Global and local history intertwined
The first known mention of Chateau de Ricaud dates back to 1452, during the Hundred Years’ War, when Gaston de Foix-Grailly, Captain of Guyenne and Seigneur de Benauges, granted Bernard Lamensans, a horseman, with a noble title for services fighting against the King of France. “Ricault” became a “noble” property as a result.
Years later, the estate passed to Jean de Sainte Marie, a knight who would become Captain of Cadillac, on his marriage to Bernard Lamensans’ only daughter. In 1617, his great-grandson, Arnaud de Sainte Marie, was crippled with debt and sold the estate to Arnaud de Fleurier. It is not clear from the official deeds whether the vineyard was already producing the sweet wines that would bring fame to the estate in the early 20th century.
But history was to catch up with Chateau Ricaud; to avenge the defeat of his troops during the Fronde civil war in 1650, the Duke of Epernon led an attack against several chateaux in the area. Ricaud was pillaged, burnt and raised to the ground. 20 years later, the Chateau was restored by Francois de Fleurier, on the original site, of which only one bay window still remains.
Restoration works worthy of famed architect Viollet le Duc
Chateau de Ricaud was to change hands several times before 1882, with owners including several Bordeaux negociants, a family from the “old nobility” whose lineage dates back to the crusades, a lawyer of Scottish origin…
In 1861, Charles de Bignon, important property owner from Benauges, embarked upon extensive renovation works and gave the chateau its current form. Architect Alphonse Blaquiere and interior decorator Felix Berne-Bellecourt were inspired largely by the drawings from cabinet-maker Laville after his visit of the Romantic restoration works of architect Viollet le Duc at Chateau de Pierrefonds in the Oise, or nearby Roquetaillade.
Incorporating crenels and gargoyles to enhance the building’s medieval charm, the work also incorporated a number of features paying homage to Ricaud’s rich past, including a coat of arms bearing the initials of Bernard Lamensans on the front door, a monumental medieval fresco in the hall depicting its history, an enigmatic coat of arms decorated with papal keys under the main porch, and two figures on the north wall as a tribute to its previous owners.
A setting seeped in symbolism
Several of its 18th century owners have left their mark on the chateau. Charles de Bignon spent all his fortune restoring it, while the Wells family, originally from Scotland, incorporated thistles on the walls and furniture and Auzac de Lamartinie engraved the family crest…
Descendants of a family belonging to the “old nobility”, with some of its earliest ancestors having taken part in the 8th Crusade, the Auzac de Lamartinie family acquired the chateau in 1872. They extended the parklands and even envisaged extending the chateau. Their crest features on the northern porch and also on the monumental chimney in the dining room.
“Part 1 – Azure blue tincture, featuring a tower of masonry sand with open-work and battlements
2/ Red (gules) tincture, divided by a golden stripe, featuring on both the upper and lower levels a crescent under a 5-pointed star
The crescent moon is a symbol of nobility, an accumulation of wealth, honour and statute. It is also a reminder of the crusades.
The stars are commonly used symbols of light, sometimes depicted to illustrate a family’s wealth. According to certain heraldic experts, “gold on a red background”, may symbolise a family whose achievements are linked to weaponry.
Testament to its rich and symbolic past, the crest now features on Chateau Ricaud’s wine labels.
And so begins the history of the vines
In 1882, the Auzac de Lamartinie family sold the chateau to Pierre Texier, an important property owner in Charentes. When Texier passed the estate to his son-in-law William Wells, he paved the way for its viticultural ascension…but that’s another story, to be continued in another article…