(ah-cole) | Bordeaux
Château Arcole is a small, family winery in Saint-Émilion, Bordeaux…
run by winemakers Philippe Gardère and Véronique Barthe, representing the expression of one contiguous five hectare single vineyard. Veronique’s ancestor, Jean Barthe, founded the family wine business two centuries ago with the gold coins awarded to him by Napoleon in the battle of Pont d’Arcole in Northern Italy. From the 19th century on, Château Arcole committed itself to natural and organic farming, making it the oldest property in Saint-Émilion to do so; they have been producing Demeter-certified biodynamic wines since 2012. Arcole is a limited-production wine made without the use of chemicals or additives, offering exceptional refinement, elegance, and transparency of terroir. They are among a movement of innovative winemakers in the region focused on producing excellent organic wines that emphasize refined terroir expression, outside Bordeaux’s traditional negociant system.
Château Arcole is a tiny hidden gem in the Saint-Émilion Grand Cru appellation, in the village of Saint-Sulpice-de-Faleyrens, just south of St. Émilion, 1 km from the Dordogne river. Located in a renovated, historic farm building dating from the 19th century, Arcole is the work of an impressive, dynamic Bordeaux family completely immersed in winemaking, with deep roots in the Entre-Deux-Mers region. Philippe Gardère is the vineyard manager and œnologist at Château Arcole, while Véronique Barthe is responsible for the sales, marketing, and communications of the winery. Véronique is also the owner and seventh-generation winemaker of Château La Freynelle in Entre-Deux-Mers and Château Jacquet in Bordeaux, where she has more than 20 vintages under her belt. Their daughter Manon is also becoming more involved in the family business, while their son Axel works nearby at Troplong Mondot. As is usual in the wine business, the wines are a reflection of their creators, and in this case, Château Arcole is an energetic, welcoming, and graceful expression of a carefully-tended vineyard with incredible biodiversity.
The Château owes its name to the Battle of Pont d’Arcole, which pitted Napoleon’s army against
Austrian soldiers in Northern Italy in 1796. Jean Barthe, soldier of the Napoleonic Guard and ancestor of Véronique Barthe, was a decisive contributor to Napoleon’s victory in the battle. As a show of gratitude, Jean Barthe received gold coins from Napoleon as a wedding present (the emperor was married on the same day), which he used to acquire his first vineyards in the region, initiating the Barthe family business. For more than two centuries, the property has passed down from generation to generation. Two symbols, which are important to the family, are featured prominently on the label: a bee, representing their dedication to working with nature and organic farming, and a portrait of Napoleon, linking their family’s origins in the Bordeaux region.
Château Arcole consists of a single, five-hectare vineyard surrounding the small property, which also doubles as a vacation rental. What distinguishes Arcole from other vineyards in the region is the impressive biodiversity of the property, which features elements of agroforestry and regenerative farming practices in the vineyard, such as cover grasses between vine rows. As a result, the plot is alive with animal and insect activity, contributing to the prosperity of the vineyard’s microclimate. Historically, herbicides and insecticides have not been used in the Arcole vineyard, as the property had been farmed organically since the 1960s, and biodynamically since their first vintage in 2008, gaining certification from Demeter in 2012. The soil is worked by light plowing with horses to control the growth of the grass when necessary. Instead of chemicals, they utilize pruning techniques like disbudding, de-leafing, and bunch dropping to limit the yield and open up the vines to aerate the bunches and promote the vines’ natural defenses against diseases.
The vineyard is planted to approximately 70% merlot and 30% cabernet sauvignon varieties, in a mixture of sand and gravel soils with calcareous elements. Soil studies demonstrate they are on the same soil layer as Château Monbousquet, a Saint-Émilion Grand Cru Classé. The average age of the vines is between 30 and 35 years, and their proximity to the river means the vines are naturally protected from drought stress in most years. The family produces just one wine from the property; the Château Arcole cuvée averages around 25,000 bottles in a good year. The harvest date is one of the most important decisions at the property and where the extensive experience of the family comes into play. Once the desired balance is reached, the vineyard is harvested and immediately fermented, with no chance of oxidation.
Vinification of Château Arcole is very slow and gentle, with minimal intervention. Their goal is to capture a snapshot of the vintage and all the work done throughout the year in the single vineyard by Philippe Gardère. Fermentation begins spontaneously in stainless steel vats with native yeasts. The horizontal vats, which allow for more contact between juice and solid, are very gently rotated once daily to submerge the cap; they do not use pumps at the winery and great care is taken to avoid over-extraction. Philippe’s goal is an infusion of flavor, while avoiding an extraction of harsh elements. Elegance and balance are the attributes they are selecting for with their methods in the cellar. After fermentation, 75% of the wine is moved by gravity into French oak barrels, two-thirds used and one-third new, and the remaining 25% remains in stainless steel. Maturation time is between 14 and 18 months, depending on the vintage. Everything in the winemaking process is tailored around what is best for each vintage. The wines are bottled without fining or filtration and sealed with Diam corks, to protect against TCA taint, built to improve in bottle for a decade or more.
Signified by the symbol of the bee on their front label, sustainable development and preservation of the environment are objectives at each stage of the life of Château Arcole. Their packaging protocol is a reflection of their values in the vineyard and winery. The aesthetic markers of the famous region’s more wasteful packaging habits are absent at Arcole. Their bottle is 10% lighter than average in order to reduce the carbon footprint and their neck capsule is 100% recyclable aluminum, tinted with natural vegetable ink. The front and back labels are made from recycled paper, printed with the intaglio method. Intaglio is a high-quality process dating from the 15th century, which uses non-toxic, water-based vegetable inks. The word comes from the Italian intagliare, meaning “to incise” or “to carve.” In intaglio printing, the lines or areas that hold the ink are incised below the surface of the plate, and printing relies on the pressure of a press to force damp paper into these impressions, to pick up ink. Finally, and atypically in the Bordeaux region, they package their bottles in cardboard boxes produced from 100% recycled source material, produced without toxic glues or inks, making their packaging 100% recyclable.
We firmly believe that the future of Saint-Émilion, and the Bordeaux region as a whole, lies in the hands of family wineries like Château Arcole, who put their energy into a new vision of the region. Theirs is a sustainable, people-centric vision, working in harmony with the natural environment. We are honored to play a small part in the proliferation of these cultural and viticultural values through spreading the message of the renewal and rebirth of the region by small Bordeaux vignerons like Château Arcole.