Photo by Pamela O’Neill
When the invitation for dinner with Sacha Lichine popped up on my screen, I couldn’t help but think of my grandfather.
Just above my desk, wedged into the middle of a crowded shelf, stands a faded purple book entitled “Wines of France.” The book belonged to my grandfather and the author was Alexis Lichine, Sacha’s father, otherwise known as “the Pope of Wine.”
I can imagine my grandfather, affectionately known as Grampi, feigning disbelief and laughing. “You’re going to have dinner with the son of the Pope!” he would say, while theatrically slapping his knee and reveling in our exuberant response to his clever quip.
“Let’s make something we’d like to drink in the event we can’t sell it.”
— Sacha Lichine
My grandfather, who made a career out of selling and later importing cork for wine bottles, beginning in California, as luck would have it just before the U.S. was brought into the war, was a life-long aficionado of French wine. He probably learned about Alexis Lichine in the 1940s when Lichine was working with Frank Schoonmaker in California to persuade wine producers to break with the tradition of naming their wines after European wine regions and instead label them by the grape variety (or varieties) from which they were made. If not then, certainly by the mid-1950s after the aforementioned book had been published and Lichine— Russian-born, naturalized American who had grown up straddling residences in France and the U.S.— was well on his way to establishing himself in the U.S., and indeed internationally, as theenvoy of French wine.
The invitation read, “Please come to the Château at 6 pm on June 18.”…