This article originally appeare din the February/March 2011 issue of 'Hotel and Restaurant Times'
As head of Chateaux Lynch Bages, Jean Charles Cazes is a ‘Wine Goose’, in that he is the direct successor of John Lynch who emigrated from Galway to Bordeaux in 1691 and whose son Thomas inherited an estate in the village of Bages in 1749. The family ran the estate for 75 years before selling to the Swiss Jurine family. They took charge for the next century before selling the property in 1934 to Jean Charles’s grandfather , who died in 1972 at the ripe age of 95.
And so, Jean Charles felt at home when he visited Ireland in February to taste his wines with distributor Michael Barry of Barry Fitzwilliam, restaurateurs, retailers and wine writers.
Born in 1974, Jean Charles, grew up at Lynch Bages, with his parents and three older sisters. He went to the Tivoli school in Bordeaux, where he did the Bac Scientifique, then studied economics and finance in Bordeaux, followed by internships in finance in New York and Paris. He worked as financial controller in the automobile industry for a while, living in Brazil, but returned to Bordeaux in 2002 to work for JM Cazes Selections, the branded wines production and distribution company of the family business.
Two years later, in November 2006, he took over from his father as head of the family estates of Chateau Lynch Bages, Chateau Ormes de Pez and Villa Bel-Air. His responsibilities also extended to the Michel Lynch brand of Bordeaux varietals; L’Ostal Cazes and the Circus line of wines from the Languedoc , the distribution company, JM Cazes-Selection, Xisto, a joint venture with the Roquette family in Portugal’s Douro Valley and Tapanappa, a joint venture in South Australia undertaken with the Bollinger family.
He put his experience in financial management and marketing skills to good use as ceo particularly in his approach to pricing which he based on market realities rather than the law of supply and demand. This strategy was at odds with traditional Bordeaux pricing philosophy- but it won him and Lynch Bages, many friends in international markets, particularly in times of economic recession.
The Chateau Lynch Bages estate is relatively small, just 90 hectares situated on the Bages plateau near the village of Bages itself, just southwest of Pauillac. The soil is gravel over chalk and sand, and the vineyards are planted with cabernet sauvignon (73%), merlot (15%) Merlot, cabernet franc (10%) and petit verdot (2%).
Jean Charles is not the winemaker- that post has been filled by Daniel Llose since 1977, and he was joined by Nicolas Labenne in 2006. The team has largely stuck with a style that has made Lynch-Bages world-famous apart from Blanc de Lynch Bages which gives more prominence to the sauvignon grape than in the past. The new style will mean less fermentation in barrel, with some remaining in tank to keep acidity and freshness higher.
The reds however remain largely unchanged. ‘Our red is like a cruise ship. You don’t make any fast turns’ Jean Michel said in a recent interview.
Among the wines he presented at the Dublin tasting were Chateau Ormes de Pez 2000, Chateau Villa Bel Air, L’Ostal Cazes, Michel Lynch Red and White (big sellers in Ireland) and the interesting Xisto which is the result of a collaboration between the Cazes family and Jorge Roquette from Quinta do Crasto in the Duoro Valley of Portugal. The wine won coveted awards when the 2003 vintage was launched at Vinexpo in 2005. Made from Portuguese grapes including Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca and Tinta Roriz and aged in French oak, the wine is modern and reflects the traditions of the Duoro and Bordeaux.
Jean Charles three sisters are very much involved in the business. Katrine, lives in New York State with her Israeli husband and two children, eldest sister Kinou is in the US with her Iranian husband and three children and middle sister Marina works in Bordeaux alongside Jean Charles in JM Cazes Selections.
Tradition means much to the Cazes family, including their links with John Lynch of Galway.