Of all the first growths Margaux is certainly a strong contender for being the most splendidly presented, its imposing 19th-century château which peers over the chai, barrel cellars and other buildings easily visible from the D2, the road that snakes up the Médoc past the front doors of many of the classed growths. It stands proud, surrounded by several broad sweeps of vines, the only visual challenge being from Château Palmer which is visible in the distance, its witches-hat turrets stretching skywards in marked contrast to the more reserved style of the château at Margaux. It is a regal château indeed, and certainly fitting in view of the quality of the wines that have been made here over the last couple of decades.
Early History: La Mothe de Margaux
The very ancient history of Château Margaux is quite sketchy, only natural if we remind ourselves that we are looking back as far as nine centuries here. This is because the history of Margaux stretches back to the 12th century, although this predates the construction of the building that we see today by about seven hundred years. As with many estates at this time the land was in the ownership of French nobility, and was known La Mothe de Margaux; ‘La Mothe’ comes from motte, meaning a small rise in the land, yet another example of the seemingly infinite different number of words that describe such hillocks on the Médoc. At this time there would have been no vines planted here, the area being largely marshland, with just a few areas – such as that at Margaux – rising above the water table. These areas were suitable for planting, but the crops were more likely to have been arable – wheat, or sugar beet in more recent years – than the vine.
Writing in Grands Vins (University of California Press, 1995) Clive Coates gives us a few of the earliest names associated with the property. He states that the land came from an old French family named d’Albret who passed it to two seigneurs named Montferrand and Durfort during the 15th century. From here it came to Jean Gimel, a wealthy merchant from Bordeaux, subsequently passing from him to the Lory family. It was not until Guy de Lestonnac took possession of the estate from his cousin, Jean de Lory, in the latter years of the 16th century that it began to develop into the Château Margaux that we know today. The estate was enlarged, new plots of land acquired through exchange or purchase. Instrumental in these developments was Pierre Lestonnac who put in place many of the changes between 1572 and 1582.