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A life of Cazes – The reconquest


André Cazes did not remain inactive for very long. Insurance interests him and he quickly develops a solid clientele which he visits by bicycle, on which he has installed a small VAP motor which connects to the rear wheel. VAP will experience a brief success, quickly challenged by the arrival of the Solex bike and its drive roller rubbing on the front tire. André made the La Providence de Pauillac agency profitable, which had around twenty employees at the dawn of the 1950s. Jean-Michel, his son, dreamed of medicine then turned to maths and left for Paris where he was accepted Lycee Louis-le-Grand. He discovers Parisian life, the cafes where politics is discussed, friends… Algeria and “events”, as we say then to avoid talking about war, are not yet at the heart of young people’s concerns. Missed first year of maths, holidays in a 2 CV with friends, direction Northern Europe, just to see something other than the rooms of 25 at Louis-le-Grand.

In 1956, he was admitted to the École des Mines. In 1959, he embarked on the Freedom, direction of the United States. The mist, the buildings and the Statue of Liberty: “I’m thinking of the Bardamu of journey to the Edge of the Night exclaiming: New York is a standing city! He also discovers segregation: cafes, restaurants, cinemas around the university forbidden to blacks and in gas stations, the three doors for the toilets: Gentlemen ; Ladies ; Colored. Return to France to serve the country. The great fear of the conscripts is obviously Algeria. We are a year before the Evian agreements and the violence of the fighting is all the stronger as we guess an imminent end. Each side seeks to score points. Jean-Michel Cazes is assigned to an Air Force research service.

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The lamp computer

In reality, he is part of a small group responsible for discovering the multiple uses that an army can make of the computer. “At the ministry, we cut our teeth on the latest tube computer, the IBM 650, before receiving a copy of the first transistor machine, the famous IBM 1401, a revolutionary machine. He learned programming at IBM and on leaving the army he joined this company. Adventure fascinates him. He will spend twelve years there and still today, we guess he is on the lookout for new computer science. The wine, Bordeaux, Lynch-Bages, the Ormes de Pez that his grandfather Jean Charles finally bought, is a long way off. He is barely surprised to see one of his friends moved by a bottle of Cheval Blanc. But on the side of the vineyards and the Médoc, the wheel is also turning. Jean-Charles, the grandfather, was 90 years old in 1967. Discreetly, so as not to offend him, André, his son, Jean-Michel’s father, took over the reins with the help of the cellar master. André must both run and develop his insurance agency and watch over the estates. In addition, he is mayor of Pauillac and general councillor.

On the way back

In 1971, he had lunch with his son in Paris and said to him: “Perhaps this is the right time to get rid of the vines? Provocation, joke or trick from a father who would like the story to continue? Still, Jean-Michel, who had just married Théreza, a reciprocal love at first sight, left Paris and the computers, followed accelerated training as an insurer and settled in Pauillac. The sequel is better known. The dilapidated buildings, the beaten earth, the manure pit, the old barrels… everything needs to be reviewed. There remains the cellar, magnificent, but which dates from 1866, built by the Skawinskis, an incredible Polish family who invented in the 19e vinification by gravity, very fashionable today. These cellars are still visible in several castles, notably in Pontet-Canet and… Lynch-Bages.

Lots of work in perspective and few means. Bordeaux certainly had a very good harvest in 1970, but what followed was not great, not to say catastrophic. A bad 1972 sold too expensively, followed by a not much better 1973 and a dismal 1974… prices which collapsed. The icing on the cake, the “Bordeaux wine scandal” which broke out in the midst of a political fight (Giscard against Chaban-Delmas, mayor of Bordeaux). A good twenty merchants buy wines for everyday consumption, big reds, in Languedoc, which miraculously turn into Bordeaux wine through an administrative loophole… The organizer of this traffic, Pierre Bert, will make a a book in which he brags about his trickery and concludes with notions of honor that escape us… In short, nothing good for business. Finally, comes the 1975, often harvested much too early, for fear of a 1974 bis repetita with the rain in the finish to spoil the party. At Lynch-Bages, by chance, Jean-Charles and then André Cazes quickly understood that it was necessary to pick up ripe and the 1975, here, is a success.

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The Great Prosperity

The vision of this Médoc of the great vintages with the tourists who admire the facades and the large magnificent cellars remains a little disturbing. The incredible bottomless cornucopia that seems to be pouring over these constantly evolving castles, employing the greatest architects and the most successful building companies… It’s hard to imagine what it was like only thirty years ago. of years. The ascent was certainly spectacular, but not as fast as one might think. Above all, it required a lot of effort and imagination. And the story of Jean-Michel Cazes is teeming with sometimes failed attempts, false good leads, but also discoveries, improbable encounters and wonders, anecdotes. For our part, we have a soft spot for an episode: the rise in Paris on April 20, 1950 of all the owners of grands crus. First, another era, a visit to the President of the Republic, Vincent Auriol, then a lunch at the Eiffel Tower where they invite two hundred Parisian restaurateurs.

The next day, the delegation climbed to the top of the Butte-Montmartre: “about thirty barrels were drilled on the Place du Tertre, for passers-by. The news spreads, and soon, human clusters are running up rue Lepic. The place is overrun. Some are not satisfied with a simple sample. It is necessary to bring in stretchers that are installed on the ground in a neighboring street. About fifty ambulances are mobilized. The nearby Bichat hospital is overwhelmed and calls for help… “Stop the massacre! » proclaim the interns. In short, it’s a huge success! Especially five years after the end of the war and ten years of deprivation. In 1950, when this scene took place, it had only been a year since the “ration tickets” put in place by the Occupation had been put to an end. Today, in the village of Bages, next to the shops – bistro, butcher, bazaar, etc. – that the Cazes family created, we especially notice the huge and majestic new cellar that captures the light of day. It is the work of architects but also of a few “montagnoles” with thick leather and well-made heads.

Bordeaux Grand Crus. The reconquest, Jean-Michel Cazes, ed. Glénat, 500 pages, €22

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