It’s not unusual these days for young women to follow in the footsteps of their fathers as winemakers — but few have taken these steps while learning their trade in three countries on two continents.
Frenchman Pierre Seillan famously teamed up with the late Jess Jackson and his wife and business partner Barbara Banke beginning in the 1990s to make wines at three estates — Château Lassegue in St-Émilion, Arcena in Tuscany, and most-notably Vérité in Sonoma County, where some of Seillan’s wines earned 100-point ratings. All are blends using Bordeaux grapes, and all today are part of the Spire Collection of Jackson Family Wines.
Hélène Seillan (pronounced “say-uhn”) helped out in the cellars as a teenager, but with the 2009 harvest, she began crafting her own red Sonoma blend at the age of 23. It is called Cenyth (Zenith), and it was recently released.
Hélène and her brother Nicolas grew up as friends of the Jackson’s daughters, Katie and Julia, and all four work today in some aspect of the families’ wine businesses, as does Monique Seillan, Pierre’s wife and business partner. Nicolas makes wines at the group’s European properties, but Hélène is the first of the young adults to create her own brand. Her friend and business colleague Julia Jackson painted the label art.
Here are three wines recently tasted — two from Pierre Seillan and one from Hélène.
2005 Château Lassègue St-Émilion grand cru ($96) — Seillan wanted this wine to mature before the general release, hence the older vintage and the wonderful aromas of dark fruits and medium oak. Very classic — with long, dark-fruit flavors, yet lean with integrated tannins and hints of bacon and baking chocolate on the finish. Not too fruity, not too lean, and with a long, lingering aftertaste, this bottle is just delightful.
2009 Cenyth Sonoma County red wine ($58) — Dominated by half cabernet sauvignon and a quarter merlot, the wine still has a reluctant nose, and there are hints of gaminess. It is a very centered rather than a linear wine, very dark and murky with tastes of dark currants, chestnuts, violets, and dusty tannins. The younger Seillan has applied Old World sensitivities to a California canvas with this wine, which is very drinkable now — lovely when I had it in a restaurant with a beef filet — but will improve in the bottle for years.
2010 Vérité “La Muse” Sonoma County red wine ($390) La Muse is a lilting and very elegant wine that almost dances across the palate with flashes of both dark and juicy red cherries bordered by dusty tannins. With airing, it just gets rounder and more harmonious. In a word: fabulous!
I have no idea how much Pierre influenced Hélène (or vice versa!), but there is a style difference in the two wines that goes beyond vintage and grape sourcing — both very good, both very well-made, and both very different. It will be interesting to see if the younger Seillan will continue with her current vision in her next wine or whether she will continue to experiment.
I’m willing to wait.