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Thierry Manoncourt of Chateau Figeac: obituary

Over 1000 mourners attended the funeral of Thierry Manoncourt of Chateau Figeac, who has died aged 92.

 The patriarch of Chateau Figeac in Saint Emilion died at the chateau which has been in his family since 1892, and which he began managing in 1946.

The funeral took place yesterday at the collegiate church in Saint Emilion. It was attended by neighbouring winemakers, the staff of Chateau Figeac, and countless merchants and courtiers of the Bordeaux wine trade. Six remembrance books were placed by the doors for those present to record their memories.

Manoncourt’s death marks the end of an era. John Salvi, Master of Wine and long-term resident of Bordeaux, described the Manoncourts as ‘one of the last true aristocratic families of France’ and said he would always remember ‘the precision and beauty of his speech. I have never heard the French language spoken so perfectly by any other person.’

Eric d’Aramon, Manoncourt’s son-in-law who has run Chateau Figeac for more than 20 years, said, ‘He remained a figurehead for the chateau even after he stepped back from the operational side, and has been a steady guide for me over the years. It was his decision back in the 1940s and 50s to increase Cabernet Sauvignon in the vines, and to take out the Malbec, and these decisions defined Figeac as a wine of great elegance, finesse and longevity.’

Manoncourt’s list of accomplishments is long. He was one of the founder members of the Union des Grand Crus, and a key figure in the Jurade of Saint Emilion, where he was president from 1964 to 1987. He received the Legion of Honour in 2009.

He was also instrumental in the setting up of the Saint Emilion classification in the 1950s, and the chateau remains recognised as a Grand Cru Classe B, despite his long-term hope that it would be promoted to join Cheval Blanc and Ausone as Grand Cru Classe A.

Besides all this, he was one of the first chateau owners in the Bordeaux region to open his estate to non-professionals, by offering free tastings to visitors from the 1980s.

Manoncourt was unafraid to take controversial decisions for his wine – his research into the effects of terroir on the ageing potential of individual grape varieties led him to plant up to 70% of Figeac’s vineyard with Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon, as the most suited to its gravelly soil. After Haut Brion and Latour, Figeac was the third estate in Bordeaux to introduce stainless steel tanks.

Much has been made of the fact that American critic Robert Parker hasn’t scored his wines since 2006, despite declaring in the past his great respect for the wine. Amongst all the speculation as to why this should be, some suggest that Manoncourt simply didn’t send his wines to Parker for evaluation. ‘In his own quiet way, he didn’t approve of all that,’ Salvi says – ‘all that’ meaning the annual brouhaha around the release of Parker’s 100-point scores.

Stanislas de Montfort, leading the tribute on behalf of the Jurade, said at the funeral, ‘He found the courage, after the war, to rebuild the vineyard of Figeac as well as the Saint Emilion Jurade, which he led for 24 years. He believed its role was not simply a brotherhood, but an association to defend the interests of working winemakers, and to promote the wines of Saint Emilion across the world’.

Mathieu Cuvelier at Clos Fourtet told decanter.com he considered Manoncourt one of the great historical figures of the region.

‘What I will remember the most is his incredible zest for life. He was 85 when I met him, nearly 93 when he died, but he walked out for miles in the vines every Sunday, from Figeac over to Clos Fourtet. Of course to check on his vines, and to get some exercise, but he also liked to also keep an eye on what was happening with his friends and neighbours.’

Manoncourt leaves his wife, Marie-France, four children and 14 grandchildren. Chateau Figeac is currently managed by his daughter Laure along with her husband Eric d’Aramon.

Manoncourt is buried in the cemetery of Saint Emilion.

Written by Jane Anson in Bordeaux

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