Garcin-Lévêque Vineyards:Poetry & Wine
A conversation with Hélène Garcin and Patrice Lévêque
by Marla Norman, Publisher
To overstate the prestige and cachet of Bordeaux is impossible. The region has been dedicated to wine growing for centuries, even before the Romans conquered the area and named it Burdigala. And Bordeaux’s legendary reputation for quality and longevity fetch top dollar in wine auctions, where single bottles often sell for over $2,000.
So, to be a superstar among such a celebrated and influential group is something rare. Hélène Garcin and Patrice Lévêque own five ultra-premium estates in Bordeaux – nothing short of remarkable. Moreover, Vignobles Garcin under the proprietorship of these two has consistently produced high ratings in both good and bad vintages.
A quick look at the five estates:
Château Clos L’Eglise dates back to the 18th Century and is located in the Pomerol region of Bordeaux. Situated between Châteaux Clinet and L’Eglise-Clinet, the property benefits from the very best terroir on the Pomerol upper plateau. Nearby is Pétrus known for extraordinary wine, consistently selling for upwards of $1,000 a bottle.
Château Haut-Bergey dates back to the 15th Century. The estate is particularly known for it’s magnificent castle, which was reconstructed in 1850. Located in Pessac Leognan, the winery is appreciated for its crisp, fragrant white wines – made from a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon – as well as for its reds. The red wines are 54% Cabernet Sauvignon and 46% Merlot.
Château Branon, also located in Pessac Leognan, is a tiny property of 6.5 hectares (16 acres). The site, which boasts one of the oldest stone wine presses in the region, was abandoned for many years. The property was in terrible shape when the family purchased it in 1996. The wines produced there now are lush, juicy and rich, known for their purity and focus. Only 5,000 bottles of wine are produced annually – all highly sought-after.
Château Barde-Haut is where Hélène, Patrice and their son Louis make their home. The property location is superb, next to Troplong Mondot and La Mondotte. Here, Patrice produces a wine that is both rich in fruit and elegant. And the property has a new state-of-the-art “green” winery – built entirely from oxidized steel – a dramatic departure from traditional Bordeaux styles.
Château Poesia is the newest acquisition within the Garcin-Lévêque holdings. In 2014, the couple purchased Château Haut Villet, a neglected estate, and renamed it Château Poesia. The property consists of 13.2 hectares (32.6 acres) and is situated on a limestone plateau. The largest portion of the property sits in the Saint-Émilion Appellation, while the remaining portion is in Côtes de Castillon. To date, the estate has been completely replanted with 70% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. “We are really in love with this property,” enthuses Patrice. “We think Poesia will produce our first 100 PT wine.”
Hélène and Patrice own yet another vineyard in Argentina’s spectacular Mendoza, located within the Luján de Cuyo Appellation – prized for it’s sandy, stony soil. Their Bodega Poesia was originally established in 1935, planted with Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec. Since the Garcin-Lévêque acquisition, the wines have received ratings of 94 PT and better from Robert Parker.
I catch up to Hélène and Patrice at their home in Barde-Haut, overlooking acres and acres of lush vineyards. My first question: “How do you manage the viticulture and international sales for six vineyards – especially with one in Argentina?”
“We have a LOT of help,” laughs Hélène. “We have a great team of people in both Bordeaux and Mendoza to assist with every phase of the operation. And we really do function as a team. Everyone is important. Also the fact that the seasons are reversed in Argentina from Europe is a huge help. We had looked at property in California at one point, but decided that since harvests are at the same time as Bordeaux, there was no way we could manage a U.S. property. Argentina works perfectly. And really, our schedules are pretty manageable. The fall is the only time that’s difficult. Harvest is beyond insane!”
“With the five estates in Bordeaux – arguably one of the most coveted wine-growing regions in the world – why did you decide to expand in Argentina?” I wonder.
“Because Patrice and I wanted something of our own,” Hélène explains. “We own Château Poesia, but we share the other Bordeaux properties with my family, which is great, but we wanted to build something that was exclusively ours. Plus, I felt an immediate connection with Mendoza. It reminded me of my childhood home in the French Alps. It was a kind of Garden of Eden. That’s why I named it Poetry or “Poesia.”
“We also thought there was a real opportunity in Argentina to develop Bordeaux-style wines that can compete with any of the high-end wines going for thousands of dollars. The terroir is excellent and we cellar our Poesia wines, just as we do our French wines. They have great complexity and elegant flavor. They’ll be wonderful 35 years from now.”
On a tour of the vineyards, we sample early 2015 vintages from Châteaux Poesia, Clos L’Eglise and Barde-Haut. The views from Poesia, high above Saint-Émilion are especially spectacular. The buildings are yet to be refurbished, but the swimming pool has been re-done. “We come up here and relax on weekends,” says Hélène, pointing out a barbecue grill. “We have great cookouts! Eventually we’ll rebuild completely, but the vineyard was the first priority, obviously.”
Patrice siphons off a bit of the newly harvested Merlot from the tanks. We all agree the juice at Poesia has tremendous potential. Like most Bordeaux producers, Hélène and Patrice are very excited about the 2015 vintage.
At Château Clos L’Eglise an experiment is under way – one of the batches of juice consists of grapes harvested early and blended with a second batch of late-harvest grapes. I find this blend has an incredible depth of flavor. Truly impressive for month-old juice.
Hélène and Patrice are particularly fond of their Clos L’Eglise property. “This terroir has an equilibrium that doesn’t exist anywhere else,” says Patrice. “It provides an elegance to the wines that’s unique to this area.”
We return to Château Barde-Haut and sample more of the new 2015 juice. This too shows great promise.“No doubt. It’s going to be a super vintage,” Hélène agrees.
I admire the “green” facility at Barde-Haut, which has recently won several awards for architectural design. “Are you moving into biodynamic cultivation for all your wineries?”
“We don’t use chemicals in any of our vineyards,” says Patrice. “But I wouldn’t say we’re biodynamic exactly. We till mechanically, although the grapes are picked and sorted by hand. In Argentina we were certified as an “organic” vineyard at one point. But eventually the certification seemed to be more of a government tax than an actual evaluation, so we didn’t reapply for it.”
Later, over dinner, we toast the 2015 futures and sample a good number of the older vintages as well. As the evening draws on, our conversation turns to the business of winemaking and the huge amounts of money required to invest in wines – especially Bordeaux.
“Honestly, that part of the business makes me a little sad.” Hélène responds. “I don’t think of wine only as a means of making money. And I always say don’t save the wine for some special occasion that may never happen. Wine is for sharing with family and friends as part of a good meal. Drink the wine and enjoy it!”
Who could argue with such practical and poetic advice….