Obituaries for Two Figures in Wine: Marcel Lapierre, 60, and Robert Sandall, 58

14 Oct

Metaphors are not life, but they go far in approximating life.  If we are talking in metaphors, then, wine is an excellent metaphor for life.  Wine is made, and wine is drunk; we are born, and we must die.  Wine collectors eagerly lay away bottles from different vintages–the ’83, the ’84… the ’99… the ’09–to open up some far-off gray day.  Vintages are metonymic–they are years, and as they add up and the bottles gather dust they remind us of our own passing seasons.

In the news I read about the recent passing of Marcel Lapierre, 60, known as the “pope of natural wine,” a man who helped prevent Beaujolais from utterly disappearing into the inanity of nouveau.  He died on October 11 of melanoma, leaving behind his family, who will continue his tradition, and his life’s work in the form of wax-sealed bottles.  There’s not much about him out there, but he seems to have been a humble man: “I’m just making the wine of my father and grandfather,” he told a magazine in 2004, “but I’m trying to make it a little better.”

In September I had purchased a half-case of wine for my mom on account of her birthday, and among them was a bottle of Lapierre’s Morgon.  My family just opened the bottle a few days ago, not knowing that its maker was dying.

But Lapierre was not the only noteworthy figure in wine to pass away in 2010.  In the front of British GQ is a tribute to Robert Sandall, its wine columnist.  Sandall, 58, died in July after an eight-year battle with cancer.  As editor Simon Kelner wrote,

Here was a man who could talk about football and politics with equal knowledge and passion.  And here was a man who never raged against the dying of the light, but took comfort in a life well lived, and in the love of those who he would leave behind.  For sure, 58 is no age to die.  But one thing’s certain: Sandall ’52 is a vintage none of us will ever forget.

I have enjoyed Sandall’s works for as long as I’ve read British GQ, and it will be sad to not read his excellent column.  His last column, if I remember correctly, was about drinking wine aboard airplanes, 35,000 feet in the air.  One hopes that he and Lapierre are somewhere above us, enjoying something better than the fermented crushed grape juice we drink here on earth.

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