February 17, 1913|
Moscow, Russian Empire
|Died||June 1, 1989
Chateau Prieure-Lichine, Bordeaux, France
|Occupation||Wine writer, négociant, vintner|
Alexis Lichine (c. 1913–June 1, 1989) was a Russian wine writer and entrepreneur. He played a key role in promoting varietal labelling of wine, was a masterful salesman of wine, and owned Château Prieuré-Lichine and a share of Château Lascombes in the Médoc. He was married to actress Arlene Dahl from 1964 to 1969.
Lichine was born in Moscow in 1913. His family fled to France during the Russian Revolution of 1917, going on to the United States in 1919. He studied economics at the University of Pennsylvania but dropped out because he felt he wasn't learning anything. In 1932 Lichine moved back to Paris and accepted a sales position with The New York Herald Tribune. In 1933 he continued in sales for The New York Herald Tribune in Algiers, and in 1934 moved back to New York as Prohibition ended. He attempted to start his own import wine company but failed, and in 1935 worked for the Cork and Bottle retail store in New York, and became a US citizen. He then went to work for Saccone and Speed, a New York wine importer, and in 1938 he was hired by wine merchant Frank Schoonmaker as his national sales manager.
On the outbreak of World War II, Lichine caught the last American ocean liner out of Bordeaux, the S.S. Manhattan. During the war he served in the United States Army Military Intelligence, in Europe and North Africa and was discharged as a Major. He was given the rank of Major by the commanding headquarters of the Delta Bar Section of the US Military Intelligence. He was released at Fort Dix, New Jersey on April 18, 1946. He was awarded the Order of Leopold, the Belgium Bronze Star and the World War II recognition from the French Legion of Honor. (see The Pope of Wine- the biography of Alexis Lichine in the sources book section).
On his return from the war, Lichine asked for full partnership in the company. Schoonmaker declined and Lichine left. In 1946 he went to work for the import wine division of United Distillers of America. In 1947 he purchased a cotton farm in Jacks Bay in St. Croix. In the same year he married the Countess Renee de Villeneuve in New York. In July 1948 he was hired by Claude Phillipe of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel to buy wines in Europe for them. The same year he was divorced from the Countess. In 1949 Alexis hired Pierre de Wilde (from Château du Tertre) as his assistant wine buyer. In 1950 Lichine became the export manager for Château Haut-Brion. In 1955 Lichine founded Alexis Lichine Negocients in Long Island City, New York. He moved to Margaux to set up a shipping organization, Lichine & Cie., which became a leading exporter of first quality wines. In 1951 Lichine purchased Château Prieuré-Lichine and in 1952 also became part owner and manager of Château Lascombes. In the same year he started billboard advertising of his wine tasting room at the Prieure. This was the first time in the wine industry that professional wine tasting rooms were set up for the general public. In 1953 he purchased Latricieres in Chambertin and Bonnes Mares in Chambolle-Musigny. In 1955 Alexis Lichine married Gisele Edenbourgh. Their first child Alexandra was born in 1957. Their second child Alexis Andrew Serge (Sacha) was born in 1960.
In 1959 Lichine was a member of a committee that unsuccessfully launched a bid to revise the Bordeaux Wine Official Classification of 1855. Undeterred, Lichine published his own Classification des Grands Crus Rouges de Bordeaux in 1962 and made several revisions in the following years while campaigning for changes to a classification he contended was outdated. His efforts led him to be referred to as "the doyen of unofficial classification compilers".
Alexis Lichine died of cancer at Château Prieuré-Lichine on June 1, 1989, aged 76. He was succeeded by his son Sacha (then aged 28), who later moved to Switzerland and sold Prieure-Lichine in August 1999. In 2008, he was posthumously inducted into the Wine Writers' Hall of Fame by the Wine Media Guild of New York.
Starting around 1940, Lichine and Schoonmaker promoted the idea that California producers should label their wines by the grape variety or varieties from which they were made. The standard practice among New World producers was to give their wines semi-generic labels. That is, they named them after the regions whose wines they resembled. For example, full-bodied red varieties might be labeled "Burgundy", whereas crisp whites might be labeled "Chablis".
California's Wente Vineyards was the first winery to adopt the practice. After calling its Sauvignon blanc by its varietal name rather than labeling it "Graves," Lichine and Schoonmaker found its sales volume to increase several-fold. More important, they were able to sell it in the important east coast U.S. market. Others, such as Robert Mondavi, soon adopted the practice, which has become the standard for New World (and, increasingly, some Old World) wines.
Lichine's writings included Wines of France, (1951, revised 1955) Guide to Wines and Vineyards of France, and Alexis Lichine’s Encyclopedia of Wines and Spirits (1967). The New York Times wine critic Frank J. Prial asserted that "Alexis Lichine, the Russian-American who loved France but hated the French, taught his adopted country to drink wine".
- Prial, Frank J. Alexis Lichine, 76, an Author and Expert on Wine Obituary in The New York Times, June 2, 1989.
- Prial, Frank J. Decantations: Reflections on Wine by the New York Times Wine Critic. NY: St. Martin's Griffin, 2001.
- Hennessy, Leslie A. The Pope of Wine- a biography of Alexis Lichine. SF: Montrachet Publishing, 2009.
- Goodman, Mark. "Alexis Lichine Is the Hustler Known as 'the Pope of Wine'". People, April 7, 1975.
- Prial, Frank J. The New York Times (1989-08-20). "The Battle of 1855".
- Lichine, Alexis (1967). Alexis Lichine's Encyclopedia of Wines and Spirits. London: Cassell & Company Ltd. pp. 144–148.
- Peppercorn, David (2003). Bordeaux. London: Mitchell Beazley. p. 47. ISBN 1-84000-927-6.
- Lechmere, Adam (2007-02-27). "Barton named Decanter Man of the Year". Decanter.com. Decanter (magazine).
- Prial, Frank J. The New York Times (August 4, 1999). "WINE TALK; Chateau Where Lichine Once Ruled Is Sold".
- McCoy, Elin (2005). The Emperor of Wine: the Rise of Robert M. Parker, Jr. and the Rein of American Taste. New York: HarperCollins. p. 17. ISBN 0-06-009369-2.