I just finished reading Gourmand’s Way by Justin Spring, 2017. It is a factual account of six Americans living in France following World War II; each had a passion for French food and wine. Of the six individuals, you know Julia Child, but what about Alexis Lichine? He introduced French wine to generations of Americans! He understood the French culture where wine is an indispensable element of daily life and meals. He envisioned the extraordinary potential for French wines to the American market. And, the timing was right as France was very eager to renew their overseas trade in wines.
Lichine was born in Moscow. The family fled to America during the Revolution in October 1917, when he was just four years old, but they relocated to France. He lived between both countries for his entire life. He studied at the University of Pennsylvania for a time. In 1935 he worked for the Cork and Bottle retail store in New York and became a United States citizen. He served in the American armed forces during the war where he became the aide-de-camp to the then General, and future President, Dwight D Eisenhower, who appreciated his extensive knowledge of wine. (This would be a good Jeopardy question.) He was a successful New York-based wine salesman with a luxury apartment in Manhattan, a self-proclaimed “merchant of pleasure”. He published his first book, The Wines of France, when he was thirty-seven.
He played a key role in promoting varietal labelling of wine and convinced California vineyards to put the name of the grape on the label, making it easier for wine enthusiasts to choose. Today, this system is broadly used all over the world.
Lichine purchased Château Prieuré-Cantenac, 15 miles from Bordeaux, France. It was promptly renamed Château Prieuré-Lichine and renovated. He also had a controlling share of Château Lascombes. He founded a shipping company in France, Alexis Lichine et Cie.
In 1966 Lichine sold his exporting company, bottling line, import side of the business in New York and inventory to Charrington United Breweries. Unfortunately, he unwittingly sold the rights to his name. Company executives began purchasing only average or below average wines, much to his dismay.
Decanter wine magazine voted him “1987 Man of the Year”. He had two children, one a son Sacha, who is now the owner of Château d’Esclans, and produces “Whispering Angel” rosé from Provence. He was married three times; his third wife was the actress Arlène Dahl. He lived out his last years in Bordeaux, France and was buried there in 1989 at age 76.
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