Rhône oenologist and winemaker Philippe Cambie passed away on December 18 at his home in Châteauneuf du Pape at the age of 59. A world-renowned consultant often compared to Michel Rolland of Bordeaux due to his blending talents, Philippe consulted for numerous top estates in the Rhône Valley and Spain, as well as in Washington State and California in the United States, among others. He also owned his own label, Les Halos de Jupiter, and was a partner in both the Calendal estate in the Southern Rhône with Gilles Ferran and Beau Marchais in California with Adam Lee. In addition, Philippe worked with Sine Qua Non’s Manfred Krankl on the Chimere releases as well as with Justin Smith on the Downstream wines.
Born in 1962 in Pézenas, in France’s Languedoc region, Philippe graduated from a technical university in Montpellier before entering France’s food industry school, the ENSIA. He followed those studies with an Oenology degree in 1986. Philippe held many roles during those early years, including positions as a bottling line director in the Vaucluse, a wine trader in Bordeaux and northern France, and a production manager in the Roussillon. During his youth and early adulthood, Philippe was also a well-known competitive rugby player, and he brought this driven intensity and quest for results from rugby into everything he did.
Moving to Châteauneuf du Pape in 1998, Philippe became an oenologist for the ICV Group, which oversees and provides consulting and winemaking advice for the Southern Rhône Valley. As his role and notoriety grew, Philippe would take on a new intern each year to not only help him with his massive workload but also to help train the next generation of oenologists. Philippe maintained this position until the time of his death.
I first met Philippe in 2008 or 2009, while writing for the Rhône Report, and since then, I have been lucky enough to taste with him multiple times nearly every year. No Southern Rhône trip was complete without a marathon tasting through Philippe’s clients’ wines, and given Philippe’s almost unrivaled knowledge of the Rhône Valley, it was incredibly informative to taste with him and get his thoughts on a given vintage. I’ll forever cherish those memories.
Larger than life, both figuratively and literally, Philippe was one of a kind and a master blender. I vividly remember, while tasting once at an estate in Washington State where Philippe was a consultant, being told by the head winemaker that a team of tasters had worked on the final blend over many weeks, only to have Philippe arrive and put together a better blend in a single tasting. While Philippe is known mainly for his work with Grenache, which was unquestionably his first love, he loved and enjoyed many styles and varieties of wine, as well as cuisine. He was a fabulous cook, and following Philippe’s Instagram feed was not only a lesson in fine wine but also gastronomy at the highest level.
Despite fashioning plenty of blockbuster styled wines, Philippe prized finesse and elegance every bit as much as opulence and power. Philippe listened intently to his clients when he asked what type of wine they wanted to make, and he never imposed his style on an estate. One need only scan the list of his clients and taste the stylistic differences in their wines to understand how diverse his talents were.
While he possessed an incredible amount of sheer talent and overall winemaking knowledge and notoriety, Philippe always remained humble and genuine. Despite his larger-than-life persona, he was a kind, gentle, and loving soul at his core, as well as a dear and cherished friend to many. I once asked him, during a master class on Grenache at Hospice du Rhône in 2010, how he decided who to work with. His response was typical of Philippe. He said that his first consideration was the quality of the person and not the quality of their wine or terroir.
In an industry filled with large egos and people who claim to have all the answers, Philippe was a breath of fresh air and remained humble and down to earth to the end.
Cambie is survived by his mother, Jacqueline, and his brother, Gilles. His passing is an incredible loss for those who knew and loved him, as well as the world of fine wine.
You will be missed, my dear friend.
– Jeb Dunnuck