that was unexpected, to say the least: “Do you want to send your wine to the moon?” Like everyone else, I had heard of Courrèges. At first, I thought it was a joke . . . but it was really him.
Courrèges explained that he was in contact with the astronaut Patrick Baudry, who in a few months’ time was due to become the first Frenchman to fly on board the American space shuttle Challenger. Originally from Bordeaux, he was a wine lover, and wanted to honor his home region by taking a sample of the local production with him into space.
The whole thing seemed crazy, but I was immediately hooked. I arranged for Patrick Baudry to visit Lynch-Bages. The astronaut could only spare a short time, so I sent a helicopter to fetch him. He spent a day with us and explained that he didn’t yet know how he would be able to take wine with him in the space shuttle, but he needed a partner who was willing to supply it in the appropriate form, which had yet to be defined. He was also extremely clear: it was not to be about advertising a brand, but about honoring Bordeaux and its wine.
The space shuttle Challenger was due to take off from Cape Kennedy in March 1985, and finally Baudry obtained the necessary authorization to put a half bottle of wine and some vine leaves in his luggage. He invited me to attend the launch in Florida with my family. In the end, Baudry was not on Challenger, which had technical problems, but on Discovery, which left on June 17, 1985, and we were there to watch the deafening, emotional spectacle of the takeoff.
While Thereza and the children returned to France, I flew to California for the landing at Edwards Air Force Base, near Los Angeles, almost a week later. The atmosphere was radically different, and I could feel the anxiety of the ground crew as we waited. All eyes were on the sky. Discovery suddenly appeared, high in the sun, and landed in a glide, almost stealthily, in a strange and unexpected silence. It was nothing like the takeoff, but it was still an emotional experience.
As Discovery orbited the planet, the Fête de la Fleur, organized by the Commanderie du Bontemps de Médoc et des Graves, took place at Château Cantemerle on June 22, 1985. I was told that Grand Master Henri Martin, surrounded by the Order’s dignitaries, concluded his welcome speech by proudly pointing his finger to the sky: “The first wine from space is passing over our heads tonight. And it is a Bordeaux wine!” Mission accomplished.
The little bottle of Lynch-Bages that has circumnavigated the world 110 times is now on display in our reception room. We didn’t drink it. I doubt that its journey of less than a week in weightlessness has had any qualitative impact. It is the 1975 vintage.
EACH VINTAGE WAS NOW APPROACHED with fewer and fewer technical difficulties, and both the 1986 and 1987 harvests went smoothly. The 1986 is a classic vintage, which stood out for its tannic power. Blend tastings took time, as it was difficult to taste more than a dozen samples in the same session. The 1987, lighter in style due to the rains at the end of September, benefited from the improvements in our working methods.
In 1988, we launched a vast project to renovate and extend our farm buildings. We also improved the technical nature of the installation. We added a temperature exchanger coil in each tank and installed hot and cold water networks controlled by thermal probes connected to an illuminated panel that showed a stylized, colored plan of the vat room floor. The temperature of the tanks could be read in real time. New independent circuits supplied compressed gas (which replaced the old bellows for racking) and nitrogen, whose chemical inertia made it possible to handle the wines safely, in particular during racking or storage in vats.
At the same time, we worked on Ormes de Pez [the family’s other Bordeaux estate]. The work here was less extensive, but we renovated and enlarged the barrel cellars and installed a brand-new vat room in 1981.
In November 1989, with the harvest and vinification finished, I set off for the Hôtel Le Gray d’Albion in Cannes, where I had been invited to present our wines by the three-starred chef Jacques Chibois, who reigned over this high palace of French gastronomy. I was in the middle of my presentation when, at the back of the room, somebody began signaling that I was wanted on the phone. It seemed urgent. I made an excuse, left my audience, and rushed out to take the call. Our secretary Annie Ayestaran then told me that a fire had broken out at Les Ormes de Pez. I ask her if it was serious. She simply replied: “I see smoke!” “Where are you?” I asked. “At my office in Bages.” If Annie could see the smoke from nine kilometers away, then the fire was serious. She assured me that the fire brigade was at work. . . .
Back in Pauillac the next day, I realized the extent of the disaster. Fortunately, the wall that separated the brand-new vat room from the room where the fire developed acted as a firebreak. The 1989 harvest, still entirely in the vats, was safe. But the main barrel cellar was destroyed, and with it two-thirds of the 1988 harvest.
Once the fire was out, we turned to our insurers. It was a delicate matter. A large proportion of our 1988 wines had been sold En Primeur, as usual. They had not yet been paid for; the first installment being due at the end of 1989. As an insurer myself, I knew how important it was to be well covered in the event of a claim and our contract was up to date. That said, the insurance company raised a problem: we were no longer the owners of the wines sold.
