Jean-Michel Cazes: A Remembrance(1935-2023) - Wine & Spirits Magazine

Jean-Michel Cazes: A Remembrance

The Dream Away Lodge was about as far from Cordeillan-Bages as a Bordelais could get. The Lodge had none of the trappings of a Michelin-starred restaurant in Pauillac, not a white tablecloth or a chairside settee for a woman’s purse. Instead, there were paintings of Mama Frasca, the proprietress well into the 1970s, when the Rolling Thunder Revue came to play, leaving photos of Dylan and Baez in its wake, bric-a-brac aplenty, unique plates (as in, none of them the same) and, among the furnishings on the roadhouse’s screened in porch, a white porcelain “personal sauna.”

When Jean-Michel Cazes saw the steam bath on the way into the bar, he paused, found the clasp that held it closed, opened the door and climbed in. I had walked past that little sauna hundreds of times and never seen anyone inside of it, but there was Jean-Michel, his head smiling above, his feet and legs dangling below, the rest of him encased in a white box.

He was as comfortable there as he was at Wheatleigh, the Lenox inn that had put him up during the Berkshire Museum Wine Auction, which Jean-Michel had graciously agreed to join as guest of honor.

Seeing Jean-Michel in the Berkshires was really no different from seeing him in Bages, the small settlement north of Lynch-Bages in Pauillac. Having turned over the reins of the family’s Fifth Growth château, a property he had raised to the quality and pricing of a Super Second by sheer talent and force of will, Jean-Michel let his son, Jean-Charles, have his turn and retired to an office in Bages, next to a the bakery, Au Baba d’Andréa, and across from what was then the Boucherie de Bages (now a bicycle shop), all risen from the rubble (a number of ancient stone houses remain in their fallen-down state, but the square is rather spiffy now, all to Jean-Michel’s credit). We had met in his office on the square to discuss his joining the auction, to talk about the latest vintage, and life in general.

The sweep of Jean-Michel’s perspective took in the hyper-local in Bages, and in Pauillac, where his father had served as mayor. The family had come to the Médoc in 1875 from Ariège in France’s southwest; perhaps it was that background that gave Jean-Michel his cosmopolitan view to horizons as far as the US, where he became Bordeaux’s unofficial ambassador, and to China, where he was an early pioneer in the 1990s, before the market opened. When AXA, the French insurance giant, formed AXA Millesime, Jean-Michel led the project, starting with the purchase of Château Pichon-Baron in 1987, adding others, including Suidiraut in Sauternes, as well as Quinta do Noval in Portugal’s Douro and Disznoko in Hungary’s Tokaj. I have met any number of successful international business people in the world of wine, some with the brilliant taste of Jean-Michel, but few with his soulful warmth—amplified by the warm energy of Theresa, his wife, from Portugal by way of Mozambique—as if his family’s southern roots had merged into his Bordelais DNA. Nor have I witnessed a winemaker from anywhere in the world climb into the steam bath at Dream Away. Jean-Michel Cazes was the best kind of force of nature, a force that made me happy to share in humanity.

Joshua Greene is the editor and publisher of Wine & Spirits magazine.

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