From dusty backwater to vinous paradise

From dusty backwater to vinous paradise
Jean-Michel Cazes, who died in June this year, was one of the architects of modern Bordeaux. In particular, it was his ambition and drive which transformed Pauillac from a dusty backwater into a destination for wine lovers. Here, in an excerpt from his autobiography From Bordeaux to the Stars, he describes how he planned to attract people to the northern reaches of the Médoc. It was a simple principle, he writes: ‘Every visitor was a potential customer.’
‘AT THIS POINT, only a few rare visitors made it up to Bages. A few Bordeaux brokers, sometimes a merchant from La Place, a stray foreigner or, occasionally, a British journalist. Never a simple tourist... until one afternoon in the summer of 1975, when I was parking in the courtyard of Lynch-Bages. I saw somebody that I didn’t know standing by the old manure pit. There was nothing Médocain about his appearance. Out of curiosity, I approached him and introduced myself. He answered me in English and introduced himself in turn. His name was Sherwood Deutsch, an American wine merchant from Rochester, New York, and he said he was interested in what we were doing. In these lean times, I welcomed the traveller with open arms. I took him around our cellars and organized an impromptu tasting. He asked lots of questions and we formed a friendship that would last for decades. This meeting was the first of many. Over the following months, the Médoc saw the arrival of increasing numbers of wine professionals from America, eager to get to know more about the places where these wines, which were beginning to gain a reputation in the United States, were produced. The American merchants took things seriously, but several groups of non-professional travellers also arrived around this time, and I began to understand that these visits reflected a rising public interest in our property. I also realized that every visitor was a potential customer. The fact that they had made it this far showed their interest – it was up to us to then convert them. I pooled my resources with a few friends, in particular Jean-Eugène Borie from Ducru-Beaucaillou and Jean-Louis Charmolue from Montrose, and set about ‘making friends’. In our eyes, this simple principle was a key part of our job from that moment on. We were helped in our efforts by the open-mindedness of many owners, notably Philippe de Rothschild, who had a head start over most of us in terms of hospitality and put his resources and his team at our disposal.
After Sherwood Deutsch, they came from all over. Mainly Americans, often young, serious and attentive. My friends from the Médoc and I put on a big show. At the time, there were no hotels or restaurants worthy of the name in the area, so we hosted visitors in our homes and organized lunches or dinners at each others’ châteaux. Meals at Ducru-Beaucaillou or Montrose, where Monique Borie and Anne-Marie Charmolue lived, were always exceptional moments. Thereza and I were unable to entertain at Lynch-Bages, where the main house had been empty since my grandmother’s death in August 1975, and needed a full overhaul, but we often ate in the dining room of my father’s house – he, at this point, lived alone on the quays of Pauillac, and was very welcoming. His dining room also offered a panoramic view of the Gironde, as well as his cellar, well stocked with Christmas gifts given to the mayor of Pauillac by the owners of the Grands Crus of the appellation. Frank Johnson, from New York, would later describe his first visit in September 1975: ‘While I was staying with the Cazes’, Jean-Michel burst into my room one morning at 8 o’clock and said: “Frank, get up! Forget that you only had seven hours of sleep after drinking Armagnac last night with Thereza and me at the Saint-James. Jean-Eugène Borie is welcoming his new head of culture. He’s organizing a breakfast and we’re already late...!” “Do I have time for a shower?” “Make it quick. No breakfast. We won’t need it.”’
Taken from Bordeaux to the Stars by Jean-Michel Cazes published by Académie du Vin Library.
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