According to their interpretation, the wines belonged to about 30 buyers, many of whom had already sold them on to foreign importers. The expert, dealing with this kind of problem for the first time, therefore decided it was necessary to check that each buyer was properly insured. It would then be up to the owner of the wine to make the claim, which would be paid to them, if they were well covered, by their insurer. In other words, mission impossible, because it would be incredibly difficult to find owners scattered all over the world. The settlement would take years.
My father and I contested this. We wanted to show that the action of selling En Primeur did not lead to a change of ownership, and maintained that this only occurred at the time of delivery. We were therefore still the legal owners of the wines in our cellar. It was obviously essential for us—and for our customers—to deal with a single insurer.
For once, wine taxation came to our rescue: it had recently been ruled that VAT on wine sales was due at the time of physical delivery of the goods, not at the time of the commercial act, whether it took place En Primeur or not. Physical delivery is defined by the date on which the batches of wine were “individualized.” This meant, in practice, at the time of bottling, which is generally carried out between 18 months and two years after the harvest. If payments are made before this “theoretical delivery,” they are considered to be mere advance payments. Partial or even total payment did not therefore lead to a transfer of ownership. The producer was still responsible. As we had not yet received any payment, we were unquestionably the owners of the wine. The insurance company accepted our arguments, and, from the beginning of 1990, we were able to offer our customers either partial delivery (the third of the harvest saved made it possible to make a few deliveries) or compensation.
The only issue was that the amount of the indemnity was equal to the value of the property on the day of the loss. Between the Primeur campaign and the month of November, Ormes de Pez 1988 had gained 20 percent in value. For many, the choice was quickly made: they preferred to receive the indemnity and gain 20 percent on a purchase commitment for which they had not yet paid anything. This case has remained a textbook example for the profession, which finally established clear rules for the settlement of claims concerning wines that have been the subject of a Vente En Primeur.
After 15 years of effort and work, and despite an often difficult economic situation, we had by this point established a solid operation at our two properties. For my father and I, the time had come to celebrate this by showing our friends and the wine world the work we had accomplished. A Fête de la Fleur celebration would be the ideal occasion at which to do this. In 1988, we applied to the Commanderie du Bontemps authorities to host the event. Our request was granted for the spring of 1989; the date set for June 23!
FÊTE DE LA FLEUR had become an important event in the life of the Médoc, an opportunity to receive wine friends from all over the world at a time in June when the Médoc is always at its most beautiful. I was determined that the Lynch-Bages festival would make an impression.
Interested in the history of the town of Pauillac, I did some research in the archives of the commune. I found the minutes of the municipal councils held during the French Revolution—a mine of anecdotes that bring back to life characters whose names can be found in the contemporary Médoc: Pichon-Longueville, Castéja, Lynch, and so on. The idea came to me to bring some of these figures back to life. I imagined a stage in which they would participate in the evening and transport our guests to the Pauillac of the Revolution. . . .
Shortly afterwards, I received a telephone call from Michel Le Collen, a helicopter pilot in Bordeaux who had previously brought a few particularly distinguished visitors to Lynch-Bages. His son Eric, he told me, was a “director of large-scale shows.” He was the kingpin of the Battle of Castillon, an open-air show that attracted many spectators every summer.
Eric had been contacted by the Bordeaux city council to organize a large wine festival, based on the model of those that were popular in the city at the beginning of the 20th century. He was enthusiastic but he knew nothing about wine or its history in Bordeaux. His father therefore asked me to help by providing him with some historical elements: a “crash course,” as it were.
I received Eric Le Collen in Lynch-Bages, where we had a long conversation. The longer we spoke, the more interested I became in him. He was a director, an actor, a musician, sometimes a dancer, and had experience of directing. While talking about wine, I mentioned my project and asked him if he would like to think about it.
Two weeks later, he visited me again. The French Revolution in Pauillac, he explained, “is a good idea . . . today, in 1988.” But the Lynch-Bages festival would be taking place the following year, in 1989, when the whole country would be celebrating the bicentenary of the national event. All the newspapers, radios and television channels would be full of it, and the subject would be saturated. In his opinion, a different theme had to be found, and he had a suggestion. . . .
Having learned that in 1985 our wine went around the world on board the space shuttle Discovery, he devised a scenario: “Bordeaux wine is widely distributed on all continents of the globe. All that remains is making it known in the cosmos. . . . It so happens that Captain Desquet, commander of a spacecraft, is a distant descendant of Jean-Odule Paulin d’Esquet, mythical founder of the Commanderie du Bontemps in the 12th century. The Grand Master of Bontemps observes that the wines of the Médoc are suffering from a distribution deficit in the stars, where they are not yet sufficiently well known, and he then asks d’Esquet to set off on a new mission, with the aim of opening up new markets. . . .”
