By Rick VanSickle
This is the photo of Michele Bosc that her husband, Paul, says captures her spirit perfectly.
Taken in the summer of 2013, Michele is beaming with that big beautiful smile, she’s double fisting Chateau des Charmes wines and there are food trucks settled in behind her serving delicious bites for those gathered at one of the chateau’s popular Earth & Sky Music Music Markets.
Only 24 hours after the passing of Michele Bosc, tributes are flooding Facebook pages, Twitter accounts and anywhere else that messages of condolences, fond memories and tributes can be left.
She was only 52, had beat cancer twice in her life — once as a five-year-old girl in Newfoundland where she was from (she lost a kidney during that scare) and again more recently in Niagara when her colon cancer was successfully surgically removed just last November. It was the toll from chemo treatments, Paul says, that took her life suddenly this week and left a hole in the close-knit family and the greater community at large that will take time to heal.
“There is a huge hole both personally and professionally,” said Paul today. Michele was the marketing director at Chateau des Charmes while Paul André Bosc is the president and CEO of the historic winery founded by Paul Bosc Sr. Paul and Michele raised a family together, they have a son, Alex, who is 11-years-old, and spent “more time together as a couple than most couples.”
Michele moved to Niagara only 16 years ago in January 2003. She married Paul that summer and inserted herself into the family dynamic quickly.
“She was an ideas person,” says Paul. “She leaves a big footprint and a stamp on my family, the business and the community. She wore a lot of hats and made it look easy.”
Paul says Michele represented “new blood and new energy” for the well-established Bosc family in Niagara, one of the pioneering wineries in the region. Paul Sr. represents one of the pioneering leaders and architects of what is today the modern wine industry in Canada.
Michele immediately brought a modern approach to Chateau des Charmes with forward thinking. “Like a lot of things, we were on the same page,” Paul says. “She took to it like a fish to water and expanded on it. Man, she knew how to broaden our scope.”
And not just by expanding the business, but also growing the charitable responsibilities of the chateau that meant so much to the family.
My discussion with Paul is not an easy one for him; the tragedy of losing your wife and business partner, the mother of your child, so suddenly.
“It’s an unfolding tragedy,” he says. It’s very dark right now. It’s hard trying to get through it, to get through the storm.”
Paul says there will be a mass and reception for immediate family and close friends this weekend and a much larger celebration of life for everyone else who wants to share memories of Michele. Likely this May when the weather is warm. “We want to do something special.”
Michele Bosc was a strong, kind, driven, passionate and professional woman who was always two or three steps ahead of the curve with her marketing ideas.
She was one of the first in the Niagara wine industry to embrace social media and use it to promote not only Chateau des Charmes wines but all the wines in Niagara. Under the winery’s official Twitter handle of @MBosc, she tweeted non-stop in the early days of that platform and quickly hit 3,000 followers, more than anyone in the industry here, and in the top 1% of Canadian twitter accounts back then.
Paul recalls the day Michele blurted out excitedly that Bonny Doon founder Randall Grahm with his hundreds of thousands of followers had just followed her. “She was pretty proud of that,” Paul tells me.
As far back as 2010, Michele was organizing “tweet-ups” or “Twastings” as she called them, which were exclusive tastings of limited release wines paired with Canadian artisan cheeses via Twitter and putting faces to the names of people who followed her on Twitter.
It was an invitation beamed out to the 330 people who followed Chateau des Charmes at the time and opened the door to an entirely new source of wine lover. It was the beginning of a revolution that continues today and Michele was at the forefront.
Michele’s style was never purely business, she liked to mix her own personality into her tweets and that is likely the reason so many people followed her. Marketing might have been the motivation, but being real with people was her MO and she did it well.
In 2011, Suresh Doss, Remy Charest and myself wanted Niagara to host a TasteCamp event for mostly independent bloggers from the U.S. who embraced social media and had the potential to spread the word to a new, young and growing consumer who were becoming more interested in local wines through Twitter.
Michele was one of the first to sign up to host the group and opened the doors to Chateau des Charmes as one of the first stops on the tour. There were welcoming words from Ed Madronich, Chair of Wine Country Ontario at the time, and introductions to key people — Michele, of course, TasteCamp founders Lenn Thompson and Evan Dawson and Brain Schmidt, winemaker at Vineland Estate and host of one of the grand tastings.
It was a highly successful event that was broadcast in real time via Twitter to a large audience not only in Canada but also the eastern United States.
This is the kind of work Michele loved — cutting edge, looking forward and growing the business while putting Niagara as a whole on the map.
I reached out to people who knew and worked with Michele. Here are some of the tributes (with more to be posted as they come in).
“Michèle was a very strong woman and a force in this industry. She put her heart and soul into her family and into this winery. When I first arrived in Canada, Michèle took me under her wing. We went on hikes where her passion for the region was unmistakable, instilling in me a deep appreciation for the beauty and possibilities of Niagara. She was a valued confidant and, more than once, I can recall crying in her arms. It was a privilege to work alongside her and learn from her.”
