Jean Gautreau, who turned the neglected Sociando-Mallet winery into a competitor with Bordeaux's classified growths, has died at the age of 92.
"Sociando-Mallet has been a strong brand here in the U.S.A. for many decades. The wine quietly stands tall and on its own, among the great classified wines of St.-Estèphe. That itself is very impressive," said Ralph Sands, a longtime Bordeaux buyer and senior wine specialist for retailer K&L Wine Merchants. "I just poured the beautiful 2009 Cuvée Jean Gautreau to my customers last month. Hats off to Jean and his great work."
Gautreau's career as a winemaker began in 1969, when he visited a rundown estate in St.-Seurin-de-Cadourne, six miles north of Pauillac and not far from where he was born. It had no barrel cellar and only 12 acres of vines. But the terroir was superb—Günz gravel with clay subsoil—and the view over the estuary was stunning. The name of the property was Sociando-Mallet. It dated to 1633, when it belonged to a Basque aristocrat. Gautreau bought it for 250,000 francs, roughly $42,000 at the time.
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Over the next 50 years, he undertook a massive reconstruction of the estate, building new cellars, replanting and expanding to 205 acres, and making wine with passion. "Our savvy Bordeaux buyers are keenly aware of the consistent quality, concentrated and powerful fruit that Sociando always brings to the cellar and eventually the table," said Sands.
Gautreau was born in 1927 in the Médoc. He was a talented athlete, making it to the junior semifinals of the Rolland Garros, now the French Open, at the age of 18. In 1948, after his military service in Morocco, he got his start in wine, working for the wine broker Miaihle. He quickly saw an opportunity for table wine, blending wine from the Gers region with wine from the Médoc, a type of wine that sold well in Africa, and started his own brokerage in 1950. As the price of Bordeaux appellation wine increased, he started his own négociant firm in 1957, exporting to Belgium and the Netherlands. He remained a négociant until 2000.
Today Sociando-Mallet produces 37,500 cases annually, including the first wine and the second wine, Demoiselle de Sociando-Mallet. In 1995, Gautreau created his eponymous blend "Jean Gautreau," made with a higher proportion of Cabernet Sauvignon than the main label.
Gautreau is survived by his daughter and only child, Sylvie, who took over the management of the estate when Jean turned 90, as well as his grandson Arthur.