Eric Le Collen envisaged a musical that would take place during dinner. He imagined transforming the room into a spaceship whose passengers would be our guests, designing costumes, writing an original text and music, and hiring actors. He didn’t want a “high-tech” aesthetic and instead suggested we recreate a Jules Verne–style universe, inspired by the novel From the Earth to the Moon (1865).
Eric set to work on the texts, to which, as a faithful reader of Jules Verne in my youth, I contributed. Dominique Pichou started working on the sets and costumes. Our whole team got involved. For almost a year, everyone worked hard towards the preparation of this evening, which we wanted to be original, memorable, and successful.
JUNE 23, 1989. The rehearsal, which took place the day before, was not a success. Coordinating the serving of food and the scenes of The Amazing Adventure of the Esquet Mission was no small task, and by the time our guests arrived, we were all on edge.
The cocktail party began on the lawn, and the evening got underway. In our new storage room, transformed into a spaceship thanks to the magic wand of Dominique Pichou, we installed 1,200 guests with their boarding passes. Alongside the wine personalities, we received many friends of wine, and in particular the astronaut Patrick Baudry to whom Lynch-Bages owed the honor of being the first wine in space.
He was accompanied by three of his colleagues, including Joseph Allen, NASA astronaut, and the first American to have performed a spacewalk. The compere for the evening was my friend Christian Morin, radio and television personality and clarinet player, acting as master of ceremonies.
The Commanderie’s Grand Master, Henri Martin, made a welcoming speech. His health was not good at this point and he had been waiting for the meal to begin in his car. At the last moment, he put on his robe and grabbed his scepter before going on stage. His duty done, too weak to attend the evening, he returned to Beychevelle. It was his last public appearance, and I know the effort it required of him. He wanted to take part in our Festival and I will always be grateful to him for being there.
The Grand Chancellor—that is, my father—followed him to announce the theme of the evening. I recently found the few words he had scribbled on a piece of paper: “I met the captain several months ago and told him of our desire to make our wines known everywhere. . . . ‘The earth is too small,’ he replied, ‘for the glory of the Médoc and Graves. If you accept my offer, I will set up an interplanetary mission that will make our wines known throughout the entire universe.’ He convinced me. He patiently selected his crew and mapped out his itinerary. Present every day on the construction site of this vessel in which you are now sitting, he has prepared the F89-LB mission with precision and skill. This is an extraordinary journey that you are going to be part of tonight. Let’s go to the galaxy! I welcome here Captain Jean-Odule Paulin d’Esquet!”
The liftoff began. In contrast to the previous day’s rehearsal, everything went without a hitch. During dinner, which was perfectly coordinated with the show, the captain and his crew visited one planet after another, experiencing the most surprising adventures. The show was a complete success and the audience was captivated. Marvin Shanken, owner of the Wine Spectator in New York, grabbed me by the shoulder and said in my ear: “This is major league!” Coming from such a champion of marketing and publicity, this was indeed no small endorsement.
The dinner ended with the return to earth of the captain, received, with deserved congratulations, by the Grand Chancellor. The Chancellor asked him to leave immediately, as there were still some remote corners of the universe where action was needed. He suggested that he should go without delay to the space rocket which was waiting for him in the garden of the estate. It was almost midnight. Our 1,200 guests followed and applauded the crew as they entered the small raised kiosk at the back of the park, illuminated by spotlights.
No sooner had they disappeared than the rocket rose into the night, shooting jets of fire towards the ground. At the controls of his helicopter, hidden behind the wall, Michel Le Collen took off vertically. The illusion was perfect and the audience was amazed. Only the prefect of Aquitaine seemed to sulk at the show. I would learn a few days later that he was angry with the pilot for having taken risks by flying over the crowd.
For our family, this 1989 Fête de la Fleur marked the culmination of 15 years of study, reflection, investment, and work, an important stage in the life of our family company. It was one of many rich celebrations held by the Commanderie de Bontemps, and set the bar high for future events. I went on to be involved in the organization of three other Fêtes de la Fleur, always working with Eric Le Collen: they were at Pichon-Longueville in 1992, Cantenac-Brown in 1997, and Ormes de Pez in 2002, plus a Ban des Vendanges harvest festival at Cantenac-Brown. On each occasion, we tried to do as well as we had done in 1989 and sometimes came close, but none of them gave me as much joy as the Lynch-Bages festival.
This excerpt first appeared in From Bordeaux to the Stars: The Reawakening of a Wine Legend, written by Jean-Michel Cazes and translated by Jane Anson, published by Académie du Vin Library. It has been minimally edited for style and length. Used with permission.
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