Before he ever owned a vineyard on the North Fork, Michael Lynne was a successful film executive who transformed New Line Cinema from a small player in Hollywood to a box office power.
In an even earlier life, Mr. Lynne, who died at age 77 Sunday, was an attorney in his native Brooklyn.
Despite his many successes and varying interests, those who worked with him at Bedell Cellars and the Tap Room at Corey Creek, both of which he purchased about two decades ago, described him as a champion of Long Island wine.
“He was a big believer that great wines could be made on Long Island,” said winemaker Richard Olsen-Harbich, who joined the wineries’ staff a decade ago. “We’re all very sad about [his death]. He was so dedicated, so passionate and so believed in the region.”
Mr. Lynne, a part-time resident of Sag Harbor, made his initial investment in the wine region when he purchased the Corey Creek property and tasting room in Southold in 1999. One year later, he purchased Bedell Cellars in Cutchogue from Kip and Susan Bedell, with the former staying on as winemaker for five years after the then-record $5 million sale.
Despite his penchant for business, Mr. Lynne’s focus was on making great wine right from the start. In a 2000 interview with The Suffolk Times, he said his goal was to work with Mr. Bedell to take the winery to the “next level.”
Looking back on their time together, Mr. Bedell said this week that Mr. Lynne’s promise to make quality the focus of his leadership at Bedell is what sealed the deal for the sale.
“He was a man of his word,” said Mr. Bedell, who would end up staying involved with the business for 17 years following the sale. “It felt more like a partnership … and he continued to have this drive to make the best wine he could, no matter the cost.”
Mr. Olsen-Harbich said that focus never wavered and Mr. Lynne was proud of the winery’s many accomplishments, including Bedell’s inclusion on the wine list at former President Barack Obama’s second inauguration in 2013 and the vineyard’s recent recognition from the New York Wine & Grape Foundation for its sustainability practices.
“One of the last interactions I had with him was an email he sent just the other day about the award we received,” Mr. Olsen-Harbich said. “He told us how proud he was and how proud we all should be.”
Charles Massoud, the founder of Paumanok Vineyards in Aquebogue, said Mr. Lynne “provided leadership not so much through advocacy but through his actions. He lifted Bedell to new heights and by doing so brought visibility to all of us. He was taken away from us a little too soon.”
Mr. Lynne’s investment in the Long Island wine industry, which includes the purchase of a preserved 22-acre vineyard in Peconic, came around the same time as his greatest success as a film executive. The former co-chairman of New Line, along with friend and longtime business partner Bob Shaye, is often credited with the idea to convince filmmaker Peter Jackson to develop “Lord of the Rings” as a trilogy instead of a single film. That decision earned the studio nearly $3 billion in worldwide box office and 11 Academy Awards in 2004, including best picture for the final installment in the franchise.
Mr. Lynne, who served on the board of directors for Imax, was also a noted art collector. Many of the pieces he had acquired could be found on display in the Cutchogue tasting room.
Mr. Olsen-Harbich said Mr. Lynne enjoyed working with creative people and it made for a pleasurable work experience.
“I never had a bad day working with Michael,” he said.
Bedell Cellars CEO Trent Preszler echoed that sentiment.
“I’ll be forever grateful to Michael for hiring me out of grad school and entrusting me to run his business and carry out his vision for making quality wines,” he said. “I’ve worked for him since 2003 and was promoted to CEO in 2010. After my own father died from cancer in 2014, Michael became kind of a surrogate father figure to me. He was always a hundred percent supportive. I’ve never met a more noble or erudite man. I will miss him terribly.”
Mr. Lynne was predeceased by his son, Jonathan, last month. He is survived by his wife, Ninah, and his daughter, Elizabeth. Funeral services will be held at 11 a.m. Thursday, March 28, at Temple Emanu-El in New York City.
Caption: Michael Lynne at Bedell Cellars in Cutchogue. (Credit: Bedell Cellars courtesy photo)