Michèle Bosc, of Chateau Des Charmes Winery, died Jan. 10, 2019, at the age of 52.
The loss of the wine industry titan will be felt throughout the field, throughout Niagara-on-the-Lake, at Chateau Des Charmes where she was a vice-president — and most acutely at home, where she is dearly and deeply missed by her 11-year-old son Alex, and her husband, Paul Bosc, Jr.
Michèle was diagnosed with bowel cancer late last spring; an immediate and successful surgery removed the tumour, which hadn’t spread. But biopsies of 15 lymph nodes returned one positive result, so a six-month course of chemotherapy was prescribed.
“Her health got worse and worse,” says the bereft Paul, Michèle’s husband and partner. “The medication makes you feel worse, and has a cumulative effect. It felt like she was running a marathon, but struggling. She got to the finish line, and it was an enormous relief. Now we just had to hunker down for the recovery — but over the next several weeks she only got worse.”
“We knew she was in a battle; she just didn’t expect to lose. None of us did.”
Through the last months of her life, Michèle managed to marshall the energy to attend the staff Christmas party at the family’s winery, and she “pulled off a perfect Christmas” at home, says Paul. She also fulfilled a dream by publishing her first romance novel on Dec. 11. But on Jan. 9, her bowel perforated and leaked toxins into a vulnerable and compromised system. “It was like a forest fire,” says Paul, still deeply shaken. “She went into septic shock. She didn’t have a chance.”
Despite the cancer diagnosis and treatment, “we never talked about ‘what if,’” says Paul. The assumption had always been that Michèle would succeed at this in the same way she had at everything else she put her powerful mind to. “It felt like a car accident: Here today, gone later today.”
Paul, a philosophical and logical man, breaks Michèle’s life neatly into three parts. “She spent one third of her life on the east coast, in Moncton, St. John’s and Halifax.” Michèle was born in Moncton; raised — with her treasured younger brother Danny — in St. John’s by her entrepreneurial single mother, Caroline; and educated at Dalhousie University in Halifax.
Having survived a near-fatal bout of cancer at age five, young Michèle spent a lot of time in hospitals and within the medical field, and decided she wanted to be a doctor. After achieving her B. Sc. in biology, however, she’d seen enough of the industry from the inside to know she’d prefer the periphery. She decided to become a pharmaceutical sales representative.
The second third of her life was her coming of age, according to Paul — finding her independence. He describes her first job: “Good news: You’re one of the first female pharmaceutical sales reps in Canada. Bad news, you’ll be based in Winnipeg.” This meant Michèle took small planes to remote Manitoba cities like The Pas and Thompson, where she would have mere minutes to convince time-strapped male doctors to purchase her wares.
Her success in the field was such that she was promoted to the major hospitals in Toronto’s downtown, the peak market. “They don’t hand that area to just anybody,” says Paul with continued reverence for his late wife.
The last third of her life involved her becoming Michèle Bosc — or even just “Michèle,” as she was known, her impact so great only one name was necessary. “There was only one Michèle. She definitely earned that recognition,” says Paul.
Michèle and Paul were introduced in 2001 through a university friend of Paul’s, who set them up on a blind date — although the set-up took longer than anticipated due to inconvenient timing. When they finally did meet for dinner, “it went very well,” says Paul, understatedly. He was used to being “an ambassador of the wine industry,” and having to answer hundreds of questions about his work. But in this case, the conversation flowed easily both ways. “I saw even on the first date she was very bright,” says Paul, his eyes shining with the memory. “And opinionated. There weren’t too many things she didn’t have an opinion on.”
Michèle beat Paul to the punch in asking for a second date, which saw them attending a jazz festival in the Beaches area of Toronto, where Michèle lived at the time. Two months later they were on their way to France. “That was out of character for me,” says Paul with a chuckle. “Normally two months into a relationship I would suggest we spend a whole day together — not travel to Europe.”
The rest is local history: In 2003 the successful urban woman made the shift to a rural life, and shed her pharmaceutical career to embrace her new husband’s wine industry.
“She was a quick study,” says Paul, with his characteristic admiration. “She had already taken sommelier courses for better understanding and appreciation of wine before we even met,” so it was relatively easy for her to dive in. Having married into the family, Michèle “had to overcome labels,” says the scion of the family business. “But people saw quickly she’s very smart. And she hit the ground running, with her pharmaceutical background. She had a skill set a small company couldn’t afford in an industry with many parallels with wine.”
