Head up out of the village of Sauternes in the direction of Le Haut Bommes – towards Château Rayne-Vigneau, Château Lafaurie-Peyraguey and Clos Haut-Peyraguey – and before long a small castellated tower appears on the left-hand side of the road. It is a timely reminder of the ancient history of this region of Bordeaux. To the north Renaissance-style and other exotic châteaux dominate the landscape, the pure and pointed, conical roofs of Château Pichon-Baron over the pale yellow-cream of the region’s limestone, or the golden sandstone and pagoda-style roofs of Château Cos d’Estournel, for example. Here in Sauternes and Barsac, however, many properties have a more defensive, castle-like feel to them; Château Coutet, the aforementioned Château Lafaurie-Peyraguey and Château d’Yquem are all good examples (although not all are as old as they look – but that’s a story for another day). Such estates date from feudal times, when protection against marauding bands of outlaws, or armies of enemy soldiers, was important.
So there should be no surprise at seeing a small castellated tower such as this. Except that, upon drawing closer, you will see that this is a very small tower, with generous windows, and it is surrounded by an extensive complex of buildings, not just winemaking facilities but also a rather attractive hotel. This is Château d’Arche, a deuxième cru classé Sauternes estate, and it is not in fact as Medieval as the appearance of the tower might suggest. Much of it was in fact built in the 17th century, and while one small section of it is certainly castellated, an architectural style in sympathy with the region, but to think of it as a feudal castle is perhaps over-stretching it a bit.
Château d’Arche: Divided
The estate is named for Comte François Antoine Pierre d’Arche (1674 – 1749), président of the Bordeaux parliament, who acquired the estate in 1727 and whose family only lost it when they fled during the Terreur of the Revolution later that same century. Prior to his purchase the property was known as Braneyre, after a previous owner I presume. It was Comte d’Arche’s work that really established the reputation held by Château d’Arche for producing wines of quality. Following the property’s acquisition by the state during the Revolution it was sold as a bien national in 1795 to a Monsieur Dublanc, who paid 331,000 livres for the pleasure. He does not appear to have done anything significant other than preside over its break-up, such that during the early 19th century the estate at least four new proprietors, each taking a section. These included the Lafaurie family (as in Château Lafaurie-Peyraguey), who held onto their section of the estate, named Château d’Arche-Lafaurie, through to the 1920s, and a Monsieur Comet, who marketed the wines of his section as Château d’Arche-Vimeney. These were the two principal parts of the estate, the other parts being in the hands of the Dubourg and Pentalier families.
Tracking the four sections of the vineyard through the 19th and 20th centuries proves to be very difficult, not least because the four owners all marketed their wine as that of Château d’Arche, suffixing the name of the proprietor on the label. Nevertheless the two main sections can be followed. Château d’Arche-Vimeney remained in the hands of this family through to the latter years of the 19th century, but by 1893 it had been taken on by the Lacoste family. Château d’Arche-Lafaurie remained in this family for even longer, and was classified as a deuxième cru in the 1855 classification. Some perhaps feel that it should have been ranked higher than this. Writing in Bordeaux (Faber and Faber, second edition, 1991), David Peppercorn says “[t]he fact that d’Arche was placed among only the deuxièmes crus classés in 1855 was due to the division in the property which occurred as a result of the Revolution, so that in 1855 it was of much less importance than it had been in the 1780s.”