First Published in Gilbert & Gaillard International Wine Magazine
‘Portes Ouvertes’; Wind of Change for Wine Tourism in Bordeaux
In Bordeaux today châteaux doors are opening to welcome wine tourists in their numbers to enjoy an innovative range of wine-related activities. This has not always been the case for the old world capital of wine, Bordeaux. In the past wine producers of one of the world’s most well-known wine regions, were criticized for not being accessible to visitors, often only opening their doors for wine professionals.
Picnic at Stellenbosch, hot air balloon over the Napa, take a steam train through Mendoza, wine lovers have been spoilt for choice for many years when visiting the wine regions of the ‘new world’. Cellar door wine sales have been an important revenue stream for over 20 years.
Bordeaux is working hard to catch-up. It is not only the Grand Cru properties but also the smaller châteaux who recognize the importance of wine tourism for wine sales but also, particularly the bigger players, for creating customer loyalty and brand building. When one considers that most of these Grand Cru properties sell uniquely via wine merchants with no direct contact with the end consumer, you can perhaps understand the delay in developing wine tourism in Bordeaux. Today no-one can afford to ignore the financial crisis and increased international competition, even when you produce some of the most expensive and demanded wines in the world.
Bordeaux is one of the world’s wine capitals along with seven other cities Bilbao/Rioja, Cape Town, Florence, San Francisco/Napa, Mainz, Mendoza and Porto. Since 2003 the best properties in these capital’s regions have been given “Best of wine tourism” awards for innovation, sustainability, accommodation amongst other categories (
What does Bordeaux have to offer as a destination?
Bordeaux has been listed as a Unesco World Heritage site since 2007. In addition to its world-famous wines, it lies close to the Atlantic coast and is an historic and beautiful city, recently cleaned up and brought up-to-date with a stunning river front and a modern tram system. Further new developments that will increase its tourism value is the 2 hour travel time on TGV train from Paris from 2015 and the development of a Wine Cultural Centre in late 2014, expected to draw 400,000 visitors per year. An ultramodern building on the banks of the Garonne in central Bordeaux will be created to celebrate the universal subject of wine with nine permanent interactive modules that visitors will visit in a self-guided tour. From the top of a 35 meter high tower, dedicated to the wines of Bordeaux, visitors will be able to take in a panoramic view of the ‘Port de la Lune’
A few Visitor Figures for Bordeaux
According to the Gironde Tourist office in 2010 it is estimated that Bordeaux had 2.4 million visitors (900 000 between April and October and 1 500 000 during May and September). Figures from the region’s council of tourism in June 2010 puts the figure at 3.3 million. It is difficult to ascertain how many visitors come to Bordeaux to primarily visit its vineyards. Bordeaux’s tourist office reports that in 2011 there were 27,000 people who booked visits to vineyards via them (includes bus tours and smaller groups via private companies such as Bordovino.com). A total of 760,000 people passed through the Bordeaux Tourist office in 2011. Wine tourism is a growing industry. There is much room for growth in Bordeaux.
Where to start when visiting the Bordeaux wine region?
With 10,000 châteaux, in 63 appellations, over 100,000 hectares, it is difficult to know where to start when visiting the Bordeaux wine region.
Bordeaux’s Tourist Office organize a range of tours themselves by bus to each of the wine regions and private companies offer smaller tours that are bookable via the tourist office (
If you have your own car, then there are a number of wine routes to follow and you can make your own itinerary.
The first port of call before you even arrive is the Maison du Tourisme de la Gironde (
www.tourisme-gironde.fr) for the general brochure ‘le guide Voyages au pays des vins de Bordeaux’ which lists which châteaux are open for visits (including the 50 or so producers registered with the wine tourism qualification ‘Vignobles et Chais en Bordelais). It also details the various Maisons du Vins, wine routes by car, circuits on foot or bicycle. Otherwise there are brochures available on each region.
There are good tourist offices in St Emilion, Pauillac and the one for Sauternes and Graves based in Langon is excellent (www.tourisme-sauternes-graves.com).
A new concept available, is to use GPS and follow specially created personalized touring guide books through
www.gourmet-touring.com. The CIVB has developed its own wine tourism Smart phone application called “Bordeaux Wine Trip” which allows you to localize wine routes, châteaux to visit, Maisons du Vins and wine events as you travel around the region (to be launched this summer for the Fête du Vin).
The Specialist Wine Guide:
You can call upon individual private wine guides, experts in their field and knowledge of the area who can organize tailor-made tours for you. With their contacts it these guides that can get you into the elite properties but need to be planned well in advance.
The Best of the Bunch
Here are some of the most interesting places and châteaux to visit in the Bordeaux wine region, small and larger properties that have made true efforts to welcome wine visitors.
VISITING THE RIGHT BANK
Visiting St Emilion
Top of the wine destination list for visitors to Bordeaux is the small medieval village of St Emilion, which is totally dedicated to wine and listed a Unesco World Heritage site since 1999.
