When Michael Lynne purchased Bedell Cellars in 2000, the East End of New York's Long Island was still a very young wine region, the first vineyard planted just 27 years prior. But Lynne, then-president of New Line Cinema, believed in the wines and was willing to bet big on them: His $5 million purchase was the most anyone had paid for a Long Island winery at the time, and his continued investments in talent and technology helped elevate the profile of the small region. Lynne died March 24 at the age of 77.
"He was one of New York's greatest champions in terms of quality wine production," Bedell winemaker and Long Island wine-industry veteran Richard Olsen-Harbich said. "He could've set up shop and made wine any place he wanted to, but he really loved eastern Long Island. He was a Brooklyn guy, and he saw in the region what a lot of us have seen and still see."
Lynne was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., in 1941. In the 1980s, he joined Bob Shaye, the founder of the New York–based production company New Line, when it was still a small, independent studio. With Lynne, New Line grew to produce and distribute hit franchises like The Lord of the Rings, Austin Powers and Rush Hour.
Along the way, Lynne developed passions for art and wine, amassing significant personal collections of each. After casting around for properties in France, Italy and California in the late 1990s, he decided to become a Long Island vintner, purchasing Corey Creek Vineyards in 1999, followed a year later by Bedell.
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Lynne kept founding winemaker Kip Bedell on board for the first few years. After Bedell stepped back, Lynne brought on Olsen-Harbich to helm the vineyards and cellar in 2010. Their goal was to make wines that could hold their own with the best in the world. The flagship Musée bottling, a Bordeaux blend launched with the 2005 vintage, became one of the region's leading wines, regularly earning outstanding scores. It sported a label designed by one of Lynne's artist friends, Chuck Close, and other Bedell bottles bore work by Eric Fischl, April Gornick, Ross Bleckner and Barbara Kruger. Musée was priced ambitiously as well, now retailing for $125.
With Lynne's support, Olsen-Harbich also led the region in sustainability efforts, creating the best-practices Long Island Sustainable Winegrowing initiative in 2012. "He was a huge supporter of local research. He just really believed in all these initiatives and gave us the tools" to accomplish them, said Olsen-Harbich. "I think you can look at the region before his involvement and look at where it is today, and he really spearheaded a lot of the movement toward higher-quality wine production."
Lynne felt a common thread ran through his passions. "Filmmaking is an extremely creative enterprise. It's complicated, just as winemaking is; it's a group process, just as winemaking is; and the connection is real," he told Wine Spectator in a 2014 interview. "You can get a joy for satisfying audiences, whether it's from great film or great wine."
Lynne is survived by his wife and co-owner, Ninah, and daughter Elizabeth.