Beyond the Bio: Selim Zilkha at 90

My father, Selim Zilkha, embodies the original Latin meaning of Laetitia: joy and happiness. He’s smart, he’s dynamic, he’s fun, was an early adopter of Facebook, he’s endlessly curious, social and, at 90, still going strong. He just celebrated his birthday with a stunning party for 200 of his close friends, colleagues and family.

He’s as dedicated to creating quality wines and to making improvements at Laetitia today as he was 19 years ago, when he bought the vineyard, and 65 years ago, when he embarked on his long and varied business career.

When we were last at Laetitia, we visited our cellar tasting the latest vintage: 2016 Pinot. Selim was keenly aware of the subtle differences of Pinot from varied lots and barrels. He noted that the softer flavors from older oak barrels were at that point more drinkable than the more tannic juice from new barrels. Yet Selim recognizes that he’s not a Winemaker.

That is why he’s assembled such a strong team. My father’s love for Laetitia is reflected in his belief that Lino will farm the best grapes on our land, in his trust that Eric will create the best possible wines, and to his confidence that the wines will shine in the tasting room, restaurants and in your home.

Selim’s directive is clear. Quality is supreme. It starts in our vineyard, goes through the cellar and ends up in the bottling—where our label means style and excellence.

So yes, Selim is a consummate builder. He has always loved business and sees it as an opportunity to make the world a better place, one small change at a time. Years ago he introduced me to the aphorism “Retail is Detail” which is as relevant to us today as 55 years ago, when he started Mothercare, the first retail chain in the U.K. selling everything for the mother to be and her baby up to 5 years old.

Attention to detail extends to our hospitality in the Tasting Room, and to our belief that the customer is also our teacher. We welcome all your reviews—even when they are less than favorable. We see them as an opportunity to learn from our mistakes.

Selim instilled this attitude in me from childhood when we all read the letters to Mothercare, to better understand what we were doing wrong as well as right. Learning from others has been an important part of my education.

As a champion of the environment, Selim has worked to create alternative forms of energy, including wind energy and biomass businesses. At Laetitia, he’s found a kindred spirit in Lino, who embraced the Central Coast’s SIP (Sustainable in Practice) certification requirements. Lino has absorbed Selim’s belief that we are only custodians of our land for future generations.

Selim is as committed to bettering the world as he is to business. His strong philanthropic interest in Alzheimer’s disease is personal, because his mother and older brother succumbed to the disease.

Selim and Mary Hayley, his life partner of 55 years, also support the Los Angeles Opera. They made sure Laetitia has taken center stage there—donating numerous cases of wine for opera galas and events. Laetitia, Official Still Wine of the Los Angeles Opera.

So let’s toast my amazing father! I raise my glass of Brut Rosé on behalf of all our staff to a great future filled with good health.

Happy 90th, Selim!

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