Home to 117, 500 hectares of wine growing land, Bordeaux is the largest AOC (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée – or controlled destination of origin) wine growing region in France. There are more than 8,500 individual producers, or châteaux, that produce around 700 million bottles a year throughout the 60 appellations, 89% of which are red.
Many chateaux are open to the tourist; to tour the vineyards, production areas and cellar – and of course participate in a tasting and buy wine. However, if you time your visit right, a ‘Portes Ouverts’ or ‘Open Doors’ takes things to a whole new level. For a true wine-lover, it means you get to go into châteaux not normally open to the public, whereas for the amateur like myself, it levels the field since anyone and everyone can come and join in.
So, now the tough research is over… here are my top 5 highlights:
1. Chateau du Pavilion: Owned and run by the charismatic Nadine and her husband (and President of the Fronsac Wine Growers Association) Michel Ponty. The wines here are exquisite and the château itself has arguably one of the most picturesque locations in the area among the well-known hillsides of Canon-Fronsac, ‘The Secret Garden’ of Bordeaux. Not only did I come away having learnt about the vegetative cycle (good in Bordeaux due to the varied climate), benefit of limestone plateaux (micro-fusing) and the name for the branch of a vine (l’aste) but I also tasted the only white wine I’d consumed in the region, thanks to their blend of Semillon and Sauvignon dedicated to less than a hectare of their vines, otherwise largely made up of Merlot.
Why Go?: Quieter and less touristic than those chateaux in St Emilion, Château du Pavilion and Château Grand Renouil (another family owned chateau) are ideal for those looking for a personal touch and a warm and friendly atmosphere to learn about some fantastic wines – that are also very affordable.
2. Château Siaurac: This beautifully preserved château is home to Aline and Paul Goldschmit, owners and wine-lovers who have dedicated themselves to maintaining their beautifully historic property and its grounds, and of course, producing award winning wines. Château Siaurac has just won the international award ‘Best of Wine Tourism 2012’ in the category of ‘Discovery and Innovation’ and there are ample opportunities for you to understand why, with a range of tours on offer. Choose from discovery tours, gourmet tours or workshops and not only will you sample the wines but you’ll be learning from the best. Indeed, Aline until recently held the position as President of the LeLande de Pomerol Wine Growers association…
Why Go?: For a tailored Bordeaux wine experience Château Siaurac can’t be beaten. Oh, and did we mention their wine is award winning?
3. Château Villemaurine: In the heart of the medieval town of Saint Emilion, Châteaux Villemaurine, Grand Cru Classe de Saint-Emilion covers 7 hectares – as well as an impressive network of underground tunnels and quarries. As well as learning all about the wine production of the estate you can also take a tour of the tunnels and learn about the history and all-important geology of the area. Oh, and of course; the tour ends on a tasting.
Why Go?: It’s a given that their wine is good – produced by fermenting the berries under their own weight rather than crushing them – but what makes this château stand out is the underground tour. With animation using lights and sounds your visit here is a truly interactive one, great if you’re travelling with little ones.
4. Château Faugères: Covering 37 hectares and home to one of the most iconic ‘cathedrals of wine’ in the area, Château Faugères is as proud of its winery as it is of the wine itself. Built in the 18th century chartreuse style the château is a grand structure worthy of the ‘arty’ label assigned to it affording spectacular views from the balcony on its 6th floor. Using 6,000 cubic metres of concrete the architect has achieved quite a feat; creating a structure that is so evidently ‘man’ against the backdrop of nature. Needless to say tastings overlooking that view top a tour here perfectly.
Why Go?: Again, it’s a given that the wine is amazing, what will make this visit stand out however, is the view.
5. Dîner Vigneron: The whole point of ‘Open Doors’ is to facilitate access to the châteaux and share the wines of the region; and what better way than by hosting a formal dinner open to the wine growers and locals of the region. Hosted by ‘Maison du Vin Saint-Emilion’ I was fortunate enough to bag a ticket and joined the hundred or so others in a three course feast with as much red wine as I cared to sample.
Why Go?: This is the ultimate way to get to taste so many fine Bordeaux wines in one place – and get to meet their producers, the châteaux owners.
So, with my first ‘Portes Ouverts’ under my belt I can now say with confidence that future wine tastings won’t fill me with quite as much fear. Indeed, as Aline pointed out as she filled my glass; ‘If you are at a tasting and someone next to you claims to be an expert, chances are they’re not. Equally if you think you know nothing about wine… chances are you do’. Nicely said.
Share and Enjoy
Category: Food & Drink