Wednesday, May 5: Chateau Figeac
Too much to report today, so I’m going to resort to Pat and Robert’s styles and
list items, and the narrative will have to suffer:
- Breakfast in the country kitchen. Photos in the morning light. Paul
arrived before his day of activities (no school on Wednesday) to play
with the boys for a couple of hours.
- Rain squalls, occasional hail and brilliant sun alternated all day.
- Thierry drove us into St. Emilion, where we took the tourist tram for
a view of the town and surrounding vineyards. Very pretty and very
interesting. Thierry was an excellent tour guide. (Photo 98)
- Thierry showed us the church and the memorial to the numerous
soldiers of St. Emilion who died in World War I, among them his
uncle, Charles (Rene) Villepigue. The military and civilian losses in
World War II were about equal to each other, but numerically a much
smaller total than for the first war. The organist played while we visited,
including “Phantom of the Opera.”
- Thierry then drove us to various vineyards. Since he is friends with
many of the owners, he felt free to drive right up to the front of
the houses (or stop right in the middle of the main road!). Chateau
St. George had the same architect as a Royal Palace in Paris. Another,
with spectacular grounds and a refurbishment by the same architect
who refurbished Carcassonne, had fallen into severe disrepair by
neglect. Thierry suggested it “was a chateau for you.” I asked later
if he’d finance the purchase. He responded that I would then be his
student and he’d be the Professor of Viniculture.
- Lunch back at Figeac included a bottle of 1986 wine, the year Pat and
I were married.
- Thierry drove us back into town to drop us off for the guided tour of
the “monolithic” church. This means the church is fashioned out of one
single rock, in this case carved out of the limestone. Largest such church
in Europe. 20,000 cubic meters excavated. 40 meters long, 20 meters
wide, 16 meters high. 300-year project. A traditional bell tower was
built atop it later, and is now crushing the two pillars in the interior
of the church that support it, so metal work is temporarily reinforcing
the bases of four pillars.
- The St. Emilion area is criss-crossed with subterranean tunnels, where
limestone was quarried. Today these tunnels are used as cellars for the
- Back at Figeac, we returned in time to join the 4 PM tour for wine
merchants, conducted in English. As they milled about in the courtyard
beforehand, I think some of them were surprised to see a family appear
from the kitchen door and join the group.
- The cellars in the other wing were impressive and handsome. We witnessed
barrels being racked (emptied and swapped into another barrel just for
the sake of moving the wine).
- Some numbers, mostly gleaned from inquiring of the wine merchants:
- 400 barrels a year.
- 25 cases to the barrel.
- 10,000 cases a year.
- Approximately 30 euro a bottle wholesale.
- Approximately 80 euro a bottle retail.
- 25 employees.
- 200 kilometers of tunnels, none at Figeac, which has gravel soil,
- 10 years between reclassifications.
- Equal parts merlot, cabarnet franc, cabernet sauvignon. Most
St. Emilion wines are 60% merlot.
- 50 hectares.
- 13 Premiere Grande Cru wines in the St. Emilion appelation.
(The highest classification.)
- 1993 vintage offered at the tasting room.
- Before dinner, Thierry and I traded photocopies of our genealogical
materials, and I chatted more with Eric about his table wine business in
Avignon, and the history of how he comes to be a Count (his older brother
is a Marquis).
- Jacques Villepigue and his wife arrived for dinner. He grows apples, pears,
and kiwi about an hours’ drive away. He graciously provided me
with copies of more materials about the American branch of the
- Marie-France offered us the use of their apartment in Paris for our upcoming
stay, so we made arrangements to cancel our hotel reservation.
- Dinner included white asparagus from Marie-France’s garden, 1994
vintage in honor of Robert’s birth year, and a 1982 vintage. The 1982
was markedly different than any wine I’ve ever had. The chicken
was “monastic” or “religious” having been raised by vegetarian
monks. (Photo 95)
- Dinner entertainment was my earlier pronunciation of “Charles de
Gaulle Airport” which I happily repeated (and amplified) several
- We heard about a Figeac tasting in Paris, where one of the thirty vintages
was a 1906. In response to Pat’s query about just how long a bottle of wine
might age profitably, Marie-France told us about Thierry tasting
a 1748 vintage white wine. The glass it was consumed with was
saved and carefully preserved, and three months later, swabbing a
finger in the glass could still produce an exquisite sample of the
- After dinner, we talked at length with Laure, especially Pat. Much of the
discussion was about education. (Photo 100)
- Boys played with Paul, Arrianne provided snacks, boys rode bikes.