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Bordeaux Vintners Bring a Little Poetry to Argentina's Winemaking

Hélène Garcin-Lévêque and Patrice Lévêque, who oversee Clos L'Église in Pomerol, have launched a new Mendoza winery, Poesia.

James Molesworth
Posted: May 14, 2004

Argentina has lured in a wave of large-scale foreign investment in recent years, even with the devaluation crisis of 2002. Yet in Mendoza, the country's prime winegrowing area, there are numerous, small, old-vine vineyards in need of tender loving care. These sites fly below the radar of big companies looking for high-volume production, but they provide a unique opportunity for smaller, boutique-scale ventures. Poesia is just that.

Poesia, which means poetry in Spanish, is the latest project of Hélène Garcin-Lévêque, 30, and her husband, winemaker Patrice Lévêque, 36. Garcin and Lévêque are no strangers to wine. Garcin manages several small Bordeaux châteaus owned by her mother, Sylviane Garcin-Cathiard, including Clos L'Église in Pomerol and Barde-Haut in St.-Emilion, while Lévêque makes the wines.

The Bordeaux connection to Argentina is already strong, with several joint ventures -- such as Bodegas Caro (between Domaines Baron de Rothschild-Lafite and Catena Zapata) and Cheval des Andes (Château Cheval-Blanc and Bodegas Terrazas de los Andes) -- producing wines that try to marry the two region's styles. But Garcin is looking for something different through Poesia.

"We want to have an original Argentinean wine, and not a copy of a blend that is already done in another country," Garcin said.

Garcin first came to Argentina in 1998 as part of a group of investors in Bodega Monteviejo, a project led by Bordeaux consultant Michel Rolland and located in the Vista Flores area in the Uco Valley. But with progress there sluggish, Garcin changed her plan. She sold some of her parcels to other members of the group and moved up north to the historical heart of Mendoza, Luján de Cuyo. There she purchased a 32-acre vineyard notable for the Malbec that had been planted in 1935.

The vineyard, which also contains Cabernet Sauvignon, is being farmed organically by Garcin and her vineyard manager Marcelo Casazza. Poesia will not use any purchased grapes, and production will be small: Only 1,300 cases were made in 2001 and 2002, and just more than 1,500 cases in 2003. The wine will retail for around $40.

Though Garcin wants to make a uniquely Argentinean wine, she is blending Malbec -- the country's premier grape -- with Cabernet Sauvignon, the leading player in Bordeaux. "Cabernet has better body and tannin structure," she said. "So it gives more complexity to the blend."

The wine receives 18 months in 100 percent new French oak, but the barrel staves have only a medium to light toast and the barrel heads are not toasted. This light-handed approach to the élevage allows the wine's purity to shine through. Samples of the 2002 and 2003 tasted with Garcin showed lush raspberry confiture notes supported by racy tannins.

Does Garcin think that Argentina can produce better wine than her own Bordeaux?

"My mother will kill me if she hears me say this, but I think maybe yes," Garcin answered. "I really don't know though. I just know that it will be different."

Garcin is producing a second wine, called Clos des Andes, with grapes sourced from a leased vineyard in Chacras de Coria and from some of her remaining parcels in Vista Flores. The Clos des Andes bottling is expected to be priced around $15, with production in the 2,000- to 3,000-case range.

Neither wine has been released in the United States yet, though Garcin said she expects to have distribution by the end of this year.

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