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Obituary: Wine trade mourns death of Michael Cox

There has been an outpouring of tributes across the wine trade for Michael Cox, the Europe director of Wines of Chile, who has died.

Chile’s president, Sebastian Piñera, bestows the country’s highest honour, the Comendador de la Orden al Merito de Chile, on Michael Cox in 2010

Michael Cox
lost his battle against a rare form of cancer late yesterday afternoon (20 February), surrounded by close family at his home. His death was announced by his identical twin brother, David, and his wife, Lynne.

The news, although anticipated, was met with sadness across the wine industry, and many critics, journalists and merchants used twitter to express their condolences.

‘The British wine trade is much duller and sadder today,’ said Jancis Robinson MW.

Ian Harris, chief executive of the Wine & Spirit Education Trust, tweeted, ‘So sad to hear of Michael Cox’s death. Former WSET trustee, graduate and teacher…..and a great bloke.’

Decanter publishing director Sarah Kemp praised his ability combine modern and traditional values. ‘His behind the scenes work helped shape many consumers’ perception of wine. He wore his professionalism lightly and as a result was widely loved and respected by all who knew him.’

Michael Cox was born in 1951 to a family that counted Matthew Clark, founder of what is now the eponymous drinks wholesaler in the UK, among its ancestry. Wine clearly ran in the blood, for by 1970 he was working at Matthew Clark in a job that would take him from London to Sydney, Australia, Leeds in the north of England and Cognac in France.

In 1990, after rising to become marketing director, he left to found Negociants UK – the UK office of Robert Hill Smith’s Yalumba – just as Australia‘s halcyon days were dawning.

After nearly 13 years, Cox cast his eye on another up-coming New World nation by forming the UK office for Wines of Chile – a move that led to him being adorned with the country’s highest honour, the Comendador de la Orden al Merito de Chile, in 2010. He was also a trustee of the Wine & Spirit Education Trust and, in 2013, received a lifetime achievement award from Wines of Chile.

At one point, Michael’s brother David occupied a similar post for New Zealand wines, leading to many dual appearances at wine trade events.

In between all of that, Michael was known for his good humour and a zest for life that encompassed a seemingly irrepressible urge to dance.

Among the more light-hearted moments in his career was his participation in The Semillons, a male dancing troupe drawn from the wine trade that bared almost everything for an all-female audience in order to raise money for charity.

That escapade earned Michael the nickname ‘Chile Willy’, according to Decanter’s tastings director, Christelle Guibert, who created The Semillons. ‘Michael will always be a true hero in my heart and without a doubt the best dancer of the Semillon members,’ Guibert said.

‘Today, the wine trade lost one of its greatest gentlemen.’

Decanter associate editor Tina Gellie added, ‘He was never too busy to offer advice, give a quote for a story or make himself available at the last minute, despite his hectic schedule.’

Michael’s second wife, Lynne, paid tribute to an ‘exceptional’ man. ‘He insisted on carrying on with his normal life as far as was humanly possible,’ she said.

‘He was able to continue in his role with Wines of Chile, and to complete his year as Master of the Vintners’ Company (which was extremely important to him) whilst undergoing chemotherapy.’

A private funeral for close family and friends will be held in the next ten days or so, followed by a memorial service for wider friends and colleagues in the next six weeks.

Written by Chris Mercer

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