The roads that head north-west, north and north-east out of the top of the town of St Emilion are worth exploring. One will lead you to Libourne and the gravelly vineyards of Pomerol (provided you take the right turning, halfway along). Another takes you to Montagne-St-Emilion, one of the better of the St Emilion satellite appellations; you cross the Barbanne, and the road then gradually ascends a plateau of hard limestone, an under-rated terroir. The third will eventually deposit you among the vineyards of Castillon, another under-rated region rich in clay and great depths of the very best limestone.
Along the way you will pass any number of St Emilion domaines, some of which are familiar names, some less so. Some have châteaux that tower over the road, while others are rather more demure, set well back from the thoroughfare. One in this latter group is Château Fonroque, its rather understated presence perhaps appropriate, as it seems in keeping with the style of the wine. This is a long-established property which was, from the early years of the 20th century until its sale in 2017, in the hands of the Moueix family, although the full extent of its story in fact goes back many centuries.
In this profile I explore the history of Château Fonroque, as well as looking at the wines made here today. As always I have looked back to try and establish its origins, as best I can; the story begins, at least as far as we can establish it, in the early 17th century, during the Ancien Régime.
The Bonneau family are the first to be associated with the estate, as in 1620 Hélie de Bonneau (1598 – 1631) was the seigneur of Fonroque. There may conceivably have been vines planted here at this time, viticulture having been present in and around St Emilion since Roman times, but there were no winemaking facilities of any note, nor was there any sign of the château which stands there today.
Hélie married Françoise Pipeaux on February 10th 1628, and they had a son named Louis de Bonneau (born 1628) who inherited his father’s title and lands. Louis then went on to marry Charlotte Boisvert on February 4th 1652, a union that produced two children, Hélie, no doubt named in honour of his grandfather, and Pétronille (born 1670). It was the younger Hélie de Bonneau (1654 – 1733) who inherited the seigneurie of course. He married Marie Deymeyne on May 23rd 1678, and they had two children, François (1682 – 1763) and Isabeau. Isabeau de Bonneau married Louis de Malet de la Jorie (died 1738), seigneur of Roquefort, on November 17th 1708, and subsequent to this event the seigneurie and lands passed into the hands of the Malet-Roquefort family. Presumably it was given as a dowry to Louis by Isabeau’s father.