Heart of rock ‘n’ roll | Rest in peace, Patricio de la Fuente Saez

Life gets a lot less complicated if you surround yourself with people you like.
—Patricio de la Fuente Saez

Patricio de la Fuente Saez died in Hong Kong on Tuesday after a long fight with illness, a fight in which he showed more spirit than most of us do when perfectly healthy. The word spirit defined Patricio, widely known as the leaders of Links, as a champion of family owned wineries, as a loyal partner and fierce competitor, as a loving father, son, brother and friend, as an elite party animal.

Patricio was the Hong Kong friend who made business trips to Beijing where he worked all day, oversaw wine dinners at night, took everyone out for drinks until 2 AM, then got on the phone at 9 AM to those not yet at the office. He was the poster child for the ‘work hard, play hard’ philosophy, the man with the ‘rock ‘n’ roll’ mantra. True to the quote above, he focused on people he liked.

I met Patricio a few dozen times, and talked to him by phone a few hundred more, thus my view is more remote than that of his closest friends. But I saw how much they loved him during his fortieth birthday party in Hong Kong, complete with a disco theme. And by how many flew the ‘Super Pato’ logo to support him during these past 18 months.Patricio could be effortlessly capable and carefree. We once drove around Hong Kong while he worked the phone to arrange deliveries of rare wines, and then, deals done, acted like the kid with the biggest bag of Halloween candy. Between those deals were calls to his family, friends and clients, thus pairing his efforts to make the business thrive and keep his intimates happy. In pursuing this, he launched many careers and sold much wine while stressing loyalty and fairness. Patricio exiled those he felt had betrayed him, though he believed in redemption.

“Will you ever forgive him,” I once asked about a former employee.

“Never!” Then five seconds later: “At least not for a very long time.”

During that first meeting in Hong Kong, we toured the family wine cellar, a whiskey area the size of a convenience store and, finally, a large cigar room. With a grin, he pointed to stacks of cigar boxes and asked me what I noticed.

“There are lots of them?”

“Read the labels.”

“Hand-made in Havana.”

“That’s right. It’s English. These predate Castro,” he said with glee. He put several in a plastic shopping bag and pocketed it for later. What good are rare cigars if you don’t smoke them with friends, right? As he often said: “It’s all rock ‘n’ roll.”

He showed the same enthusiasm when we met in Beijing. I lived near the sprawling Parkview Green complex, with which his family is well-connected, and visited the cavernous place many times before it opened. Patricio would call during visits, I would walk over, and we would marvel at that city within a city. As we looked down from Eclat Hotel’s top floor at the offices, shops, walkways and art below, he would reach up to the thin shell encasing the complex.

“It’s the same material as The Water Cube [Olympic swimming venue],” he would say, and shake his head in wonder. “Hey, you have to see the new sculpture in the gallery. It’s amazing.”

We met at his office, at coffee shops, at bars and restaurants like Suzie Wong, Xiu and ROOM, at the Capital Club and Hong Kong Jockey Club. We met at a Links wine dinner that featured a cigar-maker in action. At the opening of Parkview Green where attendees enjoyed free-flow Louis Roederer and a Cirque du Soleil performance. At a hotpot restaurant with a lineup of local wine. You might find yourself with Patricio most anywhere.

If this sounds extravagant or I sound self-indulgent, it is meant to underscore a point: someone in Patricio’s position could have easily turned up his nose at someone in mine, namely, the wine trade fringes. Instead, he was gregarious and generous, positive and inclusive, endlessly supportive. He wanted to share that rare bottle, the new art gallery addition, the vintage cigar, the wonder of that Parkview Green shell that protected a miniature world.

And he was always on the move, looking after friends and clients, living his life and wearing his emotions big. I saw his concern when a mutual friend was in trouble or a salesperson got into a fight with a competitor or a visiting winery rep got out of control. His anger when a valued employee quit or I spoke the name of a distributor he believed had stolen a client. And his delight in talking about family, about customers who enjoyed his wines, about taking his staff abroad. His idea of fun? Seeing other people have fun.

I once joined a Links Concept trip to Barossa Valley. I assumed the company had invited other wine writers and I would soon meet them. When I realized I was the only one, I found the situation awkward.

“Then don’t write anything!” he said. “We’re here to party!”

That was Patricio. And party we did, enjoying superb wine and food and comradeship.

Patricio fought hard during his illness. He called me a few times, carefully and efficiently constructing sentences, and made me believe a miracle was in the making. The reality is I’ll never answer the phone again to hear, “Dude, you won’t believe what we drank last night!”

I’ll never forget Patricio nor will many others. He created a legacy that will endure. Rest in peace, Patricio. You were as unique as the sole surviving bottle of a great vintage. By knowing you, we learned to live better, and fuller, and with a lot more rock ‘n’ roll.

Note: I posted this Q&A with Patricio de la Fuente-Saez in 2015 as Links marked its 15th anniversary. He starts by saying the company’s number one rule is “don’t work with assholes” and goes from there. I also interviewed him in 2009: part one is on the general China wine scene while part two covers rare and intriguing wines he tasted.

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