Hortense Idoine Manoncourt
Annual Production (Grand Vin)
Premier Grand Cru Classe A
Former owner Thierry Manoncourt is credited with creating the concept of the ‘Second Wine’, having introduced La Grange Neuve de Figeac (now Petit Figeac) in 1945.
Chateau Figeac has experienced a tumultuous few years thanks in part to a campaign to achieve Grand Cru Classe A status, resulting in the chateau pursuing a pricing policy for a promotion that – unfortunately – never came.
However, failure to achieve the sought-after ‘A’ has given the estate the impetus to renew and reimagine. Michel Rolland was brought in to help refine the wines, which, while widely-regarded as the most Medoc-like in Saint Emilion, had previously drawn criticisms for issues with ripeness and ‘dusty traditionalism’. Rolland’s appointment sparked controversy among Figeac’s established fan base, but most critics agree that more recent vintages are better as far as density and texture are concerned.
Elsewhere, new temperature-controlled units have been installed, the cellars have been modernised, older pumps have been removed and additional vines have been planted better suited to the estate’s gravelly soils.
The last few years, then, have seen Figeac return to form in the investment market. Part of the Liv-ex Right Bank 100 which has notably outperformed other indices in recent times, Figeac had long been the best performer for several years, consistently outperforming wines by chateaus which have – infuriatingly, no doubt, for Chateau Figeac – seen relatively recent promotion to Grand Cru Classe A status.
Perhaps some of the estate’s tumult can be traced back to the alleged – and ongoing – feud with one extremely prominent critic, who hasn’t scored the chateau since 2006, nor awarded many scores over 90 before that. Others, however, look upon Figeac more favourably, with Jancis Robinson scoring it well, and James Suckling awarding the 2009 Figeac an impressive 98 points. Managing director Frederic Faye has expressed an interest in getting Figeac back on Parker’s radar, but the estate’s gentle but determined ascent suggests the wine doesn’t need his approval in order to see success. More recently the 2016 was a candidate for wine of the vintage and considering the continued improvements here, this has to be an estate that is knocking of the door of Premier Cru Classe A status at the next review of the Saint-Emillion Classifications.
One of the oldest properties in Bordeaux, Figeac dates back to the second century, the Gallo-Roman period, through a villa named after the Figeacus family (traces of which are still evident on the site).
However, it was not until 1654, when the property was passed to the Carles family, that the estate took the shape that we know today, and that its wines gained prominence outside the Saint Emilion area – notably in Paris, northern France and in Britain, thanks to links forged with merchant seamen.
At the time, the estate covered an incredible 200 hectares, making it one of the biggest Bordeaux vineyards in the region – but the poor economic conditions of the 19th century, coupled with its owner’s debts, meant the estate was sold off and subdivided. By the time the Andre Villepigue – ancestor of the Manoncourt family – got hold of the land it had decreased to just 37 hectares of vines.
Thierry Manoncourt – Andre’s grandson – took charge of the estate in 1947, and has been widely credited for turning the chateau’s fortunes around. Under his management the cellars were expanded, the chateau was renovated, the wines were significantly improved and Figeac rose to the front ranks of Saint Emilion estates. Thierry was also a founding member of the Union des Grands Crus – a driving force behind the Saint Emilion classification of the 1950s – and a pioneer of wine tourism, offering free tasting to visitors from the 1980s onwards.
Upon his death in 2010, a wider spread of management consultants (including Jean-Valmy Nicolas, Frederic Faye and Michel Rolland) stepped in, although the general running of the estate is still overseen by the Manoncourt family.