Bages of Honor
The owners of Château Lynch-Bages transform the tiny hamlet surrounding their vineyards and winery into a gracious retreat that pays tribute to the art of living well.
“Americans,” wrote the novelist Edith Wharton, “want to get away from amusement even more quickly than they want to get to it.” Certainly, my small group of compatriots and I confirm the latter half of this observation as we speed along country roads from the Loire Valley to Bordeaux. Ensconced behind the tinted windows of our two BMW sedans, we whip through bends in the road and canopies of chartreuse-colored spring foliage. As the black sedan in the lead veers left at a fork, I notice two helmeted figures emerging from the verdant shadows. “Slow down,” I tell my companion, who, having already spied the gendarmes, applies the brakes. A pair of menacing motorcycles approach us from behind, their lights flashing; but as we prepare to pull over, the riders shoot by us.
Our relief is only momentary: A few miles farther, we find our friends’ sedan marooned on the grassy roadside, the skeptical policemen, now dismounted, smoking cigarettes through the upturned visors of their helmets. Although we are only a short distance from our destination, Château Cordeillan-Bages in Pauillac, our much-anticipated arrival is delayed another three hours as various law-enforcement agents engage in negotiations over the fate of our friends and their car at the local constabulary. When at last we pull into the gravel courtyard of the sprawling château, our welcoming glasses of red wine taste all the sweeter for our legal ordeal.
The château has just opened for its season, which runs from March to the end of November, and the serenity of its grounds and sun-bathed facade prove the perfect tonic for unsettled nerves—as does the velvety, mineral-laden wine, which comes from the hotel’s own 5 acres of vines. Not surprisingly, the château, like so many other significant structures in Pauillac, owes its existence to winemaking. This region, after all, is home to three of the five estates awarded first-growth status in the Bordeaux classification of 1855: Château Latour, Château Lafite Rothschild, and Château Mouton Rothschild. Although Cordeillan-Bages was not classified in 1855, it is mentioned in literature of the period as producing a wine that commanded prices similar to the fifth-growth estates; and indeed, in the mid-20th century, its vineyards came into the possession of the most famous Fifth Growth, the adjacent Château Lynch-Bages. Jean-Charles Cazes, Lynch-Bages’s owner, brought all of the vineyards surrounding the small village of Bages under his ownership, but the elegant old house held little interest for him; not until his grandson Jean-Michel Cazes, the current owner of Lynch-Bages, purchased the manor was its future assured as a haven of hospitality in the heart of France’s most beloved wine region.
For the present generations of the Cazes family, transforming the abode into an award-winning Relais & Châteaux resort was much more than a business proposition. “My father, Jean-Michel Cazes, always had the urgent belief that Bordeaux can never rest on its laurels but needs to communicate with those who consume its wines,” says Marina Cazes, director of digital strategy for Lynch-Bages & Cie., the parent company that manages the family’s many investments. “When he set up Cordeillan-Bages, his aim was to make wine accessible.”
The renovation and repurposing of the residence serves as the tangible expression of a philosophy that Jean-Michel developed on his return to Pauillac in the mid-1970s. After studying engineering in France and the United States, he took a position in the computer industry, but in 1971, when his father, André, suggested selling Château Lynch-Bages (which his grandfather Jean-Charles had bought in 1939), Jean-Michel reconsidered his path in life. His technical background provided him with the necessary skills to modernize the aging winery, and his reverence for the past, the landscape, and the people and their traditions instilled in him the desire to unite local history, fine wines, cuisine, and culture in such a way as to entice visitors to experience Bordeaux’s unique brand of gracious living.
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