Hidden in the northern parts of the St Emilion appellation, nestled among some familiar names including Château Soutard, Château Cadet-Bon, Château Fonroque and Clos de l’Oratoire, we can find one of the region’s most chronicled estates. Despite the St Emilion region’s long and gilded history of viticulture, which evidence suggests dates to the time of Roman occupation, few of the many châteaux dotted around the periphery of the town can produce any solid evidence pertaining to their vineyards. In many cases those that can, such as Château Franc Mayne or Château Fonroque, only really get going during the 17th or 18th centuries, what agricultural activities there were on these estates before this time little more than a matter of guesswork.
One estate, however, does provides a more certain viticultural narrative. The data points may still be few, but they stretch back not just generations, but for hundreds of years, the tale beginning as long ago as the 16th century. The estate in question is, of course, Château Larmande. This profile details what I have uncovered concerning this château, its early years, and its proprietors through the ages, as well as the state of play here today.
While I have written a number of profiles for châteaux on the western and northern peripheries of the town of St Emilion that open by alluding to the region’s ancient heritage, and the evidence that the vine was cultivated here during Roman times, this is often little more than supposition based on the presence of ancient trenches. Here at Château Larmande the story begins more recently, but perhaps also with much more validity. Archives held in the region document the existence of the property as early as 1585, it being a notable address where local jurats held meetings. Notarial records in St Emilion indicate that there were vines here at around the same time, specifically in 1589, and they even inform us of the name of the proprietor, one Antoine Laveau. He was presumably of the same Laveau family that also owned Château Franc Mayne, and what would eventually grow to become Clos des Jacobins.
By 1620 much of the land around Larmande was in the hands of a local advocate named Élie Gréau. He had here 43 journaux of cultivated land (one journal was the area of land that could be worked by one man in one day, roughly one-third of a hectare) and of these, 26 journaux (so about 8 hectares) were planted to vines. He also built a barn and a dovecot, so this was a serious agricultural venture. I would like to think it was quite profitable for Gréau, allowing him to build a suitable residence. The construction of the modest château at Larmande does indeed date to this era, as suggested by a foundation stone in the cellar which bears the date 1640. In 1692 Guillaume de Gréau, Sieur de Constantin and presumably a descendent of Élie Gréau, turned the management of the estate over to a vigneron named Jean Dumingon. The contract between the two clearly described the level of work that was expected, stipulating that the vineyard had to be ploughed and the vines pruned, among other regular tasks to be undertaken.