May 1st is Labor Day in France and many European countries. It is also one of the few days where the tram and the buses in Bordeaux do not run. But that weekend was also the Saint Emilion Portes Ouvertes and what else are a bunch of wine nerds to do with a bit of free time? Continue reading
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Family Legacy at its Finest
Bordeaux is a region rich in history and its story is littered with recognizable names: Eleanor of Aquitaine, Richard II, the Rothschilds. When you study the history of Bordeaux wine producing estates you find that many are very long and even more complex, with properties changing hands over and over. Enter Chateau Figeac, with its relatively stable modern history. In fact, the property has been owned by the same family, the Manoncourts, since 1892. In fact, today Madame Manoncourt still lives on property year round. She also plans to pass the family legacy along to her four daughters and 27 grandchildren.
Sadly over time the estate, which dates to the 15th Century, has been reduced in size. Originally 200 hectares, the estate nonetheless remains large in comparison to its neighbors at 40 hectares (about 100 acres). It’s also why so many of the surrounding estates include the name Figeac, as plots were sold off they kept the name Figeac thanks to the outstanding reputation of the wine. A unique name, modern archeology has traced the name back to a 2nd Century Roman villa call Figeacus. But even the vines themselves have history, with the oldest plot of Cabernet Franc dating to a 1921 planting.
Renowned not only for the quality of its wine but also its unique blend, as it is only one of two Right Bank estates to grow a majority of Cabernet, Figeac has a stunning reputation. Despite my many adventures in Saint Emilion, I had never had the chance to visit Chateau Figeac or to taste the wine. So when April rolled around and my parents were coming for a visit, I reached out about the possibility of a tour. Thankfully we were graciously accepted and even had the chance to meet the lovely Madame Manoncourt. A bit surprised to find us on the property immediately following en Primeur week, both she and her estate manager took a few minutes to chat with us, asking about where we were from and if we liked the wine.
While the estate does not practice organic or biodynamic viticulture, they nonetheless focus on sustainable agriculture. Since 2014 the entire vineyard has been managed without weed killers. In addition, two beehives are kept on the property to encourage natural pollination. In addition, the estate remains true to their traditions. The old basket press was used until 2007 when it was replaced with a vertical hydraulic press, as opposed to the popular pneumatic press. Vinfication occurs in a combination of both stainless steel and oak vats. The vats are left open with a specialized wooden grill at the top. This grill keeps the cap submerged at all times for a combination of punch down and pumping over. The wine is then aged in 100% new oak. And it is wildly popular. At the time of my visit during the en primeur release the three latest vintages had sold out within three days.
Then eventually it was on to the tasting, held in the former 17th century cellar, for a glass of the 2011 vintage. Equal parts Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot the wine was soft but with a firm structure. Cherry, anise and clove were underlined by a persistent mineralty. Spicy and warm the wine also offered a slightly meaty, smoky and cedary notes.
A Study in Contrasts
Recently my parents came to France for a weeklong visit. After a rather chaotic departure (on both sides of the Atlantic) we spent a rather interesting weekend in Paris before heading south to Bordeaux. And of course no visit to Bordeaux would be complete without a little wine tasting.