Legendary winemaker Jean-Bernard Delmas, best known for his decades of work at Bordeaux first-growth Haut-Brion, died today. He was 83.
"My family has never known Château Haut-Brion without the presence of this great man and extraordinary winemaker. His charm and humor marked all who were fortunate enough to meet him," Prince Robert of Luxembourg, president of Domaine Clarence Dillon, which includes Haut-Brion, told Wine Spectator.
Jean-Bernard Delmas' career at Domaine Clarence Dillon spanned 42 vintages, beginning in 1961 and ending with the 2003 vintage. During that time, he garnered respect as a modernizer and innovator, adding stainless steel fermentation tanks as early as 1961, and working with great precision on the clonal selection at the company's estates. By using a massale selection from mother vines as well as a selection of clones, he was able to pinpoint the best choices for their properties' terroir.
"His boundless curiosity and innovative spirit raised the estates and our wines to new heights," said Prince Robert.
Delmas was born at Haut-Brion in 1935. His father, Georges Delmas, had been the estate manager since 1923. The year Jean-Bernard was born, American financier Clarence Dillon bought Haut-Brion for $155,000. The two families have been intertwined in winemaking ever since.
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In 1994, at age 59, Delmas had considered retiring from Haut-Brion after three decades in order to launch a consultancy with his then 26-year-old son Jean-Philippe. Instead, Jean-Philippe joined his father at Domaine Clarence Dillon. At the time, Jean-Bernard told Wine Spectator, he was glad to stay because his life was at Haut-Brion. Father and son worked closely together, and Jean-Philippe was named deputy estate manager in 2001, in charge of supervising Château Haut-Brion and La Mission Haut-Brion (acquired in 1983).
"Jean was a mentor and a friend to so many of us at Domaine Clarence Dillon, not least of whom, his son Jean-Philippe, who worked alongside his father for 10 years, before [succeeding him]," said Prince Robert.
Jean-Philippe took over as estate manager in January 2004, as his father retired. But two years later, in 2006, Jean-Bernard was lured from retirement by Martin and Olivier Bouygues after they acquired second-growth Château Montrose in St.-Estèphe. Delmas oversaw massive restructuring, replanting and renovation at Montrose.
He retired as CEO of Montrose in 2011, due to health issues, and was succeeded by Hervé Berland. "Jean-Bernard signed two of the legendary vintages at the estate—the 2009 and 2010—when he was at the helm of Montrose," said Berland.
Delmas remained a consultant with Montrose until quite recently, despite his failing health. "He hadn't lost his palate. He was extremely precise," said Berland. "He had the knowledge and experience of someone who had been in the wine business for more than 40 years."
"This is not the time for us to mention all of the extraordinary accomplishments of this legend of the world of wine, but rather a moment for my colleagues, my family and me to express our deep sorrow at this loss and our great appreciation for the moments that we shared with Jean-Bernard," said Prince Robert.
Delmas is survived by his sons Jean-Philippe and Frédéric and their families.