St Emilion is located on a limestone plateau which gives the wines its special ‘terroir’. From the 9th to the 19th century, tons of limestone blocks were excavated from quarries here to build many of the wine châteaux in the region of Bordeaux. There are said to be today over 200 km of tunnels under the plateau lying on four or five levels.
It was here that the Benedictine monk, Emilian took refuge in the 8th century to live his life as a hermit and it is after him that the village is named. It became a religious centre and over 300 years the monks carved a church out of a single piece of limestone today the largest monolithic church in Europe.
You can visit such underground quarries at several properties in and around St Emilion including the Château Franc Mayne, which runs a boutique hotel in its château with rooms themed representing different countries (the latest addition is a Swiss chalet tree-house!). One of the finest examples is at the Grand Cru Classé Château Villemaurine which is located in the middle of St Emilion. Not only are the quarries used to store the barrels of wine but this underground world is brought to life by a lantern-lit tour and a theatrical ‘son et lumière’ sound and light display which recounts St Emilion’s story (created by Eric Le Collen of the famous Battle of Castillon spectacle). Tickets for the tour can be bought from St Emilion’s tourist office throughout the year.
Carmen Onclin, whose family purchased the château in 2007 and undertook its massive restoration says ‘We felt pressure to renovate and open such a unique authentic place to the public particularly as we are so well-located. Since its opening in 2010 visitor figures have grown from 1500 people to 5000. We are open throughout the year and employ one person fulltime and one seasonal tour guide. It is certainly an investment but it does help people to know our wine, those that might not normally have heard of Villemaurine.’ (
Off the Beaten Track
Château La France
does not have the geographical advantage of Villemaurine. It does not lie in a well-known area but just off the N89, the road that links Bordeaux with Libourne, 20 km from Bordeaux. These gentle undulating hills are Bordeaux Superieur country. A giant steel cockerel created by Georges Saulterre and reaching 20 metres high, marks the entrance to this large estate with its 19th century château. Its rolling vineyards lie all round giving beautiful views and sense of privacy. The property is open for visits throughout the year and are free with wine aroma workshops included. What is unique is that you can rent the château in its entirety with private swimming pool (12 people for around 3000€ per week). Your own keys to your own château! Owner Bruno Mottet admits that his reason for developing wine tourism is to help build customer loyalty for his wines rather than to particularly create revenue.
Tranquility and nature in the Vines
Just outside of St Emilion lies Château Troplong-Mondot in a tranquil undulating location.Here you can rent your own chambre d’hôte de charme “La maison des vignes” or taste wine on the château’s terrace with stunning views of vineyards or sample regional cuisine prepared by chef Jérôme Cadillat in an atmospheric dining room located next to the cellar, “La Table de Belles Perdrix.” Regular themed dinners are organized throughout the year, harvest lunches, as well as cooking classes are available based on local produce (
Winner of the Innovative Wine Tourism award this year, Château Siaurac has pushed the boundaries and offers many different packages including “Winedays”, tasting tours, workshops such as “Learn to taste or blend”, “Five senses” and the “Etiquette of Wine”. This beautiful old property is set amid 46 hectares of vineyards in Lalande de Pomerol (between Pomerol and St Emilion) in a peaceful setting.
Picnic in their 15 hectares of parkland surrounded by 300 year old trees sampling ‘La Baronne’s’ Luxury Hamper of seasonal produce, pass ‘a night to remember’ camping beneath the stars to the sound of Siaurac’s hooting owls, take a “Segway” through the vineyards (a two-wheeled vehicle for one person, ridden standing up and controlled by handlebars) or sample the Siaurac brunch fresh from the market. The options are numerous and entertaining, serving to “faire vivre le vin”. Children are welcome too and can participate in an interactive harvest school and quiz (
Another innovative approach can be found at Château Le Bousquet des Fleurs located in the countryside of Entre-Deux-Mers near to Réole. The charming ‘chambre d’hôte’ encourages visitors to emerge themselves in nature and wine. Learn how to taste wine over a weekend while enjoying the fresh produce from the host’s organic vegetable patch. The Bordeaux Superieur vineyard is currently undergoing conversion to becoming organic. (
VISITING THE LEFT BANK
To the south of Bordeaux, in the capital’s most nearby wine appellationof Péssac-Léognan, lies Château Haut Bailly who some years ago now recognized the importance of being able to well receive visitors at the property throughout the year. Their own chef, Tanguy Laviale works fulltime to receive small groups, for meals that marry seasonal food with wine. The visitors are welcomed in the private rooms of the château and there is also a large atmospheric reception room next to the cellar. A small shop sells wine-related items and wine books from Bordeaux’s well-known bookshop, Mollat. The property lies 20 minutes from Bordeaux’s airport (
The Premier Cru Classé Sauternes Château Suduiraut has cleverly chosen to focus an aroma workshop offering visitors the chance to participate in an interactive tasting experience. Nine aromas have been identified that characteristically occur in this sweet wine such as apricot, bitter orange, vanilla, cinnamon, saffron which come from different origins (the fruit itself, the barrel and from the ageing in the bottle). A master class involves the tasting of three wines blind, the identifying the aromas and guessing the vintages with the aid of detailed tasting notes (
is one of the four châteaux in Margaux part of the “Gourmet Day in Margaux” initiative. The properties (Prieuré-Lichine, Rauzan-Gassies, La Tour de Bessan in addition) are visited and during a meal, twelve wines are tasted and matched with four local food specialities. Château Kirwan organizes children’s parties, how to decant a wine and aroma workshops, winetastings and wine quizzes as well cooking classes and the chance to picnic in the château’s beautiful gardens during the summertime (
Jean Merlaut, owner of the second growth wine property of Château Gruaud Larose in St Julien has invested heavily in wine tourism employing four people full-time to run an intensive year-round programme of wine tour walks, winetasting workshops including vertical tastings of old vintages. Tours are held in six languages including Portuguese and Danish! In 2011 visitor numbers increased by 50% up to 5,500 (
It is perhaps Jean Merlaut who best sums up the new thinking on wine tourism in Bordeaux; ‘Visitors to the property become valuable “wine ambassadors” for our wine around the world. We like to treat them well.’
