Renowned French oenologist Philippe Cambie died December 18 from respiratory issues at his home in Châteauneuf-du-Pape. He was 59 years old and had reportedly struggled with poor health for many years.
An ardent champion of Grenache, Cambie propelled the quality and acclaim of wines from the Rhône Valley, most specifically Châteauneuf-du-Pape, as well as those from Provence, Languedoc-Rousillion and beyond. A sought-after and prolific wine consultant, he advised nearly 80 producers in recent years, including many who worked with Cambie just days before his death. Cambie also produced his own wines under the Calendal and Les Halos de Jupiter labels.
“Philippe had an incredible influence on winemakers, way beyond the Rhône Valley,” says Michel Gassier, Cambie’s close friend and longtime collaborator. He was “a dear friend, a loyal advocate [and] an incredible mentor to many,” says Gassier.
Cambie was born in the Hérault region of the Languedoc-Rousillon, where his mother’s family owned vineyards. After early studies in food science and positions at a brewery and bottling company, Cambie obtained a degree in oenology from the University of Montpellier. In 1998, Cambie settled in Châteauneuf-du-Pape and established a consultancy offering technical support and advice to an expanding roster of winegrowers, cooperatives and negociants.
“Philippe had an incredible influence on winemakers, way beyond the Rhône Valley.” —Michel Gassier
Cambie was best known for producing powerfully ripe and fruity yet concentrated, complex wines that were rewarded both critically and commercially. His influence propelled the reputations of Châteauneuf-du-Pape estates like Clos Saint Jean, Domaine Giraud, Domaine André Brunel’s Les Cailloux and Domaine Saint-Préfert, amongst others.
While his name is synonymous with numerous prestige bottlings, Cambie was also a longstanding champion of regional cooperatives and large negociants that produced high-quality but accessible wines distributed worldwide.
Laurent Brotte, owner of Maison Brotte and Domaine Barville in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, relied on Cambie as a winemaker consultant for over 20 years. He was not only a “creator of fabulous wines,” says Brotte, “he was a genius assembler [blender] and taster.”
In the vineyard, Cambie was uncompromising in harvesting grapes precisely at the peak of maturity. He was a staunch believer in embracing low-yielding old vines and an early proponent of organic farming. To capture the specificity of each client’s unique terroir, he encouraged winegrowers to vinify single vineyards or plots based on soil type or microclimate.
Cambie’s track record of 100-point scores and the commercial success of “Cambie-style” wines made him one of the most recognized and influential oenologists in the world. Yet his legacy extends beyond ratings or a single style of winemaking, says winemaker Julien Brechet, owner of Domaine des Bosquets in Gigondas.
According to Brechet, Cambie was not only a consultant, but “a mentor, a father, a brother [and] a friend.” Cambie didn’t offer his clients a process to garner top scores or replicate a certain style, Brechet suggests. Rather, he helped winemakers “to find their [own] style,” “their own identity…and the DNA of their terroir,” says Brechet.
In recent years, as tastes in wine styles shifted, Cambie “was able to change [too]… to evolve towards more finesse, more freshness, more definition, more terroir identity,” says Brechet.
Beyond France, Cambie consulted on projects in Macedonia and Morocco and, in recent years, was increasingly active in the United States. Since 2015, Cambie and Gassier partnered with Chateau Ste. Michelle to produce Tenet Wines, a Syrah-dominant collection from the Washington’s Columbia Valley. In Napa and Sonoma, Cambie worked with Phil Coturri to produce Á Deux Têtes, a series of Grenache wines. In 2019, Cambie and Adam Lee, cofounder of Siduri, launched Beau Marchais, a line of Pinot Noir sourced from Monterey and Santa Barbara.
A former rugby player who competed at a national level in his adolescence and later in regional and semi-professional leagues, rugby featured prominently in Cambie’s conversations, and he often compared his work to that of a rugby coach.
“Despite [Cambie’s] success he remained accessible and always available for small family wineries,” says Brotte. “Many families from Châteauneuf-du-Pape have trusted him over the years, generation after generation.”
Cambie is survived by his mother, Jacqueline Blasco Villalonga, his brother Gilles and sister-in-law Samira, a nephew and niece.