Grower Spotlight: André Guéziec

André Guéziec stands in vineyard with mountains behind him. Photo by Karen PavoneAndré Guéziec of Domaine Helena | Photo credit: Karen Pavone

Growing up in the renowned Alsace wine region of France, André Guéziec’s journey led him from his childhood roots to owning and operating Domaine Helena in Lake County, California. The journey was anything but linear. His was a leap of faith from Silicon Valley’s fast-paced tech world to acquiring 225 acres of established vineyard property nestled in the quiet, rural outskirts of Middletown, California. Life has a way of bringing us home to our roots.

“I think I’ve lived seven lives so far,” he jokes as we stroll his vines. “After a PhD in Computer Science I began my career in research and corporate roles In New York and Silicon Valley before launching my own company in 2001.”

As a tech entrepreneur, he founded Beat the Traffic, a navigation software system used first by TV stations and later as a smartphone app to help users reroute and avoid traffic congestion. A little over a decade later, he sold the successful company and embarked on a lifestyle change. That’s when the idea of winemaking began to tug at his soul.

“In 2020, I set out to find my own vineyard,” he said. “I searched far and wide in multiple counties and states before I found this place. I fell in love with the whole setting: the meadow, then the vines, the mountain in the back, and small-town life.” He made an offer and embraced his new chapter as a grower and vintner.

Domaine Helena is located at the base of the Mayacama mountains that shape the boundary between Napa and Lake counties and just five miles from Mount St. Helena.

“Though farming was new to me, I’ve been learning quickly and adapting fast,” he says. With about 82 acres planted in Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Petite Sirah, André dove right in and took the challenge.

“I care for 67,560 vines,” he muses, “so I need a little help with pruning, suckering, maintenance, and harvest.” Becoming certified organic was one of the first and most important improvements he decided to make as the steward of his land. The transition to organic has taken three years, along with rigorous reporting and inspections, but he’s on track to have his vineyard fully certified organic by CCOF (California Certified Organic Farmers) this summer.

“Sustainability and improving soil health were top priorities,” he reflects. “I wanted to do what’s best for the land, the vineyard workers, and the wildlife that share it with me. We have diverse wildlife here, including nesting birds. I have owl boxes to naturally control the rodent population. My goal is to maintain the vineyard as naturally as possible.”

Regarding the qualities that make Lake County an ideal place for growing wine grapes, André points to the region’s clean air and volcanic soil.

“Lake County is renowned for its pristine air quality,” he says. “Everything here thrives because of it, and the stars at night are incredibly bright! At 1,100 feet of elevation, the hot days, cool nights, and mountain breezes at Domaine Helena  create a perfect, low-pest pressure microclimate for the vines to produce concentrated grapes with a fresh, rich flavor.”

“The second element is volcanic soil, which is rich in iron and potassium–and gives a remarkable depth of flavor and minerality to the finished wines. Lake County wines are not only of excellent quality but also very affordable.”

As André’s first estate Cabernet Sauvignon recently received a 90-point score from Wine Enthusiast, he remains hopeful that his investment will pay off in the long run, but notes the life of a grower isn’t easy.

“It can be challenging to compete with large corporations, but I remain optimistic. By focusing on quality over quantity, I believe we can stand out. The wine industry in Lake County has tremendous potential, and we are dedicated to increasing visibility for wines from this beautiful region.”

André Guéziec stands in front of wine barrels. Photo by Karen PavoneAndré Guéziec of Domaine Helena | Photo credit: Karen Pavone

Meetings

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    Grower Conversation Series: Winegrape Wednesdays 4:00 pm
    Grower Conversation Series: Winegrape Wednesdays @ The Mercantile
    Jul 17 @ 4:00 pm – 6:00 pm
    Grower Conversation Series: Winegrape Wednesdays @ The Mercantile
    You are invited to attend the Grower Conversation series hosted by Lake County Winegrowers. This series aims to connect growers, buyers, and industry experts to discuss the climate of today’s market. Each conversation will feature[...]
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