Standing Up Next to a Mountain

Remembering Jean-Luc Le Dû—New York sommelier, wine retailer, mentor and much more
Standing Up Next to a Mountain
Bill Milne In 2002, Jean-Luc Le Dû's work in the cellar helped earn Daniel a Grand Award for its wine list.
Dec 29, 2017

I was shocked and saddened to read on Instagram and Twitter that Jean-Luc Le Dû had passed away this week, at the age of 52. It's always sad to learn of a colleague's passing, even more so when their time comes too soon.

I did not know Jean-Luc well, but our paths crossed many times during our careers. I first met him in the late 1990s, when he was the head sommelier at Daniel, running the wine program for the award-winning restaurant. It was under his stewardship that Daniel earned a Wine Spectator Grand Award for its wine list in 2002.

I recall one night there when Jean-Luc appeared at our table and gave us a taste of Château Mouton-Rothschild 1945 that he had been serving to other guests.

He left Daniel in 2005, opening a retail store in the West Village. Le Du's Wines became a staple on the New York retail scene. I bought a few bottles from him over the years, and his email pitches were often insightful, offering information about a wine, a region, a vintage or a producer.

We shared a few good laughs after the 2007 Burgundy festival La Paulée de New York, at a party at now-shuttered wine mecca Cru, singing Jimi Hendrix's "Voodoo Child (Slight Return)," a moment we recalled fondly at subsequent meetings.

Jean-Luc was opinionated, but had a huge heart. He hired and mentored Yannick Benjamin, a budding sommelier whose car accident left him paralyzed and in a wheelchair. When Benjamin cofounded Wheeling Forward in 2011 to help others struggling with disabilities, the charitable organization started Wine on Wheels to raise money. Le Du's Wines hosted one of the early events I attended. Support was overwhelming, the store packed with hundreds of New York's wine professionals.

Jean-Luc and I shared a love of Burgundy, and we began a discussion after an email from Le Du's Wines offering the Burgundies of François Feuillet. I had not tried them, but was familiar with winemaker David Duband, who makes wines under his own label in addition to the wines of Feuillet.

Always generous, Jean-Luc organized a lunch with David Stephan of DIVA Wine USA in September 2016, and we tasted a pair of grands crus from Feuillet: Clos de la Roche and Echézeaux. If I recall correctly, the vintages were 2009. Duband had recently started vinifying his wines with whole clusters, and Jean-Luc was very excited about them. This was an example of the kind of passion he had for wine, infusing the New York wine scene with his spirit and infectious personality.

His passion, generosity and free spirit will be missed by many.

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