Leaving Pauillac in 1953, the young Jean-Michel Cazes didn't think he would return because, according to him, the Médoc had little interest for his generation. He had grown up in the city, spent the summers in Bages and ran barefoot with the immigrants of the Basque and Spanish families. At that time, for him, Lynch-Bages rhymed with fields of cows and horses and the wine interested him little. His taste for this one appeared much later, around glasses of Alsatian wine while he was a student in Paris.
Jean Michel Cazes, wine-grower in Bordeaux
Requested in 1987 by Axa, he participated in the construction of Axa-Millésimes, which he managed for 14 years. In 1988, he acquired new properties: Villa Bel-Air in Graves, then La Livinière in Languedoc, renamed L'Ostal Cazes and, in 2005, Domaine des Sénéchaux in Châteauneuf-du-Pape. He also creates new wines, in Portugal and Australia, in partnership with family companies. Find the story of this great man
He developed its taste for wine and the Médoc while drinking Alsatian wines as an engineering student in Paris
By the time he returned to the Médoc in 1973 after a career at IBM, his father had already been running Château Lynch-Bages for over 25 years while also building up a successful insurance business.
The estate had remained unchanged since the 1880s and was described by Jean-Michel at the time as “very dilapidated, with machinery in a poor state, buildings cobbled together and dirt floors.” In addition, the weather was so bad during the first week back that his wife wanted to leave again!
The income from wine being insufficient to live, Jean-Michel partnered with his father in the insurance business but found that he preferred spending time at Lynch-Bages, where began a phase of modernization in the winery, notably with the installation of stainless steel vats. The vineyard area also grew as he was approached by descendants of local winemakers who wanted to sell up.
The early 70s was a difficult period due to the global oil crisis, coupled with challenging vintages and a wine fraud scandal, both of which damaged consumer confidence in Bordeaux.
Fortunately the Cazes family was able to weather the storm, in part due to collaboration with American importers and a series of promotional events across a number of US cities which Jean-Michel attended. This also heralded the beginning of wine tourism at Lynch-Bages as, when he travelled, Jean-Michel always encouraged people to come and visit. These tourists were always regarded as potential customers and in the early days, were always invited to stay for lunch!
The Baba D’Andrea bakery arrived in 2003
Inspired by an experience at Georges Dubœuf’s Hameau du Vin in Beaujolais and a visit to the Village Blanc by chef Georges Blanc in Vonnas, Jean-Michel took the decision to renovate the hamlet of Bages adjoining the château when he realized he owned the “empty, unusable houses and sheds.”
A first-time visitor to the hamlet today could be forgiven for thinking they had stumbled onto a film set of a small French village, with its perfect shop fronts and old paving stone surface.
First to arrive in 2003 was the Baba D’Andrea bakery, named after his grandmother’s famous Rum Baba desert and a reference to the fact that his grandfather had been a baker. Such was its popularity with the local community that Café Lavinal, a typical French brasserie designed in a 1930’s style was added in 2006 and the Aladdin’s cave of the Bages Bazaar gift shop followed.
A 4* hotel and a 1 Michelin-starred restaurant
Other enterprises have been added over the years and considering that the 4* hotel of Cordeillan-Bages with its 1 Michelin-starred restaurant is next door, it is easy to see why Jean-Michel refers to the hamlet as “the Médoc base camp” and a destination for visitors for “as well as providing services not found elsewhere, the village is steeped in the history of winemaking and important for understanding the spirit of the region.”