Bordeaux Wine Visitors Address Book
Staying in a Wine Château Hotel
Prestige Château Gîte ;
Chambre d’Hôte de charme ;
www.tourisme-gironde.fr Maison du Tourisme de la Gironde (brochures)
www.bordeaux.com Maison du Vin de Bordeaux (CIVB)
Book a range of wine tours on-line via the tourist office
Dining in the Vines
www.sources-caudalie.com La Table Lavoir
Seeing the vineyards from a different perspective
over Péssac-Leognan and Graves Châteaux (
on the Ciron River in Sauternes (
Horse & Cart rides
www.attelagepatrickrebulard.com) Château Lanessan, St Julien
St Emilion Petit Train
–7 km circuit over the plateau of St Emilion passing in front of most of the Premier Cru Classé châteaux (
www.visite-saint-emilion.com). Celebrates its 20th anniversary this year and welcomes 35,000 people per year!
Hot Air Ballon rides
over the St Emilion countryside (Lambert Voyages, Libourne)
Visit the vineyards of Entre-Deux-Mers on horseback (
with winetasting and dinner (
“Le Best of Bordeaux Bus”
for students visiting Bordeaux’s vineyards
Bordeaux Wine Events
Union de Grand Cru Amateur weekend
– each year the 100 or so Grand Cru members open up their wines for tasting in central Bordeaux in May and their châteaux for prestigious visits and dinners –
– almost every weekend there is a region of Bordeaux where properties open their doors to the public without ‘rendez-vous’ –
Bordeaux Fête le Vin –
every two years Bordeaux celebrates wine over several days in the summer with tastings, meals, concerts and demonstrations on the Quays on Bordeaux’s river-front. 28 June to 1 July 2012 -
Wine Tasting and Activities
Ecole de Vin de CIVB
– offer tastings to explain the basics of winetasting or more advanced courses and visits -
CIVB Maison du Vin de Bordeaux Wine Bar
(3 cours du XXX juillet, Bordeaux) –
Les Sources de Caudalie,
the first wine spa in the world located at Château Smith-Haut-Lafitte in Péssac-Léognan, based on the anti-oxidant properties of polyphenols found in the skin of grapes. A hotel and restaurant complex set among the vines, one of the first pioneers of wine tourism in Bordeaux. Enjoy a barrel bath, a merlot ‘Fleur de Vigne’ wrap or a crushed cabernet scrub -
– a contemporary concept where you can learn your wine astrological sign, taste the wines of the world in the Médoc or attend music concerts -
– a trio of women producers in the Médoc who were the first to offer an interactive element to visits such as blending your own wine. Also offer visits during harvest-time (September/October) -
Château Lynch Bages
– a small hamlet in Pauillac with restaurant, shops, even a traditional bakers – linked to Château Lynch-Bages, one of the first properties in the Médoc to be open for visits throughout the year -
offers a host of wine tourism initiatives at his base at Château Pape-Clement in Péssac-Léognan including his own wine school -
– beautifully renovated property in St Emilion with a wine tourism programme that include nature trails in the vineyards-
– Beychac et Caillou, an interactive spectacle with aroma and taste workshops based at the Maison du Vin of Bordeaux and Bordeux Superieur -
Become a winemaker
for a few hours and blend your own wine at Château Haut Sarpe St Emilion to take home with you -
Museum of the Vine and Wine
– new museum at the Maison du Vin at Cadillac in sweet wine country
Museum of Wine and Wine Merchants
– in Bordeaux in the heart of the merchant’s quarters of the Chartrons
Two Beautiful wine regions to visit off the Beaten Track
Côtes de Bourg –