In the 2nd century AD, a family by the name of FIGEACUS owned a Gallo-Roman villa on the site of the present château and a large estate, to which they gave their name. According to historians, this is the same family that was at the origin of the town of Figeac in the Lot department of France. The vestiges of an ancient pigeon loft remind us that in the Middle Ages this large farming estate was a noble house. The château has conserved a number of doors and low, narrow windows which can be dated to around the year 1000.
In the 15th century, FIGEAC was one of five noble houses in Saint-Emilion and passed from the Lescours family, who at that time also owned Ausone, into the hands of the Cazes (or Decazes) family, who transmitted it through marriage to the Carles in the 17th century. Several characters in this long line left their mark on the history of Figeac as well as that of the region. Raymond de Cazes, a lord of FIGEAC, a Jurat of Libourne, and an influential character, rebuilt the château in 1586 in a classical Renaissance architectural style, after it had been burnt down during the Wars of Religion. The second year ageing cellar dates from that time, as do a number of visible architectural features, such as the pillars of the great courtyard, the tower of the château’s left wing and elements on window mullions.
Through the marriage of Marie de Cazes in 1654, the noble land of FIGEAC passed into the hands of the Carles. The Carles were very influential and dynamic in the region and owned numerous properties. They took an active part in the beginnings of a modern type of viticulture in the Libourne area. Their keen commercial sense enabled them to develop a clientele in Paris and in the north of Europe. The improvements effected by this brilliant family are what today’s visitors admire most: the elegant 18th century façade; the pillars of the Court of Honour linked by a wooden grille and surmounted by a flame; and a pediment whose sail billows evoke the shipment of FIGEAC’s wines overseas.
When an economic crisis struck as a result of the Continental Blockade, the Countess de Carles-Trajet sold some of FIGEAC’s land. Parts of this land included Cheval Blanc, which was ceded in 1832. FIGEAC and its 130 hectares (321 acres) were then sold in 1838. FIGEAC went through a period of 50 years having 7 different owners.
It was in 1892 that the MANONCOURT family’s ancestors acquired the core of the property (the three famous gravel mounds which make up its outstanding terroir), and established definitively FIGEAC’s vocation as a wine estate. Henri de Chèvremont, Thierry Manoncourt’s great grandfather, acquired FIGEAC and entrusted the management of the estate to the eminent agricultural engineer Albert Macquin, who structured the vineyard, equipped the cellars with oak vats (sourced from the estate’s woods), and experimented with plantations of new species of vegetation around the château. It was he who brought a scientific approach to the vineyard and wine-making and a new, unique aspect to FIGEAC’s landscape.
In 1907, the famous CHATEAU-FIGEAC label was created, carrying the coat of arms of Henri de Chèvremont. It evolved thereafter but kept its unique, easy to recognise design.
After the Manoncourt family acquired the property in 1892, FIGEAC was mainly managed by agricultural engineers. However, in 1943, the year in which Thierry Manoncourt made his first vintage, a period of resurgence began for Figeac. Thierry Manoncourt realised in that year the huge potential of FIGEAC’s terroir and urged his mother, a Parisian, to hold on to the estate. Then, in 1947, once he had graduated as an agricultural engineer, he came and settled at FIGEAC. He continually wandered through the vines seeking to understand every detail of FIGEAC’s unique terroir. Keeping only those traditions he considered good ones, he improved wine-growing techniques. His scientific approach won him the reputation of a respected innovator.
In 1955 CHATEAU-FIGEAC became a First Great Classified Growth. Thierry Manoncourt made a number of decisive choices. It was thanks to him that FIGEAC gained its unique grape composition of 30% Merlot, 35% Cabernet Franc and 35% Cabernet Sauvignon. The “FIGEAC style” was born from his determination.
Working alongside him, his wife, Marie-France Manoncourt, joined the FIGEAC cause. Together they developed and improved the property, while carefully preserving the land’s biodiversity. The FIGEAC we know today was shaped by their vision. They warmly welcomed visitors from every corner of the world and travelled widely. By the 1960s, FIGEAC was already known in the USA; and by the 1970s it had gained renown in Asia (Japan, Hong Kong and Singapore).
In 1971, after building a new vat room and barrel cellar, Thierry Manoncourt was dubbed by the press the “Pharaoh of Saint-Emilion”. He was the First Jurat of Saint-Emilion in the years from 1964 to 1988. He also devoted time and energy to promoting Bordeaux wines in general around the world. FIGEAC had now become one of Bordeaux’s leading properties.
By the 1980s, the wines of CHATEAU-FIGEAC were recognised around the world. Laure and Eric d’Aramon (Thierry and Marie-France Manoncourt’s daughter and son-in-law) settled at FIGEAC to lend their support. Gradually, Count Eric d’Aramon took over the operational management of the estate. Part of his mission was to introduce a more modern and more structured type of management whilst ensuring the long-term continuity of the business. He was General Manager until 2012. This was the period of long promotional trips (as member of the Union des Grands Crus) and the opening up of new markets.
It was also during this period, in 2002, that Frédéric Faye arrived at FIGEAC. His recruitment illustrated the family’s determination to continue and develop the scientific, qualitative approach to wine growing that had first driven FIGEAC’s success. A graduate in agricultural engineering, Frédéric Faye, alongside Thierry Manoncourt, got to know every nook and cranny of the vineyard and immediately entered into the spirit of the FIGEAC cause. He was soon at the head of a highly motivated crew, bringing fresh energy and introducing new skills, while launching wide-ranging projects.
Well before passing away in August 2010, Thierry Manoncourt had been careful to transmit the skills and values he had introduced and developed at the property.
Today, Madame Manoncourt and her daughters are ably supported by highly skilled wine-growing teams and are as eager as ever to guarantee the long-term continuity of FIGEAC. They are careful to preserve its spirit and the values of knowledge-sharing, innovation, excellence and a warmth of welcome that have always been central to the way in which this unique property has been run every day.
The future is in safe hands…