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Denis Dubourdieu, Bordeaux’s Renaissance Man, Passes Away

Denis Dubourdieu, professor of oenology at Bordeaux University, director of the Institute of the Science of Vines and Wines, chateau owner and consultant for major wine estates around the world, has died in Bordeaux at age 67. He succumbed to his battle with cancer.

Without doubt the most influential person in Bordeaux’s winemaking renaissance from the 1990s into this century, Dubourdieu wrote, or was involved in, over 200 research papers. Many concentrated on the science of winemaking.

Dubourdieu revolutionized the white wines of Bordeaux with his use of wood aging, yeast, lees stirring and his study identifying the molecules that give Sauvignon Blanc its aromas. In the process he became known as the Pope of white wine.

Born in Barsac, the sweet white wine area of Bordeaux, at his family’s Château Doisy-Daëne, he lived and worked his entire life in the region. A rejection by Château Latour for a job when he was fresh out of school set him off on his career as researcher at Bordeaux University.

Dubourdieu might have stayed primarily an academic except, in 1976, he and his new wife inherited Château Reynon in Cadillac Côtes de Bordeaux from her father. It became the place where he invited people to taste his wines and it remained the couple’s home for the rest of his life. Dubourdieu ran his family wine estates while continuing his work at the University.

Originally known as a white wine expert, Dubourdieu moved into red wines when his ex-student Véronique Sanders, director of Château Haut-Bailly, asked him to consult on the Pessac-Léognan estate’s red wine in 1998. He built an enviable collection of clients, including Château d’Yquem and Château Cheval-Blanc in Bordeaux. In Burgundy, he worked with Louis Jadot, in Alsace with Trimbach and in Piedmont with Pio Cesare.

His style was against excess. He didn’t like super-ripe grapes, over-extraction or too much wood in wine—trends that led to what he called “ego wines.” In the process he came to respect what the vineyard terroir gave him and put this above everything else.

He was planning to retire from the Institute of the Science of Vines and Wines this year, but illness overtook him. He is survived by Florence, his wife of 40 years, by his two sons, Fabrice and Jean-Jacques, who are working in the family businesses, and by his father, Pierre Dubourdieu.