Louis Latour, who ran Burgundy wine company Maison Louis Latour from 1958 to 1998, died this morning of heart failure. He was 83.
"He had a good life," his son Louis-Fabrice, current president of the business, told Wine Spectator. "He was one of the grands Monsieurs of Burgundy. He has done great things for Maison Latour. We are what we are today because of him."
Latour took the helm of the family company during challenging times. Maison Latour had lost significant markets for its wines during a period of two world wars, American Prohibition, the Great Depression and issues over family succession.
Undaunted, he rebuilt the business by being nimble. In the early years, he focused on the domaine, which at the time consisted of 185 acres. A decade later, some of the family members left the firm and took roughly one-third of the vineyards with them, but Latour was ready to expand the négociant business once again. "The smaller domaine allowed him to focus on the négociant business," said Louis-Fabrice.
Latour followed his vision even when it was controversial. He refused to buy any Beaujolais from the poor 1980 harvest, a decision that drew criticism within Burgundy. A year earlier, looking to expand the business, he chose the benevolent climate of Ardèche, 180 miles south of Beaune, working with local growers to produce Chardonnay. In 1984, Latour planted Pinot Noir in the Alpine foothills of the Haut Var to make the house's Pinot Noir Domaine de Valmoissine.
A new winemaking facility was built in 1986 in the Ardèche, the same year Latour chose to create his own company in the United States to import the Louis Latour wines. Today, the U.S. is the firm’s largest market out of 125 countries, consuming 30 percent of its 500,000-case annual production. The current domaine consists of 114 acres, mostly on the hill of Corton, 71 acres of which are grands crus.
"As manager of Maison Louis Latour he had a long term and visionary approach by developing activities in Ardèche and Southern France,” said Robert Drouhin, former head of Maison Joseph Drouhin. "It is good for Burgundy to rely on such family businesses."
Born in 1932, Latour graduated from the elite Paris Institute of Political Studies, or Sciences Po, where he was a classmate of future president Jacques Chirac. When he took over the family firm, he became the 10th generation of the family and the sixth named Louis to run the firm, which was founded in 1797.
A college classmate of Latour, Drouhin recalled him as a cultured, intelligent man who was passionate about Burgundy’s long history. “He was very interested in the historical evolution of Burgundy and the changes and improvements of viticultural and enological methods through the centuries,” said Drouhin. "His character and education allowed him to be an excellent, diplomatic President of the Union des Maisons de Vins de Bourgogne and of the [wine trade group] BIVB, smoothing the relationship between the négociants and growers."
He is survived by his wife, Ghislaine, six brothers and sisters, four children and nine grandchildren.