The eclectic history of Saint-Emilion serves as the perfect backdrop for this medieval town in Bordeaux. The town is named after Aemilianus, an VIIIth century monk who lived as a recluse in a small cave carved deep into the limestone rock. His reclusive life did not last long, as a little community grew around him and he soon had a following of other monks who also found solace at this sanctuary. Upon his death in January of 787 A.D., his followers carved a monolithic church over the original sanctuary. By the XIth century, an organized group of Benedictine monks settled in the area, giving birth to the religious village of Saint-Emilion.
In 1152, the union of Alienor d’Aquitaine and the English King, Henry II of Plantagenet, brought the Aquitaine region under English control. Saint-Emilion had grown into a very powerful city and wished to become self-governing. This request was later granted by one of the sons of Henry II, Jean-Sans-Terre, on July 8th, 1199, when the Treaty of Chartres was signed in Falaise. A moat and a gate were promptly built to protect the town. The people of Saint-Emilion then created an autonomous administrative, legal and financial system. Two groups controlled this new government; a civil assembly known as the “Jurade” and an ecclesiastical arm controlled by the church.
The role of the “Jurade” was to govern the legal and economic agencies of Saint-Emilion, as well as to ascertain whether the wines produced were of a high quality.
The rights granted under the Treaty of Chartres allowed the people and the church of Saint-Emilion to profit from their farming. Thus, by the XIIIth century there were a large number of vineyards throughout the region and the town was enjoying a prosperous growth from the sale of wine. At the same time, the port of Libourne was created which opened doors to trading with the “outside” world.
During the XIVth and XVth centuries, constant religious conflicts and the war between France and England, known as The 100 Years War, sent the Saint-Emilion region into demise until the reign of Henry IV.
In the first quarter of the XVIIIth century, the expansion of trade between Guyenne, England and Holland created a demand for wine. This was responsible for the amazing growth of vineyards throughout the region. During that time, Saint-Emilion doubled in size and the region once again began to prosper. The vast number of vineyards attracted many viticulturists with new ideas on farming. They started their own revolution; aiming for quality in vineyard management and leading the way for the growers of Saint-Emilion.
Prior to the French Revolution the strong autocratic government became a disadvantage to the region, thwarting the development of major properties which explains why the vineyards in Saint-Emilion are much smaller in average size than those of the Médoc.
After the French revolution the “Jurade” was banned. In 1948 it was resurrected as a body to oversee the vineyards and control the quality of the wines produced.
In 1999, the vineyards of Saint-Emilion became the first viticultural landscape registered under the worldwide patrimonial protection of the U.N.E.S.C.O. For centuries, the wines of Saint-Emilion have been well recognized and respected, once heralded as the “Nectar des Dieux” (Gods’ Nectar) by Louis XVI. While today, the wines receive world wide acclaim from both critics and enthusiasts.