After a matter of just a few years, Michèle’s title was vice-president of marketing and administration; she ultimately had six people reporting to her. She was a recognized leader in social media, and spoke at conferences and events all over North America on the topic. An early adopter, she paved the way for many others, using her own name (@MBosc) as the handle for the winery, and initiating “Twastings” and other digital meet-ups for industry and non-industry folk alike.
“As I look around,” says Paul, “I see her in everything: That was her initiative, and so was that and that,” he says nodding towards posters, bottles and more around the winery. She was responsible for everything from brand management to staff training, as well as all aspects of the guest experience. In a merging of skills that proves Michèle’s creativity and logic were equally strong. she was also head of the business’ IT department. When it became undeniable she would need to be replaced, Paul says he spent hours writing her job description, and then ultimately took it to the existing team and asked them to step up where they could. “She is irreplaceable,” he says.
In the “When you need to get something done, ask a busy person to do it” vein, Michèle had the ability to add hours to her packed days. The proof of that is the romance novel she published on Dec. 11, 2018. “She went from being a consumer of wine to being a leader in the wine industry. She did the same with romance literature,” says Paul with fierce pride. “Not just ‘I consume this,’ but ‘I can produce this.’” Show Me How to Love was to be the first of a “duet” of books. The book’s dedication page reads: “To abuse survivors, men and women, and their children who through sheer resilience demonstrate immeasurable courage by living their own lives. Fifty cents from the sale of this book, and Show Me How to Live Part 2, will be donated to Gillian’s Place. As one of Ontario’s first shelters for abused women and children, Gillian’s Place has been providing safe refuge and non-residential programs that enable women and their children to break the cycle of violence for over 40 years.”
Paul says, “She hadn’t even sold a single copy, and she was already planning a charitable component.”
Michèle wrote under the nom de plume Hélène Soper — her grandmother’s maiden name. “Hélène died 10 years ago at the age of 98. Michele suffered terribly when she passed,” says Paul. “And she only outlived her grandmother by a decade,” he says, shaking his head sadly.
Her dedicated husband plans to maintain the book’s website, and to continue marketing the oeuvre — perhaps even going as far as hiring a ghostwriter to pen the second in the series.
Those who knew Michèle will not be surprised by her passion for hard rock. “She loved the band Avenged Sevenfold,” says Paul. “If you look at the music on her phone it is different from that of most 52-year-old white women.” She was known for her passion for live concerts, which she attended regularly, and even initiated at the winery.
Live music was a shared family passion, with Michèle, Paul and Alex attending concerts such as the beloved Avenged Sevenfold, Roger Waters, Kings of Leon and more. Michèle often splurged on backstage passes and relished the full experience.
“There are remarkable things that happen,” says Paul in awe. “She died at 9:20 a.m. A couple of hours later I sent an email to my closest friends, maybe 18 or 20 people. I asked them not to respond, not to call, that I wouldn’t be able to engage. Later that day, my best man and friend of over 40 years showed up at our door, from North Carolina. He moved in for two weeks and did everything for us.” Within 24 hours friends had arrived from all over North America to provide their support.
A Catholic mass was held at a local funeral home. “Father Paul — an excellent representative of God — said maybe the healing can start today,” says Paul. “Alex insisted on speaking at the service, maybe seven or eight pages,” he says of his 11-year-old son. “HIs voice cracked a couple of times but he made it through. That was when the healing started.”
“I don’t want people seeing her as a tragic figure,” says Paul pensively. “I think sometimes we get too hung up on chronology. The medical profession is keeping people alive longer. A century ago the reaction would have been different, but now it’s perceived as a life cut short. But if you look at her life trajectory, where she started, what she made it through — the defeats, and the victories — hers was a short life by contemporary standards, but it was a full life. She did a lot of good things, she was completely unselfish. There are plenty of people who live longer, but don’t achieve as much. It’s less about the quantity, and more about the quality.”
“Her life was impactful: on my family, the business, the industry, and the community.”
There will be a private celebration of life in the spring, by invitation only — with live music, of course.