When we lost Mike Lee this week, we lost a true innovator, a smart risk-taker, a brilliant entrepreneur who made millions by betting on quality.
The co-founder of Kenwood Vineyards, who died Monday from a heart attack, was a man who embraced the challenge of making fine wine in the 1970s when Sonoma County was best known for bulk wine.
I remember sitting on tasting panels with Mike. Naturally he was great at picking up nuances in wine, but more important than his savvy palate is the way he moved through life. He had an understated charisma. He always had a smile and story. He always knew the latest in the industry and was curious whether you had any news to share.
In 1970 he and some family members bought an old jug winery – the Pagani Brothers Winery – and built it into a brand that sold more than 225,000 cases in the mid 1990s.
Not everyone would have had the vision, let alone the confidence to do that.