On the Trail

Hélène Garcin's Next Big Move

David Driscoll

Already this month we've mentioned Hélène Garcin and her Bordalais winemaking family's prowess in features promoting new shipments of back vintages from both Barde-Haut and Haut Bergey. However, whereas then we were featuring library editions from the Garcin family's past, today I'm here to tell you about their future; namely, Hélène's new project with her husband Patrice Lévêque. The husband and wife duo has recently purchased a property called Château d'Arce located in the Côtes de Castillon, a region that has seen serious investment over the last few years from a number of château owners. It was only in 1989 that the Côtes de Castillon was given AOC status in Bordeaux, but small properties have been making value-driven cuvées there for some time. And it's been only since 2014 that Hélène and Patrice have begun releasing their first wines from d'Arce, a tiny 4.41 hectare estate planted mostly to merlot with some cabernet franc as well. The question you're probably asking yourself right now is: why should I care about some new-wave château located in a rather unknown part of Bordeaux that only has two vintages under its belt and sells a bargain-priced, merlot-dominated wine for everyday drinking? Think of it like real estate. When San Francisco becomes priced out for homes, would-be buyers begin looking to the East Bay. When Oakland prices rise, those same buyers might look towards the South Bay. It's all a matter of value. Where can one make the best possible wine for the best possible price? The Côtes de Castillon is that spot right now for Bordeaux.

The other reason you should care about Château d'Arce is because the wine is being made by Hélène Garcin. It's when you taste the 2015 d'Arce for the first time that you realize you're tasting a serious Bordeaux, made by a serious team of experts, for a price that over-delivers in terms of quality. It's like finding a spacious, well-lit, two-bedroom apartment in Berkeley for under four-hundred grand. Stylistically, the wine also fits right in with Barde-Haut and L'Eglise, the two most prestigious properties in her family's portfolio which typically sell between $40-$100 per bottle. The d'Arce, however, sells for a splendid $15.99. For that price, my friends, you should be considering a volume purchase.

I first met Hélène back in the Spring of 2016 while making my third trip to Bordeaux. After days and nights of rigid sit-down dinners, formalized tastings, and detailed note-taking, we arrived at her place for lunch—a casual affair with fresh salads, modern appetizers, and much more youthful approach to wine enjoyment. I felt right at home and I connected with her outgoing personality immediately. I get the feeling that Hélène isn't one for rigidity either. Before revamping d'Arce and refocusing her efforts of the family's Right Bank properties, she and her husband had established the Poesia winery in Argentina where the rules and regulations to winemaking are far less strict than back home. It was that very freedom that had brought the couple there in the first place—the romance of the open road and the flexibility outside the AOC regulations. Now they've returned to Bordeaux and brought the energy and experience of the new world with them. They're farming organically and sustainably at d'Arce and they're making charming and delightful wines that pair with lighter foods (like the fresh vegetables and snacks we ate that afternoon). Everything about Hélène feels modern, from her stylish outfits to her taste in artwork. I couldn't help but snap a few photos of the decor while we were there as I was inspired by her spirit and her fun-oriented approach to the industry. I think Bordeaux ultimately needs more people like her to update the old world traditions for a new audience.

But enough about Hélène! Let's talk about the wine; let's discuss Hélène's next big move. The second vintage of Château d'Arce is a perfect expression of everything I enjoy about 2015 Bordeaux. The flavors are delicate and fruit-driven, but they're pretty rather than punchy. The red fruits are pure, accented with mineral notes and a core of clean acidity, and the tannins are elegantly structured. We tasted it at the property this past Spring and I loved it then, but the wine is really showing its splendor right now. Not only is it delicious, it's versatile. It's rich enough to pair with beef, but juicy enough for chicken and pork as well. It's a wine I could drink everyday for the price, yet also one that tastes serious enough to bring to a dinner party. Frankly, it's the type of Bordeaux I never want to be without because it tastes like Bordeaux without being heavy-handed; and it's a fantastic preview of what's to come from 2015. Most importantly, however, it shows consistency and ingenuity from the duo of Hélène and Patrice. They're making youthful, fresh, and food-friendly wines that revolve around a healthier, more modern way of living. As the world continues to move away from multi-course meals and four hour dinners, Bordeaux will have to adapt. Normally reserved for heavier dishes like beef stew and rib-eye, Bordeaux needs to find its way into the Wednesday night, reheated-leftovers rotation. It needs to escape rigid food pairings and narrow usage if it wants to gain traction with people from my generation and younger.

Bordeaux needs a youthful shot in the arm and Hélène Garcin is just the person to give it to us. The 2015 d'Arce is her preemptive strike.

-David Driscoll