Bob Wilmers, the American owner of Château Haut-Bailly in Bordeaux, has died aged 83.
Robert G Wilmers, known widely as Bob Wilmers, died at his home in Buffalo, New York State, on Saturday night. He was aged 83.
Owner of Château Haut-Bailly in Pessac-Léognan since 1998, and neighbouring Château le Pape since 2012, Wilmers was also the long-term CEO of M&T bank in Buffalo that he grew into one of the biggest financial institutions in the United States, all while retaining his image as a careful, risk-averse steward.
Investor Warren Buffet said of him when learning of his death, ‘he was a remarkable banker, an even more remarkable citizen and wonderful friend’.
In Bordeaux, he will be remembered for elevating Château Haut-Bailly into one of the very top estates of the region, investing in both vineyard and cellar and giving full trust to the considerable talents of director Véronique Sanders.
‘Bob arrived at Haut-Bailly extremely discreetly,’ Olivier Bernard, president of the union for Bordeaux grands crus (UGC), told Decanter.com.
‘He listened a lot and didn’t say too much, and instinctively understood the complexities of running a grand cru in Bordeaux.
‘For that his partnership with Véronique Sanders was key – showing he understood the importance of heritage, of the need to invest for the long-term with no huge ruptures along the way.
‘We were also lucky in Pessac-Léognan because as a neighbour, he was great company.’
Wilmers clearly loved his estate, and once said of Haut-Bailly, ‘I am sort of awed by the whole place. The first thing I do when I arrive back after being away is to just get reacquainted, starting with a stroll around the outer limits of the vineyards.
‘Haut-Bailly has a soul, an elegance, a subtlety that it has had for generations – our work is just to keep making tiny adjustments that build on its past.’
Wilmers and his wife supported many charitable and cultural institutions on both sides of the Atlantic, from the Cité du Vin, the Museum of Decorative Arts and the Grand Theatre in Bordeaux to major art institutes in both New York and Paris as well as local schools and charities in Buffalo.
He was key in raising funds for the non-profit Partner University Fund (PUF) between the French government, American private donors and the French-American Cultural Exchange foundation, and was also president of New York’s Alliance Française.
Wilmers was this year awarded ‘officer’ status in France’s Legion of Honour system, partly in recognition of his charity work as well as for his contribution to French wine.
Wilmers is survived by his French wife Elisabeth Roche Wilmers, his son Christopher and grandchildren Dylan and Theodore – as well as four step-children and eleven step grandchildren.