— Amelie Boury, vice-president winemaking and operations, Chateau des Charmes
“Yesterday morning we lost my sister, Michele Bosc. It still doesn’t seem real. I always thought that she would have to fight, I simply never thought she would ever lose. As I collect myself to write a few things, I am reminded that if she were to read this, she’d pick apart my grammatical errors and she would be correct and I would be fine with it. That is what she did. Michele was simply smarter than everyone else and all she ever wanted to do was to help. Not in a condescending way …. just help.
At a young age and for my whole life, I’ve admired her. Michele always had a plan. She was highly intelligent, organized, hard working, compassionate, friendly, loving, and highly regarded by her friends, family and colleagues. Michele was so well respected. She also carried herself with a level of dignity and self respect that was truly awe-inspiring. During her latest stage of treatment she didn’t complain or give up . She wrote a novel!!! Who does that? Michele Bosc does. I love my sister and will miss her dearly. I wish I could tell her that one more time. I do take comfort in knowing that she is no longer in any pain.
We will be having a small service in Niagara for close family only. At a later date, we will be having a celebration of life most likely at her Winery that she loved so much. There will be more to come on the latter.”
— Danny Bursey, brother of Michele, used with permission (including his photos, directly above his tribute)
“The passing of Michele leaves a void in the hearts of SO many. Michele’s creativity, passion and talent for sharing the story of not only the Bosc Family and Chateau des Charmes but the story of Ontario Wine was a gift we all enjoyed.
“As an early adopter to social media Michele became the face of Ontario Wine to many. Michele would charm her way into the hearts of those she connected with on social media and more importantly “in real life.
“Our Ontario wine family has lost an ambassador and dear friend. We are richer for having had her share her talents with us and she leaves a piece of her soul with all that she touched.”
— Brian Schmidt, vice-president and winemaker Vineland Estates
“Like everyone else, I’m stunned. And unbelievably sad for her beloved family. I’m sad for the wine community, too. Michele made such a mark on so many of us. I’ve known her as colleague, customer and client, and I have always respected her forthright approach and forward thinking. I remember so well, back when social media was young, going to a Twitter conference and having Michele seek me out, even though I only knew her by reputation then, to point out that we were the only two wine industry people in the room. And while I was just getting my feet wet, she was already well-versed. She understood authenticity and voice in social, and I’m saddened that her unique voice is silenced. But I also think it is wonderfully appropriate that social media should be the place that we come to make our farewell tributes. I hope that someday, with time, all these words will bring solace to her loved ones.”
— Elena Galey-Pride, principal at Winestains
“Michele was the warm, empathetic woman who was at the centre of Château des Charmes’ operations. She championed women in the wine industry and was mentor to many. Her Newfoundland heritage was evident in the welcome she accorded everyone who visited the winery. Alongside Madame Andree Bosc, Michele was truly a chatelaine of Château des Charmes. She was of the first to recognize the value of social media for the promotion of Ontario wine and she used the platforms most effectively. She will be sorely missed.”
— Tony Aspler, wine writer
“Michele will be greatly missed. I admire how she demonstrated leadership in her entrepreneurial spirit, her innovative thinking and her kind mentorship. I am grateful for her words of encouragement and collaboration, I will miss her.”
— Allie Hughes, CEO and founder of Hughes and Co.
“Michele will be sorely missed. A delightful woman, always smiling whenever we met, and still cheerful at the end of a long day of industry events. Michele was completely dedicated to her family, to the winery, and to the wine industry itself. Michele brought a sense of completion to the Bosc family. My sincerest thoughts go out to her family and friends.”
— Konrad Ejbich, wine writer
“Our Wineries of Niagara-on-the-Lake family is diminished by the sudden loss of Michele Bosc. She was instrumental in our early days, and remained a strong voice throughout our existence. Michele demonstrated her values and stepped up to positions on our Board, including as Chair. Her belief in our mission was absolute and we will hold her light in our hearts. Our heartfelt condolences to Paul and Alex, Michele’s family and the team at Château des Charmes.”
— Wineries of Niagara-on-the-Lake
“A mentor, friend and dynamically wonderful woman, I am so saddened to hear about the sudden loss of Michele Bosc. Everyone is truly going to miss her spirit, her magic, and her passion above so many other things about her that she shared with us all — including her passion for wine! Michele will be truly greatly missed and my condolences go out to her family during this time. Taken too soon from all of us. F$%K you cancer.”
— Angela Aiello founder of iYellow Wine Club
There is a gathering of the Ontario wine community tonight at the Fallsview Casino for the Niagara Icewine Festival. I truly hope they take a moment to raise a glass for Michele and recognize her contributions to the Ontario wine industry. I will not be there (my invitation got lost in the mail), but I will be raising a glass in support of her friendship, her amazing life and her dedication to the community she lived in.