Château-Figeac: a Saint Émilion star with its own approach
The Manoncourt family have been the custodians of Saint-Émilion star Chateau-Figeac since 1892. Much of the current reputation was built under the stewardship of Thierry Manoncourt, who took over in 1947 after being trained as an agronomist, and who died aged 92 in 2010. This tasting was with his daughter Blandine de Brier Manoncourt, and winemaker and general manager Frédéric Faye.
The chief characteristic of Figeac as a property is three hills of alluvial gravels: flint, quartz and sand. This is one of the key points setting this property apart, and leads onto the second unique characteristic: the blend of grapes that this alluvial terroir makes possible. ‘From the end of the 1940s my father decided to have grape varieties in a special balance with one-third of Merlot and two thirds of Cabernets Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc,’ she says. This unusually large proportion of the Cabernets is rare in Saint-Emilion, where Merlot is usually the main variety.
Overall the property is 54 hectares, with 41 hectares of vines. ‘In the centre we have a green part with no vines,’ explains Blandine. ‘In 2022 [an extremely hot vintage] we were so happy to have this green spine in the middle of the estate. There’s a tiny river with a lake and fields, and this was so important for the general balance, and for our vines and wines.’
Figeac are actively looking to fine-tune their approach. In 2018 they did a study of their terroir, which was carried out by a 25-strong team from Dijon University. They used electroconductivity to look at the variation across the property, then dug backhoe pits to look more closely at the interesting bits, then used a drone for hyperspectral imaging. The choice of working with people from a different region was a deliberate one: it gives a fresh perspective.
Over the last 12 years around 30% of the vineyard has been replanted, with massal selections from their best old vines that are then grafted for them by a leading nursery. The average age across the vineyard is 35 years.
‘We needed the same precision in the winemaking facilities,’ says Fréderic. For a number of years they were adapting the old winery, introducing smaller tanks so plots could be vinified separately. Then, a couple of years ago the decision was made to build a new winery with smaller tanks that could allow the new precision in the vineyard to follow through to the winemaking. ‘The new facility allows us to have this precision,’ says Fréderic. First vintage in the new cellar was 2021.
They have 40 stainless steel tanks and eight wooden tanks in the cellar, and still do some submerged cap with wooden grills in the wooden vats. In the past the tanks were 150 hl: now they are 50-80 hl. They have an R&D manager, and an experimental section in the cellar, and this year as well as small oak for maturation they trialled 400 and 600 litre barrels.
Cabernet Sauvignon is a key component in the blend, but it is often the Cabernet Franc quality that determines whether the vintage is a great one or not. 2013 was the most Cabernet Sauvignon at 50%, with just 10% Cabernet Franc, which was bad in this year. They always make good Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, so the great years are when they have great Cabernet Franc, which is a much fussier variety.
They recently went through the cellar recorking all the older bottles. This was done with the Paetzold recorking system under nitrogen. https://michaelpaetzold.com/en/products/stopper-replacement
And since 2015 they have been using 100% NDTech corks which are individually tested for TCA. These cost €1.6 each.
Petit-Figeac 2018 Saint-Émilion, Bordeaux
60% new oak, aged 13 months in barrel. Average production is 35 000 bottles. 39% Merlot, 16% Cabernet Franc, 45% Cabernet Sauvignon. The second wine has been made since 1945, and it was renamed Petit Figeac in 2012: it’s a lighter view of Figeac, approachable younger. Lovely texture here with gravel, spice and fine woody notes. Structured with red cherries and blackcurrant, showing nice elegance, but also plenty of structure. Fresh and balanced with oak present but not dominating. 94/100
Château-Figeac 2016 Saint-Émilion, Bordeaux
36 Merlot, 38 CS and 26 CF. Concentrated and dense with bold blackcurrant fruit with firm structure, showing lovely blackcurrant, red cherry and some cedar spice. The wood is really well integrated with nice grip. Firm but lovely and with a lot of potential for development. This is quite serious with great balance, but it does need time. 96/100
Château-Figeac 2015 Saint-Émilion, Bordeaux
29 M, 43 CS, 28 CF. Ripe and harmonious with sweet ripe blackcurrant and berry fruit. There are hints of chocolate and spice with well integrated oak. Warm and ripe with sweet plums and cherries, showing fine spiciness and a lovely ripeness. There’s a lot of stuffing here. Very fine. 95/100
Château-Figeac 2010 Saint-Émilion, Bordeaux
One third of each variety. Low yields and great concentration this year. This was shy and closed and has just opened apparently. Lovely gravelly edge to the blackcurrant fruit. Firm tannins are beginning to resolve with some plum and wild strawberry. Shows lovely texture on the mid-palate. Still has plenty of tannin, and comes across fresh and purposeful. 97/100
Château-Figeac 2009 Saint-Émilion, Bordeaux
One third of each variety. Ripe, lush and appealing, but also structured and fresh with lovely finesse. Harmonious with some silky tannins and a gravelly, stony, chalky edge to the sweet berry and blackcurrant fruit. There’s a warm, long, harmonious finish here. This is really serious: a brilliant example of this vintage. 96/100
Château-Figeac 1983 Saint-Émilion, Bordeaux
Quite developed with some malt and earth on the nose. The palate shows mint and herbs as well as sweet black cherry and plum. Some damson, too. This is quite developed with iodine and spice, but there’s still some freshness. 84/100
Frédérick made and interesting coment. ‘1982s are beginning to fade,’ he says. ‘It’s a legend, but at certain moments legends disappear.’
Château-Figeac 1966 Saint-Émilion, Bordeaux
This is really fine and elegant with a silky texture to the cherry and plum fruit. Shows real harmony and elegance to this wine. So fine, with energy and with lovely weight and plenty of fruit. Such a beautiful wine with real finesse. 96/100