Château Fonroque is a Biodynamic estate winery in the St-Emilion AOC region of Bordeaux located directly north of and not far from the town itself.

Owner: The Guillard family since July 2017 (see below).

History: Château Fonroque was bought by Adèle and Jean Moueix in 1931, the first Bordeaux estate to be purchased by members of the Moueix family, who would subsequently become the most powerful château owners and merchants on Bordeaux’s right bank. Adèle and Jean’s great-grandson Alain took over the running of the estate in 2001. Between 1979 and 2001 the running of the estate had fallen to Jean-Pierre Moueix (of Pétrus fame), who had taken control (but not ownership) after Jean-Antoine Moueix, Adèle and Jean Moueix’s son, had died in 1979.

In 2001 Fonroque’s owners Jean-Jacques Moueix (Christian Moueix’s cousin) and his sister Jeanne-André Curat took the estate back from Etablissements Jean-Pierre Moueix, their uncle’s eponymously named company. They asked Jean-Jacques’s son Alain to manage Fonroque, which he did from 2001. Alain Moueix hired Laurent Nougaro as winemaker, the pair having worked together at Château Mazeyres in Pomerol. In July 2017 Alain Moueix and the Curat family sold Fonroque to the Guillard family. They own an insurance group called CHG Participations which is based in Nantes. The new owners retained Alain Moueix as an advisor.

Vineyards: 17.60 hectares (43.5 acres) in a single block. 90% Merlot, 11% Cabernet Franc.

Terroir: Fonroque has two main terroirs. 1) Around 33% on Saint-Emilion’s plateau with 30-50 cm (11.8-19.7 inches) of light topsoil, with the limestone bedrock beneath. Alain Moueix used stinging nettle plant-based sprays on the vines here to alleviate iron deficiencies caused by lime-induced chlorosis here, and renovated the existing drainage system. 2) Around 66% on the slopes (‘côtes’) on heavy clay with limestone (‘argilo calcaire’) and the lower slopes (‘pied de cotes’) on clay-silt (‘argile limoneux’).

Biodynamics: The first Biodynamic trials at Château Fonroque date to 1995 under Ets J-P Moueix who were renting the estate, with Nicolas Joly advising the Moueix-appointed vineyard manager, Pierre-Michel Falquier. The trials appeared to give successful results but were not continued due to the perceived risk of unsustainable crop losses. In 2002 Alain Moueix took Château Fonroque 100% organic without asking for certification, which he later said “was a mistake. People like to see you are officially certified.” In 2003 the 17.6 hectare (43.5 acres) vineyard began organic conversion (see certification, below). Around 11 hectares (27.2 acres) of the best-sited vines (mainly on the plateau) were managed using biodynamic methods with Jacques Mell consulting. In 2006 the entire vineyard gained full organic (AB) status and joined the Biodynamic wine group, the SIVCBD.

Certification: 2006 First vintage with full organic certification (Agrocert). | 2008 First vintage with full Biodynamic certification (SIVCBD). | 2016 Listed as certified organic by Agence Bio and Biodynamic by the SIVCBD. | 2017 Listed as certified Biodynamic by the SIVCBD on 30 September 2017 (but with Alain Moueix given as the contact). 

Wine style: The terroir is disposed to give red wines with  plenty of colour and broad tannins.

Winemaking: Alain Moueix told me (28th January 2004) that he did not ‘use Biodynamics as a tool to help sell the wine but as a tool to produce better wines. For instance under Biodynamics I have no worries about tanks finishing their alcoholic fermentation, even though we allow the indigneous yeast on the grapes skins to do the job, rather than seeding with a commercial yeast culture. We find the grapes ripen slightly earlier, the tannins are easier to extract and are less austere, and the levels of acidity are higher too. These things we can test scientifically, and the evidence is there to see. When you use systemic sprays it hinders the ripening of the grape pips, so you get more austere tannins. On a subjective level I feel that the wines have more ‘terroir’ flavour, that they are more mineral and more distinctive.’

During vinification Moueix captures the fruit by letting the fermentation start slowly, just wetting the hat and fermenting at cool temperature whilst the first few degrees of alcohol and glycerol are being created from the grape sugar by the wine yeast. By maintaining the vats at 20ºC until the alcoholic fermentation reaches a density of 1050 (about one third of the way through), frequent pumping over of the reddening, fermenting juice over the grapeskins can be practised to extract colour and tannin with no risk of over-extraction. Also, the integration of the glycerol (which is formed only early in the fermentation) is total, and without integrated glycerol a wine lacks the silky, tongue-pleasing texture that renders it fine. Then the temperature is allowed to rise of its own accord (usually it reaches no more than 32ºC), and the amount of pumping over is reduced. This avoids pumping over furiously when the vats are laden with alcohol, a solvent which attacks the pips, causing bitterness.

Red wines

Château Cartier, St-Émilion: The second wine. 2004 St-Émilion Grand Cru. Crisp, linear, tidy, opening up at Millésime Bio January 2006.

Château Fonroque, Saint-Emilion Grand Cru Classé: Fonroque is seen as a ‘relatively stern wine with sometimes forceful tannins, says Andrew Jefford (2002, p411). ‘Alain Moueix acknowledges that Fonroque does not show that well when young, and my experience of the wine tends to confirm this. However, in good ripe years it is certainly worth waiting for,’ says Stephen Brook (2007:, p.411). 1999 None made due to hail. | 2003 Full-on tannins at Millésime Bio January 2006. | 2004 Lovely soft, powerful fruit at Millésime Bio, January 2006. | 2005 Deep, tannic, lots of fruit, clear middle, tidy end (at Millésime Bio, January 2006). | 2012 Lovely firm, ripe tannins, very well integrated alcohol (‘Biodynamic Pioneers’ masterclass 2018).

Contact

Château Fonroque

F-33330 St-Émilion (Gironde), France

Tel+33 (0)5.57.51.78.96 or (0)5.57.24.60.02 | www.chateaufonroque.com

Bibliography

Telephone conversation with Alain Moueix on Wednesday morning 28th January 2004.

Andrew Jefford, The New France (Mitchell Beazley, 2002).

‘Biodynamic Pioneers’ masterclass, VINCE wine show in Budapest 05th April 2018.

Corney & Barrow 2000 Ets Jean-Pierre Moueix En Primeur Offer.

Stephen Brook. The Complete Bordeaux (Mitchell Beazley, 2007), p.411.