Prince des Vignes: Nicolas-Alexandre, marquis de Ségur
The Prince of Vines: Nicolas-Alexandre, Marquis de Ségur and His Connection to Wine
Nicolas-Alexandre, Marquis de Ségur (1695–1755), was a figure of significant influence in the history of French viticulture. Known during his lifetime as the “Prince of Vines”, he owned some of the most famous Bordeaux chateaus, including Château Lafite, Château Latour, Château Mouton, and Château Calon-Ségur1. His impact was such that even a hundred years after his death, the Bordeaux Wine Official Classification of 1855 would designate Lafite and Latour as First Growths, Mouton as a second growth, and Calon-Ségur as a third growth1.
Nicolas-Alexandre Ségur was born into a family with deep roots in French history. His paternal lineage could be traced back to François de Ségur, seigneur de Sainte-Aulaye (d. 1605)1. His life took a turn toward viticulture when, through his maternal grandfather, he inherited Château Latour1. This path was further consolidated in 1716 when his father bought Château Lafite, which would pass to Nicolas-Alexandre upon his father’s untimely death12. Subsequently, in 1718, he acquired Château Mouton and Château Calon-Ségur1. He also owned the land that would later become the classified estates of Chateau d’Armailhac and Chateau Pontet-Canet1.
The Wines of Chateau Lafite
The wines of Chateau Lafite, under Nicolas-Alexandre’s stewardship, gained significant prestige in the London market, with Prime Minister Robert Walpole being a frequent customer1. The nickname “Prince des vignes” was bestowed upon him by King Louis XV, who, during a visit to his court, mistook the polished rocks from the Marquis’ vineyards for diamonds1.
Despite his successes, Nicolas-Alexandre did face some challenges. He admitted late in his life that he needed “to restore the too-long neglected administration” of his vast properties, and his will made scant mention of Chateau Latour, a property that had not been fully exploited during his lifetime2. However, Chateau Lafite thrived under his management, becoming a wine of choice among royalty in both Britain and France due to its large production and quality2.
Upon his death in 1755, Nicolas-Alexandre’s estate was divided among his four daughters1. His legacy in wine extended beyond his lifetime, as he is credited with drawing the line that divides the neighboring Chateau Lafite and Chateau Mouton-Rothschild, thereby distinguishing the different styles of wine that these two properties produce1.
Indeed, Nicolas-Alexandre, Marquis de Ségur’s influence continues to resonate within the world of viticulture. He was instrumental in the early shaping of some of the most renowned vineyards of Bordeaux, which has had a lasting impact on the wine industry.
Despite the historical prominence of Marquis de Ségur, the specifics of his wine production techniques are challenging to trace, mainly due to the lack of detailed records from the 18th century. However, it is clear that his management and expansion of vineyards were fundamental to their success. His recognition of the distinct qualities of different vineyards, as exemplified by his division of Chateau Lafite and Chateau Mouton-Rothschild, demonstrated an understanding of terroir that was progressive for his time12.
While we know Nicolas-Alexandre’s vineyards produced wines of exceptionally high quality, the exact practices he employed to achieve this are less clear. A cynic might conclude that the Marquis de Ségur and his contemporaries were simply fortunate, as they knew nothing about soil chemistry, plant physiology, or microbiology. However, their success could also be attributed to their attentive observation and practice, which allowed them to understand and exploit the unique qualities of their vineyards effectively. The wines they produced were so highly valued that even without the advantages of modern science, they were “doing it right”3.
Nicolas-Alexandre, the Marquis de Ségur, known as the “Prince of Vines,” made a substantial impact on the Bordeaux wine industry. Through his ownership and management of some of the most renowned chateaus, he played a significant role in shaping the region’s wine production. His legacy persists, as seen in the enduring prestige of the vineyards he once owned and managed and in the enduring mystery surrounding the techniques he used to produce such high-quality wines. His story serves as a reminder of the rich history and deep tradition embedded in every bottle of wine we enjoy today.
August 26, 1676 — Sir Robert Walpole (1st Earl of Orford) was born on this day. He is renowned as the de facto prime minister of Great Britain. He was a Whig politician and statesman. His name was familiar at Chateau Lafite as one of its most valuable customers. He used to purchase a barrel of Chateau Lafite wines every three months.
June 1, 1689 — Popularly known as le beau Ségur, which translates into “the handsome Ségur,” Henri François, Comte de Ségur, the son of Duke and military commander Henri Joseph and Claude Élisabeth Binet, was born on this day. He served as governor of the County of Foix between 1737 and 1751; Nicolas-Alexandre, the prince of wine, was his first cousin. Henri passed away in Metz at the age of 62 on June 18, 1751, and was named Marsha of France in 1783.