It Is Easy Being Green For Helene Garcin-Leveque

by Chuck Hayward

It Is Easy Being Green For Helene Garcin-Leveque

Post by Andy Frieden | April 7th, 2011

It was our third day of 'official' en primeur activities, and I couldn't have been more excited about our visit with the ever-lovely and always gracious Helene Garcin-Leveque, who, along with her mother Sylviane Garcin-Cathiard, are the proprietors of Chateau Barde-Haut. Built as an addition to the family home on a 17-acre natural amphitheatre, the Chateau is just a few minutes drive from center of St. Emilion village, and counts Tertre-Roteboeuf and Troplong-Mondot among its prestigious neighbors.

Andy's last run at Alpine Meadows, March 2011

Winemaking seems to be in the blood for Helene's family. Mother Sylviane, the grande dame of Vignobles Garcin, is sister to Daniel Cathiard who owns Smith-Haut-Lafitte with wife Florence. Sylviane and Daniel's grandfather was an Alpine wine merchant who is also noted for creating the modern day ski lift! As an avid skier myself, I was particularly interested to find out in their previous lives, Daniel and Florence Cathiard were members of the French National Ski Team with gold medalist Jean-Claude Killy. It was perhaps his influence that led the Cathiards to Bordeaux, as this celebrated skier often concluded a day of racing with a bottle of the region's finest.

The Cathiards also once owned a chain of supermarkets and hypermarkets before moving into Bordeaux, so it seems a pioneering spirit of innovation runs in Helene's family. Working under the umbrella of Vignobles Garcin, Helene and husband Patrice Leveque manage four small, ultra-premium wineries, including Right Bank properties Barde-Haut and Clos L'Eglise, as well as two Left Bank estates Haut-Bergey in Graves and Chateau Branon in Pessac-Leognan. Noted consultant and president of the Cercle Rive Droite, Dr. Alain Raynaud is part of the Garcin team, whom some of our California wine lovers may know for his work with Napa's cult cab producer Colgin Estate. The Garcin's go-getter attitude has also led them far away from home to Argentina, where they produce some fantastic New World wines at Bodega Poesia in the Lujan de Cuyo—arguably the finest sub-appellation in the Mendoza region. Along with Poesia’s flagship wine, they also craft delicious malbecs and blends under the Clos des Andes and Pasodoble labels.

JJB crew marveling at Barde Haut

The beautiful, progressive style of Vignobles Garcin is the embodiment of Helene's passion and modern sensibilities. This is perhaps nowhere more clearly evident than in the new state-of-the-art 'green' winery under construction, which will hopefully be ready in time for the 2011 harvest. This new facility is positively stunning (!!) and marks a complete architectural departure from the Bordeaux norm. Made from steel that was allowed to rust to an oxidized brown, Helene felt that this material was more environmentally sound than harvesting exotic woods, and the color has the added benefit of blending more seamlessly into the surrounding landscape. A sustainable theme throughout the new winery marries function to long-term cost savings, from a natural grass roof on one building to a windmill used for generating power.

This year marked my fourth visit to Barde-Haut, and I feel fortunate to have witnessed its amazing and exhilarating transformations, as well as to benefit from Helene's gracious hospitality. Vignobles Garcin is definitely one to watch!

For more information on the new winery, check out this video footage: