Saint Emilion Chronicles #7, Part I: A Visit to Chateau Figeac

FRANCE, Saint Emilion
 – Chateau Figeac (Premier Grand Cru Classé B)

For those of you who remember our Saint Emilion series, this is its next installment: after our post on Chateau de Ferrand, today we will talk about another Chateau that we visited – Chateau Figeac.

On a previous post, I have provided a general overview of the Saint Emilion wine region and its wine classification system: if necessary, take a look at it for a refresher.

History

Chateau Figeac’s origins date back to the II century AD, when it comprised a Gallo-Roman villa and a large estate which were owned by the Figeacus family after whom it has been named.

By the XV century, Figeac became one of five noble houses in Saint Emilion and there is evidence that in the XVI century (when Chateau Figeac was rebuilt in a Renaissance architectural style) grapevines were grown and wine was made at the estate. Documents dating back to the XVIII century confirm that Figeac wines were already being shipped overseas.

However, it was not until the late XIX century/early XX century that Chateau Figeac primarily became a wine estate and marketed its wine under the “Chateau Figeac” label. The turning point was the acquisition of the estate in 1892 by the Manoncourt family, who hired a preeminent agricultural engineer by the name of Albert Macquin, who brought a scientific approach to the vineyard and winemaking process and equipped the cellars with oak vats.

In 1955, Chateau Figeac was ranked as a “Premier Grand Cru Classé B” in the 1955 Saint Emilion classification (for more information about the 1955 classification, see our previous post about Saint Emilion and its wine appellations). It was also around that time that, in Merlot-dominated Saint Emilion, Chateau Figeac settled for a wine with quite a unique Bordeaux blend of grapes (approximately, 30% Merlot, 35% Cabernet Franc and 35% Cabernet Sauvignon) which became known as “Figeac style”.

For more information about the grape varieties making up Figeac’s blend, please check out our Grape Variety Archive

FRANCE, Saint Emilion
 – The stunning tasting room at Chateau Figeac (Premier Grand Cru Classé B)

The Estate and Its Terroir

With almost 100 acres (40 hectares) where over 240,000 vines are grown, Chateau Figeac is the largest property in Saint-Emilion. It is located to the west of Saint-Emilion, bordering Pomerol.

Its soils are mostly composed of sand and gravel, with some relatively deep clay layer. Gravel in particular is the typical feature of Figeac’s topsoil, which favors the retention of heat creating a favorable environment for the ripening of the grapes.

As previously mentioned, three main grape varieties are grown in nearly equal proportions at Chateau Figeac’s estate which form the blend for its wine: Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Cabernet Sauvignon, which is something fairly unique in the Bordeaux area.

Lately, massal selection has been implemented at Chateau Figeac, resulting in the selection of the best of the estate’s oldest vines (some of which are almost 100 years old) for grafting newly planted vines so as to preserve the distinctive features of the Figeac vineyards.

FRANCE, Saint Emilion 
- The vineyards at Chateau Figeac (Premier Grand Cru Classé B)

Winemaking Process

The winemaking process at Chateau Figeac combines traditional methods with modern techniques: during the visit of the winery, I have had the pleasure to speak with an extremely competent employee of the Chateau with whom I had an opportunity to discuss many aspects of their production process.

This is a summary of the main steps in Chateau Figeac’s winemaking process:

FRANCE, Saint Emilion 
- The barrique cellar at Chateau Figeac

1. Harvesting. Given the three varieties that are grown at the estate and make up Chateau Figeac’s blend, unsurprisingly the harvesting of the grapes is staggered based on the desired ripening point of each variety.

2. Destemming and Sorting. The harvested grapes of each variety are separately destemmed and sorted using an optical scanner capable of sorting 5 tons of grapes per hour! For more information about destemmers and optical grape sorting machines, go back to our post about Chateau de Ferrand which has an image and a video about such prodigious piece of equipment.

3. Crushing and Treatments. The sorted grapes are then crushed and pumped into small-sized fermentation vats along with their juice, skins and seeds, and sulfur dioxide (AKA SO2) is applied to the must. This enological treatment is essentially an antiseptic, an antioxidant and it facilitates the dissolution of the pigments (AKA anthocyanins) from the skins of the berries. For more information about sulphur dioxide, refer to our previous post on sulfites and wine.

4. Cold Maceration. The must then undergoes a cold maceration phase (i.e., a short, low-temperature, pre-fermentation maceration) of about three days in order to maximize the extraction of the primary aromas that reside in the skins of the grapes and therefore enhance the wine’s bouquet.

FRANCE, Saint Emilion 
- Oak Fermenters at Chateau Figeac (Premier Grand Cru Classé B)

5. Fermentation and Maceration. Chateau Figeac utilizes both ten open-topped oak vats and twelve stainless steel vats to ferment its wine. Here the must ferments for about one week at controlled temperature using the grapes’ natural yeast (i.e., without adding selected yeasts) and macerates for about three weeks with regular pump-overs and rackings.

6. Malolactic Fermentation. The wine then undergoes full malolactic fermentation that is started by means of the addition of lactic acid bacteria to the wine.

7. Pressing. After the malolactic fermentation, the free run wine (the one that flows freely out of the fermentation vat) is transferred to the aging barrels, while the cap gets pressed and the resulting press wine is reblended with the free run wine.

FRANCE, Saint Emilion
 – Automated basket grape press at Chateau Figeac (Premier Grand Cru Classé B)

8. Aging. The Grand Vin then ages for 15 to 18 months in 100% new French oak, medium-charred barrique casks, while the Second Vin is aged 80% in second-fill French oak barriques and 20% in new French oak barriques.

9. Fining and Bottling. After appropriate aging, the wine is fined for clarity, stability and reduced astringency by using egg whites and finally bottled, capsuled and labeled.

FRANCE, Saint Emilion -
 Capsuling and labeling machine at Chateau Figeac (Premier Grand Cru Classé B)

Chateau Figeac has an average annual production of about 100,000 bottles of the Grand Vin (“Chateau Figeac“) and 40,000 bottles of the Second Vin (“Petit Figeac“).

This is it for today: I hope you enjoyed this virtual visit to Chateau Figeac. The next post will focus on a wine tasting of a bottle of Chateau Figeac’s Grand Vin, vintage… 1988! Stay tuned! 🙂

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0 thoughts on “Saint Emilion Chronicles #7, Part I: A Visit to Chateau Figeac

  1. Dina

    Excellent post, Stefano. Cool and tasty, like Sophie said.:-) I’ve never had any wine from this Chateau, but I enjoyed your tour very much! Great photos, as always.
    Love, Dina

  2. Pingback: Saint Emilion Chronicles #7, Part II: A Wine Tasting of Chateau Figeac 1988 | Flora's Table

  3. Raphaelle

    Beautiful post – I lived about 20 years in Bordeaux and loved every now and then go on weekend trip to visit the Wine chateau and have a little wine tasting. Your post reminded me of that….aww nostalgie 😉

    1. Stefano Post author

      Thank you, Raphaelle: Bordeaux is such a beautiful, elegant city – I can only imagine how wonderful it must have been living there with the wine country just minutes away! Fabulous! 🙂

  4. sabine

    Vinification is a such fascinating business, I love reading about the theory of making wine! There are many facts I wasn´t aware of in such detail, and I had no idea that wine clarification is made with egg whites today (thought this was an ancient method not practiced anymore). Really interesting and I´ll gladly to stay tuned!

    1. Stefano Post author

      Thank you, Sabine! Yes, vinification truly is fascinating and one can never stop learning new nuances about it. Egg whites have been used as a fining agent for a long time and many wineries still resort to them nowadays, along with other agents such as gelatine and bentonite. If you are interested in this topic, here is a great resource to learn more about it: https://winemakermag.com/26-a-clearer-understanding-of-fining-agents
      Thank you for your kind comment! 🙂