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Bordeaux Enologist Pascal Ribéreau-Gayon Dies

He was one of Bordeaux's, and the world's, most influential wine educators and consultants

Suzanne Mustacich
Posted: May 26, 2011

Pascal Ribéreau-Gayon, one of the world’s most prominent enologists, died in Bordeaux the night of May 15. He had enormous influence as a professor, researcher, consultant and author. Ribéreau-Gayon was 80.

Wine was in Ribéreau-Gayon's blood from birth, and he followed in the footsteps of two great researchers. His great-grandfather was Ulysse Ribéreau-Gayon, who worked as Louis Pasteur’s assistant in the late 19th century, and then moved to Bordeaux, where he was instrumental in perfecting the "Bouillie Bordelaise" copper mixture used to fight the scourge of winegrowers at the time, downy mildew.

His father, Jean Ribéreau-Gayon, collaborated for decades with the legendary Emile Peynaud, and together they were pioneers in learning to control malolactic fermentation and founded the Bordeaux Institute of Oenology in 1949. In 1995, the Institute was integrated into Bordeaux University. Today it is the Institute of Vine and Wine Sciences, a cutting edge research and training facility.

As a professor and researcher since 1960, head of the enology department from 1976 to 1996, and honorary dean of the Institute of Oenology since 1996, Pascal Ribéreau-Gayon trained generations of winemakers. Among his former students are some of the more famous winemakers today, including Michel Rolland and Denis Dubourdieu. He later collaborated with both men.

His work in the lab took him to the forefront of research on enzymes in grape must and Botrytis cinerea, phenolic compounds and a method for comparing the genetic differences between hybrid and Vitis vinifera vines.

Outside the lab and lecture hall, he was a prolific author published in several languages. His most recent opus, The History of Enology in Bordeaux from Louis Pasteur to Today, was released just days after his death.

Ribéreau-Gayon was also a hardworking, highly-respected consultant who never lost his passion for wine. Well into his 70s, he could still be found in the vineyards and cellars of top châteaus such as Haut-Batailley, Domaine de Chevalier and Smith-Haut-Lafitte. Dignified, patient and curious, he had a hands-on approach, despite all his lab experience: chewing on grapes to determine their ripeness, surveying the sorting table and tasting the must during fermentation.

Bordeaux’s wine trade gathered to honor Ribéreau-Gayon at a funeral Thursday, May 19, at one of Bordeaux’s most beautiful churches, Notre-Dame d'Auvers. He is survived by his wife, four children, and 12 grandchildren.

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