Thursday, May 5, 2011

Mike Lee, Kenwood's Organic Pioneer, Dies

I met Mike Lee on Sunday at the Hopland SIP Mendocino tasting room. This delightful man poured a flight of four Patianna wines and urged me to meet Patty Fetzer, giving me her number, when I told him I was writing a book about organically grown wines.

It was obvious he was a special kind of person and within a few seconds of hearing about his experiences, running Kenwood, and converting its 250 acres from conventional to organic, I realized I could learn a lot from him. We said we'd talk later this week.

I read the news on Tuesday of his death on Monday - at 66. He'd had a heart attack while playing a golf game in Santa Rosa.

Life is so precious.

Although I only had 15 minutes of time with Mike, it was clear he was a special person with a tremendous wealth of knowledge and experience. I only wish we'd had more than 15 minutes.

My heart goes out to his family, friends and Patianna pals. I am sure he will be deeply missed.

A bit of his legacy, according to the Patianna web site profile:

"Reflecting on his 40 years in the wine business, Mike describes the enormous changes he has witnessed. “When I started in 1970, 80% of the tanks in Sonoma County were made of redwood,” he remembers. There have been important improvements in crushing, pressing, aging and cellaring, but Mike thinks that the changes in the vineyard have produced the most dramatic, positive changes in wine quality. “Today,” he says, “the focus is on the vineyard, not the celebrity winemaker.”

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