The ultimate guide to visiting Bordeaux’s wine chateaux
Visiting the Bordeaux vineyards is a wonderful experience. But Bordeaux is the Old World wine capital of the world, so it has a few rules of its own when it comes to wine tourism.
For so long it was all about the wine in Bordeaux. People visiting Bordeaux’s vineyards – and tourism in general – took a back seat. While it’s still all about the wine in Bordeaux, there’s growing recognition about the role tourism can play in fuelling the city’s economy and driving wine sales internationally.
Even so, there are a few things you need to factor in when it comes to planning your visit to the Bordeaux vineyards.
Choosing your season to visit
When to visit Bordeaux can have a big impact on what you get out of your visit.
Try and avoid the depths of winter if you can. The south of France can be cold from late November through to early March, and the vines are not as aesthetically pleasing for your eye (or your camera). Winemakers are also often locked away getting the best out of the newest harvest and preparing for ‘en primeur’ tastings, usually held during the first week of April. This is another time to avoid as many chateaux will be closed as they do their best to impress wine writers and buyers.
Likewise check if there are any large trade fairs – such as the biennial Vinexpo – taking place because, again, chateau owners and winegrowers will have less time for visitors (though these are of course excellent opportunities for people working in the food and wine trade, or in the corporate world).
If wine-tastings are secondary to your golf, however, then the warm winter sun in March and early April can be an excellent time to get in an early season round of golf, which can be complimented with a city centre visit or a trip to the .
Spring is a wonderful time, when the wine sector comes back to life after its winter hibernation and when the vines shoot their first leaves of the new season. It’s a time of renewal and excitement as we gear up for another year among the vines.
In summer there’s a hive of activity, especially as the holiday season begins and more and more visitors arrive in our city. Beware that many winemakers will also take their annual holidays in August, so contact us if you would like to visit then so that we can make sure your favourite winemakers are in town.
Then, of course, there’s the autumn, when the leaves are changing colour, winegrowers prepare for harvest and one season gives way to another.
Harvest is a special time in Bordeaux – but it’s also very busy as the grapes are brought in, usually by hand, vine by vine and row by row. You can certainly tie your visit into harvest (from the beginning of September into October, depending on the season and the appellation). You can even take part by helping with the grape-picking – but this does require some extra planning to ensure we choose a chateau that can accommodate your visit.
Each of these seasons has their own magic, but visiting in summer and during harvest can take a little more planning as the estates will be busier than normal.
Don’t forget you could also tie your visit in with one of the many festivals and events on in Bordeaux throughout the year.
No matter the month or season, though, we can help you make the most of these months with a Bordeaux package tailored just for you.
Choosing your chateau to visit
One of the highlights of visiting Bordeaux is that your visit can bring you into direct contact with the people who matter most: the winegrowers and winemakers. Even in the larger chateaux it’s possible to chat to these Bordeaux VIPs if you plan ahead. While the visitors’ centres and wine-tasting rooms you may be familiar with in the New World are becoming more common, Bordeaux is still very much an intimate affair, bringing wine lovers together to talk and taste wine from its source.
Choosing the right chateau to get the most out of you visit is key.
We often recommend visiting prestigious big-name chateaux as well as smaller family run estates to give you a feel for the range and variety of experiences available in Bordeaux.
If you have a favourite wine or a chateau, then put this on top of your list. There’s nothing more magical than seeing where your favourite wine is made and speaking to the people who make it. If you have a particular chateau in mind it’s important to plan your stay around their opening hours to ensure you make the most of your time here.
We have relationships with dozens of chateaux across all the Bordeaux appellations – large and small. We can put a plan together for you to ensure you visit a range of chateaux to experience the many faces of both Old and New Bordeaux.
Choosing your time to visit
Unlike many wineries in America, Australia or South Africa, not all Bordeaux chateaux operate an open doors policy all day every day. That’s because not all have formal ‘visitors’ centres’ that are staffed all day. Often a chateau’s ‘visitor’s centre’ is really just a combination of its cellars, its vat and barrel room/s, and a small shop to ensure you take away your memories to drink. You’ll also likely spend some time wander through the vines chatting to the winegrower (who’s often also the owner) and, of course, you’ll spend some time tasting their wine as well.
It’s worth remembering, too, that not all properties are open on weekends – another good reason to plan ahead. More and more chateaux are opening their doors on Saturdays and even Sundays – including Pape Clement and several now across the West Bank and Saint-Emilion. We can arrange visits for you to tie in with your time in Bordeaux.
Making appointments to visit is the best idea. Even at a chateaux with a walk-in policy, we’d still recommend taking a reservation to ensure you maximise your chances of meeting the winegrower or the winemaker, and of having all your curiosities answered.
Visits generally last an hour, sometimes longer, and we always bear this in mind when we’re planning chateau visits. We usually arrange visits within one area at a time to ensure we can make it to each chateau on time – sometimes upto three or four chateaux a day are possible.
For example, we’d propose a day on the west bank, followed by a day in Saint-Emilion, rather than trying to visit both areas on the same day. Appellations such as Pessac and Graves, which are closer to the city centre, can be combined with sightseeing in Bordeaux itself.
Even within one area like the West Bank, though, it can take the best part of an hour to drive between the vines of the Haut-Medoc and Margaux up to the northern reaches of the Saint-Estephe and the Medoc, so it is important to know your appellations and to plan your visits appropriately.
And don’t forget to allow time for a leisurely lunch at one of the chateaux or in Bordeaux – we can arrange all this for you too.
Shipping your bounty home
Don’t worry! Most chateaux can make arrangements to ship any wine you buy home for you – no matter where in the world you live. If you’re visiting a really small chateau that can’t do this for you, we can arrange for this to be done through a local specialist wine retailer.
Come and experience Bordeaux this year
We would love to welcome you to Bordeaux and share our favourite chateaux with you. Why not contact us today so we can arrange a bespoke trip just for you?
Photo Credits: LE 48