|The world of visiting wineries in France is pretty much divided into 2 categories - Bordeaux and the rest of France. In Bordeaux, I don't know if every winery is called a chateau but it seems that way, although there are places called chateaux which look like old ramshackle farmhouses. Most of the chateaux will accommodate visitors, although a reservation is required. I selected the chateaux I wanted to visit and wrote to each via email. I received a response from almost all of them, although many of the responses came after many days. All the chateaux in Bordeaux charge a fee of 5 to 10 Euros per person for a guided tour and a tasting of 2 or 3 vintages, and this is a good thing for both sides. It relieves the chateaux of the problem of being overwhelmed by visitors who are only vaguely interested in wine, and it relieves the visitor from the feeling that a purchase is required. It makes both sides feel more comfortable.||
|I had read that at Bordeaux chateaux, wine is not sold on the premises. I found this to be mostly not true, although I assume it may still be true in the largest and most prestigious of the chateaux. We didn't visit Chateau Latour, or Petrus or Lafite Rothschild. At the chateaux we visited, there was either a gift/souvenir shop or it was possible to buy whatever wine we wanted.|
|As far as
attire is concerned when visiting chateaux, "neat and clean" is
enough. You are not going to meet the Queen, or even the chateau
owners (not in Bordeaux anyway). Most of the chateaux have PR people on the payroll who
handle the tours and visits. Usually they are young (pretty) girls,
although we did run into one very tall handsome male guide.
This is not true outside of Bordeaux, where for the most part, we
were greeted and guided by the winery owners or senior personnel. We
visited Bergerac, (an exception to this rule), Cahors, and Gaillac on
this trip and very much enjoyed the visits in these smaller
appellations. In Bergerac, we visited Chateau Monbazillac,
which is a major local industry, as it includes a full tour of the
very impressive chateau and then tasting and buying in the gigantic
chateau gift shop. Also, outside of Bordeaux, not every winery is a
chateau. Smaller ones may be called "domaine" and even smaller ones
may be found which aren't called anything.
|For those not inclined to make their own arrangements for visiting wineries in Bordeaux, there are dozens of companies and private guides waiting to take you on a tour including pre-arranged visits to chateaux. These tours range from one day trips from your hotel, to several days including overnights and opulent dinners in one or more chateaux. There are too many to list here, but a search on Google will provide you with plenty of offers.|
|Below is a capsule description of the various chateaux, including the ones we visited in the framework of the Grand Cru Weekend.|
|CHATEAU BRAINAIRE-DUCRU (St-Julien)|
The origin of the Branaire-Ducru vineyards may
be traced back to the 17th century, when they were once part of the
The owner of
Bernard de Valette, the Duc d'Epernon, left behind a string of
unpaid bills when he died in 1642. In order to meet the demands of
was sold off, leading to the parcellation of the estate. The chateau
and some of the vineyards were regrouped by subsequent owners, but
part of the estate, purchased by Jean-Baptiste Braneyre in 1680, was
destined to become what we know today as Branaire-Ducru.
Chateau Branaire-Ducru is tucked away in the south-eastern most part of the St Julien appellation, close neighbours being Beychevelle, which lies between Branaire-Ducru and the Gironde, and Chateau St Pierre. The vineyards run west-east in several plots close to the chateau, over typical Médoc terroir of alluvial gravels. There are 50 hectares in all, planted with 74% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Merlot and just 4% Petit Verdot, with an average age approaching 40 years, although there are many vines approaching a century. The harvest is manual, and fermentation takes place in a modern, well-equipped cellar. This is where we had our lovely dinner on the Saturday night of the Grand Cru Weekend.
To the right is a picture of Alisa, Paulo and Rebecca outside the chateau.
|CHATEAU LYNCH-BAGES (Pauillac)|
If you have time for only one visit in the
Medoc, many think that this chateau is the one to visit. In 2007, John
Michel Cazes handed over the day to day running of the chateau to
his son Jean-Charles, who has continued a tradition of warmly
welcoming visitors. The chateau is immaculately maintained, both
inside and out and there are often art exhibits and a permanent
collection of traditional wine making equipment which looks
especially interesting when set against the modern equipment nearby.
The tiny village stores of Bages are right outside when you leave
We were on a bus tour with 25 other people, but the tour was friendly and professionally done.
|CHATEAU KIRWAN (Margaux, village of Cantenac)|
Kirwan is a perfect combination of a stately
chateau, a third growth wine that is still affordable to mere
mortals, and a warm welcome by the chateau owners. The very
un-French name comes from Irishman Mark Kirwan who owned the place
in the 18th century and who numbered among his guests Thomas
Jefferson who had visited several times. Kirwan offers picnics on the
ground including a full rug, wicker basket, cheese, ham, bread, and
wine experience, and our sit-down lunch here was very nice.
We were guided by one of the owners, Ms Schyler, who was both elegant, and patient and in addition, spoke excellent English.
The 37-hectare vineyards are planted 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc and 10% Petit Verdut. The soils are sandy and gravelly. The average age of the vines is 30 years.
|CHATEAU PRIEURE-LICHINE (Margaux)|
Château Prieuré-Lichine, a large Cru Classé Margaux estate, is
one of the most fragmented in the Médoc with as many as 40 separate
parcels of vines scattered throughout the Margaux appellation.
