A light that will never be extinguished: Anne-Claude Leflaive, 1956-2015

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It is with a heavy heart that I write to inform you of the death of Anne-Claude Leflaive on Easter Monday. She was 59 years old and is survived by her husband, Christian Jacques and their three daughters. Anne-Claude had suffered, stoically and privately, from cancer and while it was understood that she was winning her long-term battle with the disease, an aggressive recurrence in recent weeks took her quickly and she died with her family at her side. A service will be held in Puligny Montrachet on Saturday.

For those who met her, the memory will surely never fade. She was a simply marvellous person, one of those rare people who had the ability to light up a room and in whose company you could never be anything but engaged. Brave, passionate, committed, intelligent, vivacious, generous and with the most infectious, often mischievous sense of humour, she inspired those around her and never flinched from taking the more difficult path when she believed it to be the correct one.

I feel very privileged to have worked closely with her over the past decade as her UK agent for Domaine Leflaive, alongside our friends at Corney & Barrow. It is incredibly difficult to now be thinking in the past tense about someone who was so bright, energetic and alive. Whether in the formal surrounds of Domaine Leflaive tastings and public events or in the more relaxed atmosphere of the beautiful home that she and Christian had created in Gilly-les-Cîteaux and particularly at their family escape in the Loire Valley, Clau de Nell, which they took great joy in restoring, Anne-Claude was never anything other than exceptional company. She was a unique and special lady, a friend I feel fortunate to have made and someone that the wider wine community, this business and I personally will miss enormously.

Our association with her and her family extends far beyond the past decade of course and I asked John Armit for some of his personal reflections on her. He remembers her as “a luminous character with the most wonderful laugh”, “an exceptional woman, warm, passionate, entertaining, generous spirited and energetic, with that rare combination of the practical and the spiritual . She was also strong willed as she needed to be running a great Domaine with over 30 family shareholders . She could be acerbic or witty and you never quite knew what to expect with her. I shall greatly miss her and it is tragic that she should be taken from her family at such a young age”.

Anne-Claude was raised in Paris, participating in the harvest at the family domaine from the age of 17. Her father, Vincent, ran the property with her uncle Jo, building on the work of their father Joseph who had acquired and built up the Domaine following phylloxera. The third generation of any family enterprise always faces a particular challenge but it was one that Anne-Claude rose to with remarkable success, firstly in partnership with her cousin Olivier as co-gérante, and subsequently on her own from 1993, following the death of Vincent.

Anne-Claude is rightly considered to be one of the pioneers of biodynamism in Burgundy. She felt instinctively that working in harmony with nature, rather than trying to control or usurp it had to be the only way. The early results of her trials at the Domaine were positive and by 1998, the entire 24 hectares had been converted, with the full support of the Leflaive family shareholders. Her example inspired countless others to examine their methods for themselves. The wines that she produced in Puligny, Mâcon and latterly in the Loire also, will of course be her most obvious legacy but it is her courage in questioning the status quo and following her instincts that raise her above the many great winemakers and Domaine managers that have gone before her.

Many tributes have started to arrive and I would be delighted to pass these on to the Domaine for you, if you would so like. In the meantime, we count ourselves truly lucky for her immense contribution to the subject that we all love. To her family, we offer our sincerest condolences and wishes for courage at this terrible time, as indeed we do to the extended Leflaive families and the teams at the properties with which she was involved.

Mike Laing

London, April 2015

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