Couvent des Jacobins, 1971 – 2015
The origin of the town of St Emilion, the nidus around which grew an extensive vineyard leading to the creation of the St Emilion appellation and even the modern-day St Emilion classification, can be traced back to an 8th-century monk named Emilion (or Emilian, or even Aemilio, if you prefer). A pious cave-dwelling hermit who lived and died here, his passing was the stimulus for the carving out of the monolithic church which now sits at the heart of this small town.
During the following centuries religious orders were drawn to this new settlement like moths to a flame. There were the crusade-going Cordeliers, so named for the habits they wore, tied at the waist with a simple cord. The Dominicans built a huge monastery at the top of the town, of which today only one wall remains standing. With time they were joined by an Ursuline convent, and a huge Collegiate church. The town was heaving with religious acolytes, all following their own unique approach to prayer and piety. Along the way, they also fostered the development of the town’s vineyards.
Centuries later, sitting in a tiny back room in Couvent des Jacobins, looking out onto a tiny walled garden flanked by ancient cloisters, the town’s religious origins seemed to ooze from the very walls around me. The Jacobins was a pious order, one and the same as the Dominicans, this alternative name derived from the Rue Saint-Jacques in Paris, where they built their first convent. They arrived in St Emilion in 1402, building a monastery on land given them by the English monarch, the entire region being under English rule at the time.
There is little that is ancient or old-fashioned about Couvent des Jacobins today though. Having come into the hands of the Jean family in the early 20th century the property has been passed down through four generations, landing in the lap of Xavier Jean in 2008. Today he runs the domaine assisted by his multitalented factotum Denis Pomarède, the very man who had shown me into this tiny room.
Having introduced me to the gardens, improbably sandwiched between the Rue Guadet and the Rue de la Porte Brunet on the eastern edge of the town, and having rustled up a quick lunch of entrecôte grilled over 2021 vine cuttings, Denis was busy pulling corks and decanting older vintages. Before I get to those wines, though, a quick recap on the vineyards today is perhaps worthwhile.