Prieuré-Lichine was purchased in 1951 by the great Bordeaux
visionary Alexis Lichine who improved the quality of the wines
through investing heavily in new vineyards and by modernizing the
vinification techniques. He died in 1989 and the estate is now run
by his son Sacha, with guru oenologist Michel Rolland acting as
Prieuré-Lichine has 68 hectares of vineyards and the wine is typically a blend of 55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot, 3% Petit Verdot and 2% Cabernet Franc. It is matured in oak barrels (40% new) for 18 months.
|CHATEAU DE LA RIVIERE (between Libourne & St-Emilion)|
|A very impressive set up for visitors, with 50 hectares that make it easily the largest estate in the Fronsac appellation, with large grounds for strolling around. Some of the vines here are over 80 years old, which sadly is practically unheard of in Bordeaux today, and others stand just a few meters from the river Dordogne, protecting them from winter frosts. Unusual also for the Right Bank, there is a relatively high proportion of Cabernet Sauvignon in the wine, up to 13%, giving it structure and good ageing potential. The château itself is no less impressive, from the wrought iron gates to the underground cellars that are some of the biggest in Bordeaux covering eight hectares. The chateau can trace its origins back to the 8th century and produces around 300,000 bottles.|
|CHATEAU PETIT VILLAGE (between Libourne & St-Emilion)|
long ago, after 3 years of work, the Chateau Petit Village in Pomerol unveiled its sleek new winery and visitor center. For Pomerol, this really is a
big deal, because today there are almost no wineries that are truly
easy to visit, especially unannounced. This
chateau is owned by AXA Millesimes (also owners of Chateau Pichon
Baron in Pauillac and Chateau Suduiraut in Sauternes), and run by
Christian Seely and technical director Daniel Llose.
CHATEAU FIGEAC (4 KM west of St-Emilion)
Figeac is a very ancient
estate, going back at least as far as the 2nd century AD, during the
Gallo-Roman period, when a certain Figeacus gave his name to a villa
he built on this location. The site has been continually inhabited
ever since then, as proved by vestiges: a water-supply system dating
from the Gallo-Roman period, foundations of buildings from the
Middle Ages with defensive walls, and the remains of a Renaissance
chateau reflected in the present-day chateau's great door and tower.
|CHATEAU MONBAZILLAC (5 KM south of Bergerac)|
There are many glorious chateaux in the Dordogne, most well established on the tourist trail. The Chateau de Monbazillac is not only off the beaten track, but is also responsible for one of the finest dessert wines in the country.
Built in the 16th century, the chateau, symmetrical and perfectly preserved, exhibits the classic French characteristics of soaring steep roofs and high dormer windows. It also boasts one of the finest restaurants in the country and a Wine Museum (Musée du Vin).
Monbazillac cellars, responsible for a third of all recent and
present-day Monbazillac vintages since 1960, are located 2km from
the chateau. Monbazillac is made from a combination of Sémillon,
Sauvignon and Muscadelle grapes. The sweet taste associated with
the grapes is created by the encouragement of the Botritys Cinerea
fungus responsible for "Noble Rot" that occurs in sufficiently humid
conditions - the vines in the region are swamped in the mists that
rise from the Dordogne river.
CHATEAU LAGRÉZETTE (8 KM NW of Cahors in Caillac))
Known as the best undiscovered French wines is the
appellation of Cahors, which has a history dating back to the Roman
times. The key grape here is variously known as Auxerrois, Côt or
Malbec, and legally must represent 70% of the blend – the balance is
made up with Merlot, or less commonly Tannat. Historically, Cahors
had a reputation for producing dark, heavy wines, which are known as
“the black wine” that were often used to bolster less substantial
wines from Bordeaux. Today, the traditional "black wine" is now
rare, as wine-making methods have changed to produce a softer wine
that is drinkable more quickly. About 30 million bottles are
produced on 4200 HA.
CHATEAUX DE MERCUES (19 KM north of Cahors in Mercues)
which is located about 15 KM south of Cahors near Cieurac, is
also owned by
the George Vigouroux family.
|DOMAINE DE PIALENTOU (just south of Gaillac in Brens)|
This winery is a
modest family owned affair, located just a few KM from the town of
Gaillac in the village of Brens. On the local pebble and
gravel slopes, the vines benefit from exceptional exposure to the
sun. Since October 1998, the Domaine has been the property of Jean
and Kai Gervais. They immediately threw themselves into a
large-scale vineyard and winery modernization program with the
single aim of bringing out the excellent ageing qualities of the
wines of the estate, whilst preserving all their charm and
CHATEAU LASTOURS (west of Gaillac near Lisle-sur-Tarn)
With a long driveway lined with plane trees and a majestic
approach, the Chateau Lastours immediately breathes of art de vivre.
An old estate of the 18th century, the owners, the Faramond family,
offer their visitors an experience that is both historical and
This is a page from our site "Travels with Steve & Alisa". It describes one of the many trips we have made together. We've built these pages not just to describe our trips, but to help other travelers if we can. Please use the information we've provided freely, and let us know if you have any questions we might be able to answer about your own planned trip, or just let us know if we have helped you. Or perhaps you have some information we could add to the site. Visit our home page using the link to the right.
Enjoy your next trip!! ~Steve & Alisa~
JULY 15, 2011