In the reign of Louis XIII, in 1638, a certain Jean de Moytié, Counsellor of the Bordeaux parliament and a noble bourgeois of the town, owned a beautifully sloped gravelly vineyard near the River. This place, as was the tradition, was named after its owner and thus became the “Mont-Moytié.”
Historically, the production of Mont-Moytié was among the first Médoc wines, along with the “Château de Margaux”, the “Tour de Saint-Lambert” or the “Château de La Fitte” in Pauillac and the “Château de Calon”, in Saint-Estèphe, which were all established before the period of civil war known as La Fronde (1648-1653.)
These were the first estates to appear in the Médoc parishes, which were later to become commune appellations.
The domain remains part of the Maison de Moytié for a century, and then falls to the Maison de Gascq by marriage. This family was very powerful under Louis XV, counting among it members of the Bordeaux parliament. Antoine, first president of the Chamber of la Tournelle, was owner of a Margaux property which was to become Château Palmer. His brother, Alexandre, married the great-granddaughter of Jean de Moytié and thus became owner of their family domain in 1740. Preferring the more earthy pleasures and the ideas of the physiocrats of the time, Alexandre was more at home in his cellars than in the Palace corridors.
Full of ambition for his property, Alexandre de Gascq renamed Mont-Moytié as Léoville (or Lionville), after his first estate, “a model property” located on the right bank.
So Alexandre de Gascq was aiming to make Léoville a model estate, producing the best Médoc wine. He planted smaller grape varieties, trellising the rows with pinewood. He had winemaking receptacles built in his new cellar and the free- run wine was aged in barrels disinfected with sulphur, and then racked.
Château Léoville was also surrounded by beautiful, fashionable gardens and impressive outbuildings.
When Alexandre de Gascq died, after 35 years of acquisitions and planting, the domain of Léoville in Saint-Julien had become the biggest in the Médoc, stretching over 120 hectares (300 acres).
Alexandre de Gascq's heirs luckily conserved the estate intact despite heavy death duty. From 1775 onwards, however, the wines of Léoville were sold under four different family labels : Lacaze, d'Abadie, Chevalier and Monbalon. Two of these were old winegrowing families : the president of Abadie ran the barony of Beychevelle for a while, and the Chevalier family owned part of the noble house of Gassies vineyard in Margaux.
More at ease with the sword than the robe, the marquis of “Lascaze” followed the Bourbons into exile in 1793. His share of the domain was naturally sold as national property in 1794 (it was later acquired by Hugh Barton). The rest of the family managed to maintain itself at the head of the property until the Restoration of the monarchy.
In 1826, Charles X, then in power, introduced protectionist “wicked laws”. The English riposted by boycotting the fine wines of Bordeaux and it was in this context of economic depression in the wine industry that Hugh Barton took over the Chevalier and Monbalon estates. The remainder of the property, still in the hands of the Lascase heir's descendants, represented three quarters of the original Léoville vineyard.
In 1840 an equitable division of both the vineyard and land was agreed upon. The eldest son, Pierre Jean de Lascases, received a share, which was to become the original property of Château Léoville Lascase.
His sister, Jeanne, passed on her share to her daughter, wife of Baron Jean-Marie Poyferré de Cerès, from a noble house in Armagnac. A typical Gasconny name, Poyferré (point ferré) originally meant a place on a stony road where it was necessary for horses and vehicles to be shod with iron.
On the occasion of this 1840 division, the label Léoville-D'Abadie had already been replaced by that of the Baron de Poyferré. The buildings of Château Léoville Poyferré and Léoville Lascase were divided into two parts as they are today. This is a unique situation in the Médoc and indeed in the Bordeaux area.
After gaining the honours of the imperial classification in 1855, the Baron of Poyferré fought courageously through the first “war” against oidium that lasted until 1863. After a decade of poor quality, low yields, Jean-Marie Poyferré and his wife were finally forced to sell Léoville Poyferré. The Lalande and Erlanger families, well-known bankers and wine brokers, purchased the estate in 1865.
At this time, many chateaus were falling out of the hands of the Nobility and into the hands of the Bordeaux wine merchants, known as the “Chartrons”. Poyferré was sold for one million francs, representing four years' production (based on averages before the attacks of illness in the Médoc vineyards - 2 casks or 18 hectolitres per hectare). This was a sound investment for Lalande and Erlanger as, once the oidium was dealt with, the great properties were able to make excellent fine wines again.
From 1866, Armand Lalande, who was related to the Lawtons, an age-old family of wine brokers, presided over the destiny of the domain for twenty years.
After the oidium came the phylloxera. In 1879 this louse began infesting the vines in Saint-Julien, and then, to cap it all, around 1885, mildew (or brown rot) settled in the vineyards.
The Bordeaux vineyards paid a high price indeed for the international activities of the port, the handling and transport of agricultural merchandise and the exchanges of plants and viticultural practices. These three illnesses, that had thus crossed the Atlantic from America, hit successive owners in three waves over a period of sixty years. Fortunately, Léoville Poyferré came out of this battle carrying its head high.
In the capable hands of the Bordeaux wine merchants, Poyferré benefited from the opportunities and financial security of the famous “Place de Bordeaux” throughout this difficult period of illnesses in the vineyards.
This system, by which the wine merchants and the properties took it in turns to dominate the market, generated an essential stability that maintained the good reputation of the Léoville Poyferré label from 1865 to 1920.