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Michael Cox UK head of Wines of Chile and respected industry figure has died from cancer

Published:  21 February, 2014

Michael Cox, the highly respected wine trade figure, died last night having lost his year long battle with bile duct cancer. He was at home, as was his wish, and was surrounded by his close family.

Cox had become one of the most revered and respected wine trade leader not only in the UK but around the world for the work he has done during a lifetime spent in the wine industry.

He will be most recently remembered for the the industry leading work he has done in turning around the fortunes of Wines of Chile as the head of its UK wine generic where he has been responsible for helping to make Chile a firm member of the Top 10 wine countries in the UK with Chilean wine now a key part of any wine retailer or restaurant or bar's wine offer. 

From July 2012 he was able to achieve one of his career ambitions to become the 518th Master of the Vintner's Company, a position he carried out with great honour and industry respect throughout his treatement for his aggressive cancer. He was able to carry out all his responsibilities attending many industry events throughout his chemotherapy. The medical staff treating him were astounded by what he was able to achieve throughout the last year. It was a postion that Cox himself revered and a title that was very close to his company and his uncle, Guy Gordon Clark, who was Master Vintner in 1989. 

In a wide ranging career throughout the wine trade Cox also held position as managing director of  Negociants UK from November 1990 to May 2003 and marketing director at Matthew Clark & Son from 1970 to 1990. Cox was part of the Gordon Clark family that were one of the founding members of Matthew Clark. 

Throughout his career he has always had the support of his twin brother David, the current chief executive of the drinks charity, The Benevolent, who became recognised and loved throughout the trade as a double act. 

David along with his wife Lynne and the rest of his close family were at his side until his death yesterday evening.

A private family funeral will be held in the next 10 days or so which will be followed by a memorial service to be held within the next six weeks. 

Michael Cox: in memory (1951-2014)

Born in 1951 into the sixth generation of a family wine business (Matthew Clark), Cox says he was practically born with "wine in the blood". His grandfather sent him to Burgundy aged 19 to pick grapes with the great masters of the Old World and by his early 20s he was importing wine from the New World for the family wine merchant business.

Michael Cox: IWC Personality of the Year

Michael & Oz Clarke Chile 2010 Michael & Oz Clarke Chile 2010

He joined Wines of Chile after an illustrious 13 years working with wineries in Australia during his time as managing director of Negociants UK, launching some of the most successful brands into the European market. He had already been earmarked for the job at Wines of Chile by Richard Letelier  who was the managing director of Wines of Chile at the time. "The mission was clear, and the first market to attack: the UK," said Letelier  looking back. "Michael stood out for his great knowledge of the industry, strategic clarity, communication skills and leadership. After all the interviews, with very good candidates, I wasn't left with any doubt that Michael was the person for it."

Cox was given the job of starting the European office and the task of bolstering the image of Chilean wine worldwide. "The impression was that the wines had potential but it was really unrealised potential," said Cox on his new role. "The image was sound but not very exciting."

He knew that his main task was to convey a more dynamic message for Chile while focusing on a three-pronged attack, which Wines of Chile Europe continues to use today: convince the trade that Chile needs to be looked at in a new light; persuade the press to extol the virtues; and make the consumer aware. "All this is very well," he says, "provided that the wines are getting better."

Handholding is an understatement of his dedication, and his work for Wines of Chile and the industry has been recognised within and outside of Chile. In 2010 President Piñera made Cox a Commander of the Order of Merit of Chile, the highest honour that can be given to a non-Chilean.

Cox described this as one of the highlights of his career but explained that it was a "magical moment" mostly because "I felt that I was accepting it on behalf of the Chilean wine trade for all the work that they had done. I can't do my work without the tools they have provided me. I can't spin something unless it is good."

Looking back on his careeer Cox recently said: "There has not been one day out of the 43 years that I have not enjoyed working in the wine business. I can safely and honestly say that these last 10 years [with WOC] have been the most rewarding and enjoyable."

On his other memories Cox also said: "I love manic dancing... Ask any Chilean on the wine scene and they'll know I like the dance floor." Asked to describe his dancing style, Cox added: "It's not a style so much... It's maverick!"