There’s been a lot written about Bob Wilmers’ passing. He will long be remembered and appreciated as Chairman of M&T Bank and a WNY philanthropist. Having known Bob for 29 years was an honor. His vision inspired me in many ways.
One lesser-known part of Bob’s legacy was a later-in-life passion, his winery in France. My wife and I had the privilege to visit Chateau Haut-Bailly in 2015, where we had an invite to tour the winery. It was an amazing experience that we will never forget. I wasn’t the only one who appreciated Bob’s wine. Renowned wine critic Robert Parker once told me how much he loved what Bob had done with Haut-Bailly – and that the best meal he’d ever had in Bordeaux was at the winery.
The week after Bob died, I received a birthday announcement celebrating the 20-year anniversary of his ownership of Haut-Bailly. Coming from France took longer than a normal piece of U.S. mail; receiving it was bittersweet, as I knew it was sent prior to his passing. I decided it would be a good time to pull out a bottle of 1964 Haut-Bailly that I’d bought many years ago, long before we visited the winery. At the time of our visit, the winemaker said it should still be good, even at 50+ years old.
I hoped the wine was drinkable. I carefully removed the cork, and it came out perfectly. I let the bottle sit for a short while. I did not decant the wine, concerned it might break down too quickly. I started with a small sip and was amazed that it tasted good, and it hadn’t even opened up.
I carefully poured two glasses so we could toast our friend. My wife and I sat together and enjoyed a bottle of wine we will never forget. The color was beautiful, especially for a wine that old. The nose was enticing. From the first sip through how it evolved in our glasses, it was wonderful. The dark fruit was still outstanding and had a very enjoyable finish. For me, it was among the best older Bordeaux that I’ve ever had.
Cheers to Bob Wilmers. His legacy will live on in many ways…perhaps especially in his wines.
Warren T. Colville is publisher and president of The Buffalo News.