There is no question that Bordeaux is one of if not the most prestigious wine regions in the world.
It is also a region that is finally opening up to visitors. That might sound surprising since it is one of the oldest and most acclaimed wine growing regions in Europe. However, until not too long ago it was almost unthinkable to be admitted to one of the regions wineries (aka chateau) unless you worked in the wine business.
These days, thankfully, an increasing number of chateau is open to the public. That said, with the exception of very few, they will require appointments made in advance in order to visit and taste their wines.
And there is another important point to consider if you want to explore the region: Even for wine lover that know a thing or two about Bordeaux wines, it is difficult to get their bearings in a region that is divided into 38 sub-regions, 57 unique appellations and that counts more than 7,000 chateau.
As this was my first time in Bordeaux and I only had a day for visiting the wine growing area outside of the city, I decided to join an organized tour. Though I usually prefer doing things on my own, I’ve made the experience that guided wine tours can be a good start to get introduced to an unfamiliar wine region. In addition, you do not have to worry about driving which is always a problem when you want to include a bit of wine tasting.
The whole area of Bordeaux is absolutely breathtaking, with rows after rows of green vines as far as you can see. Nestled in between are several small villages along with the many chateau of the region.
Speaking of chateau, do not confuse those with an actual castle. Although many of the wine estates feature impressing historic buildings in a castle like style, chateau in this region simply means a winery.
Whilst the tour I joined included a good mix of different chateau both in style of their wines and the estates themselves, the group was actually larger than I would have expected, meaning we had to stick to a quite rigid programme. The next time I will visit (and it is safe to say I will return), it will be certainly an individual, self-driving tour.
That said, I still liked the different places we visited.
The first stop was Chateau Rayne-Vigneau in the Sauternes appellation, one of the leading Bordeaux wineries producing sweet wines.
In fact, the appellation of Sauternes is widely known to produce sweeter wines made from botrytized grapes. This means, the grapes have developed a ‘noble rot’ which is a beneficial mold that grows on ripe grapes under specific climatic conditions and indeed give the wine its sweetness.
The first glimpse you will get approaching from the road is the impressive historic family home.
However, as with most of the regions chateau, the historic building of Rayne-Vigneau is private and the winery tour is taking place in a separate building hosting the cellar and tasting room.
Open daily from April to November, 10am to 12.30pm and 2pm to 6pm and December to March, Mon to Fri, 10am to 12.30pm and 2pm to 6pm
Visits only upon prior appointment
Next our tour led us to Chateau de Reignac in the Entre-Deux-Mers (literally: between the two seas) appellation. As the name suggests, Entre-Deux-Mers is located between the Garonne and Dordogne rivers. It is the largest Bordeaux appellation boasting more than 250 chateau. It is also one of the oldest wine producing areas in France, looking back at a nearly two thousand year history.
The quality of the wines in this region is a bit varied and there are not many internationally renowned chateau in the area. That said, there are severel excellent wine producers and many of the chateau spot absolutely gorgeous historic buildings.
This definitely includes Chateau de Reignac, the estates impressive historic mansion dates back to the 16th century.
The beautiful greenhouse was even build by Gustave Eifel. The little tower used to be a pigeon house. Today the garden is planted with flowers and plants that repurpose the typical scents found in white and red wines whilst the tower is used as a special tasting room for blind tastings.
The winery’s flagship wine Balthvs, a special cuvee of 100% Merlot is fermented in new French oak barrels to a patented method of the chateau’s current owner. Each year, it is bottle with a different colour on the label.
Open Mon to Fri, 8.30am to 12pm and 1.30pm to 5pm.
Visits only upon prior appointment
Our final winery visit vas to Chateau La Croizille in the Saint Emilion appellation.
The winery was mentioned already in the first edition of the ‘Bordeaux et ses vins’ wine guide by Féret in 1868. However, the winery’s more recent history started when it was purchased by Jacques De Schepper-DeMour whose family owns the nearby Chateau Tour Baladoz since 1950.
The rather modern building was finalized as recently as 2012 and house a highly technological wine cellar.
The tasting room, located in the cubical on the top floor offers beautiful 360 degree views of the surrounding vineyards. A large terrace at one side of the room invites to take your glass outside during the warmer months of the year.
Open daily from 10am to 1pm and 2pm to 6pm
Visits only upon prior appointment
Closed all the month of December
What to consider when visiting the Bordeaux wine region
If you want to explore the area on your own, keep in mind that whilst it is now possible to visit many of the local chateau, you will still need to make prior appointments at most of them.
The Bordeaux wine region is huge and divided into nearly 60 appellations. It also span both the left and right banks of the Garonne river and thus travelling from one side to the other can take up as much as an hour and a half. Therefore, do not plan too many visits on one day and leave enough time between visits.
Most chateau visits will be between one and two hours, usually including a cellar tour and wine tasting, and sometimes also a walk in the vineyards. Two to three visits a day will be the maximum you can do.
July and August is peak season for tourists in Bordeaux and the city itself and some of the more famous chateau and locations in the vineyard area can get fairly crowded. Furthermore, temperatures during the summer months can be rather hot. Consider visiting instead in Spring or Autumn when the weather is still fairly good.
Furthermore, keep in mind that visits during the weekend can be tricky as a large number of chateau are closed Saturday and Sunday. Although this is now starting to change with more being open at least on Saturday.
In addition, there might be other times when many chateau do not accept visits. This is in particular the case around the local harvest which can be different from chateau to chateau but usually takes place somewhere between mid-September to mid-October. Therefore, if you are keen to visit a particular chateau, make sure you make arrangements well in advance to avoid running the risk of not getting an appointment.
Have you been to Bordeaux? Which of the local chateau did you like best? Let me know your experience.