Alexis Lichine was a Russian-born wine writer and entrepreneur, who made many important contributions to the world of wine. He was born in Moscow in 1913 and following the Bolshevik Revolution, his family settled in Paris. His passion for wine began in France, and in 1935 after the Prohibition, he moved to New York City to work in a wine shop. He took a special interest in promoting French wi... Read more
Alexis Lichine was a Russian-born wine writer and entrepreneur, who made many important contributions to the world of wine. He was born in Moscow in 1913 and following the Bolshevik Revolution, his family settled in Paris. His passion for wine began in France, and in 1935 after the Prohibition, he moved to New York City to work in a wine shop. He took a special interest in promoting French wines. His interests led him to meet importer Frank Schoonmaker, who taught Lichine the ins and outs of tasting and selection. After a stint as a French Army intelligence officer in World War II, Lichine returned to his main passion, and founded Alexis Lichine and Company imports. In 1951, his first book, the Wines of France (later known as Alexis Lichine’s Guide to the Wines and Vineyards of France) was published to great acclaim. In the same year, he purchased Château Prieure-Cantenac, which, although it had been classified as a Third Growth Bordeaux, had fallen into shambles. He was allowed to change the name to Prieure-Lichine, where he established the then unprecedented practice of opening a tasting room to the general public. In 1952 he became part owner of Château Lascombes, also in the Margaux region of Bordeaux. He also had ownerships at estates in Burgundy. He was known for his unconventional views. In 1959, he formed a committee which made an unsuccessful bid to revise the 1855 Bordeaux Wine Classification, which he claimed to be outdated. Instead, in 1962, he published his own Classification des Grands Crus Rouges de Bordeaux with the wines described in his own hierarchical system. Another of his most noted contributions was, along with Schoonmaker, to encourage winemakers in California to label their wines according to grape varietal rather than style. Before then, for example, wines were labeled as California Burgundy, but these didn’t necessarily mean that Pinot Noir was the grape used to make it. It is largely due to Lichine and Schoonmaker’s efforts that French wine styles are no longer used as descriptors for wines made outside of France, and consumers have a more clear idea of what they are buying. This is now the standard practice in marketing New World wines. Lichine formed many close relationships with important figures in the wine world, including Philippe de Rothschild of Mouton-Rothschild. He continued to write books and give lecture tours throughout his life. He died of cancer in 1989 at Prieure-Lichine at the age of 76. Read less
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