On November 29, 2016, the Bordeaux high court deprived the famous Saint-Emilion first great growth of its right to use the brands Château Figeac and Château de Figeac. The latest episode of legal wrangling, it won’t be the last...
The Figacus family is said to have moved to just West of what would become the mediaeval town of Saint-Emilion in the 2nd century. It commissioned building of a villa from which an extensive agricultural estate was run, producing mainly wine. The estate would come down through the centuries covering several hundreds of hectares. However, from 1866 onwards, it was gradually divided up. In 1892, ancestors of the Manoncourt family took over the chateau built on the site of the ancient villa and some of the vineyards. One third of the estate land that belongs to them is listed under the name ‘Figeac’ in land registry records.
The risks involved in fighting off predators
Over the past few years, Figeac’s management has been suing other wine estates that have included the name Figeac in their wines. After winning against Château Croix Figeac and Pavillon Croix Figeac, they focused their attention on Château Cormeil-Figeac and Château Magnan-Figeac. They obtained what they set out to achieve: as the court failed to ascertain that the vineyards belonging to the defendants were part of the original Figeac estate, the brands will have to be removed. But the court also found that Château Figeac was unable to prove that its second wine – Petit-Figeac, formerly known as La Grande Neuve de Figeac – was vinted separately. This is a prerequisite for wines labelled with a ‘château’ name and therefore the estate’s brands will also have to be removed. David and Goliath have thus both been defeated, but as all parties have appealed, the court’s ruling is not yet legally binding.
A mix of quality and business
However, above and beyond the asymmetrical balance of power between the opponents, there is no doubt that the famous chateau produces stellar wines. Its soils include gravel hillocks, similar to those in the Médoc, which allows the varietal range to be equally divided between Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet-Sauvignon. This is a rarity in the kingdom of Merlot that is Saint-Emilion. The Manoncourts have worked hard for many years to secure such superb quality. Their labour has been continuously rewarded since 1955 when the estate was awarded the 1er Grand Cru Classé B distinction and they have striven to join the four 1er Grand Cru Classé A properties, at the top of the quality hierarchy. Hence, even if other wines share part of its name, there should be no possibility of confusion. It seems unlikely that this latest ruling will save Figeac’s future opponents. Many properties bear the same name – Bellevue Figeac, La Tour Figeac and Château Yon-Figeac for instance – but the distinguishing feature of a global brand is to be unique. There is a strong possibility that the battle will continue.