Napa Valley recoiled in horror last weekend after it emerged that Pauillac-born, consultant winemaker Denis Malbec had been killed in a car accident at the age of 46.

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Born in Pauillac, Denis Malbec studied viticulture and oenology in Bordeaux and Champagne before joining the team at Château Latour, following in the footsteps of his grandfather Camille and father Jean-Noel. He soon rose through the ranks, serving as Latour’s maître de chai from 1994 to 2000.

It was while working at Latour that Malbec met his future wife, a Swedish sommelier named May-Britt who had been drafted in to manage the first-growth’s public relations by owner François Pinault. Denis and May-Britt soon became fast friends, and romance blossomed as they shared their irrepressible passion for wine and food.

After a visit to California in 2000, the Malbecs left Latour to establish a wine consultancy, initially travelling between France and the United States, before settling in St. Helena, Napa Valley, four years later.

The Malbecs’ belief that America held great opportunities was soon amply confirmed, as Denis rapidly emerged as one of the most celebrated winemakers in Napa and Sonoma, winning wide acclaim for his work at projects including Blankiet Estate and Kapcsàndy Family Winery.

But despite his success, Malbec was always reluctant to describe himself as a ‘winemaker’, believing, as he told a friend, that ‘the man walking the vineyard, pruning the vines, makes the wine as much as the man who owns the vineyard’. The philosophy embodied in that reservation found expression in all his work.

Friends and colleagues across the world have paid tribute to Malbec’s perfectionism, love of life, and eagerness to share. The premature loss of so magnanimous and thoughtful a member of California’s wine community will be keenly felt for many years to come.