As a parent to a three year old, wine is an important part of my daily survival kit. I cannot say I always savour every nuance of taste (as a professional winetaster I do know the difference) but it is an important milestone to celebrate at the end of another frenetic day and serves as a valued recompense. In moderation of course!
It is possible (once we are free to) to take one’s appreciation of wine a step further. How about finding out where wine actually comes from, the source of the juice!
Bordeaux (now only 2 hours by TGV from Paris if thats where you’re coming from) with its châteaux, both large and small, have never before been so open to welcoming you through their doors and behind the scenes – and it is possible to bring your kids along too. As a wine guide for several years in the region, there are a few things to bear in mind to make the experience with kids a smooth one.
Tips when Wine Touring with Kids
As with everything, for kids to be happy you need to capture their attention and it helps for them to participate where possible. If you visit during August for example, it is possible to taste the grapes off the vines. It is wonderful to taste the different grape varieties. It may even be possible to collect a leaf of the different grape varieties and use it as a template to draw around while the parents are tasting. Or they can do a drawing of what they have learnt (remember to bring paper pens in case there are none available). Children love to count the barrels in the cellar for example or they love to smell wine and guess the aromas – does it smell of blackcurrants, cherry, cinnamon or chocolate…?
Which Region? Bordeaux is a big wine region. There is a choice of various wine areas, some are only around half an hour from the city centre. The less well_known but pretty hilly region of Fronsac on the Dordogne River and Pessac Leognan (with its historical grand châteaux) are the closest- some châteaux can be found within the city itself. A little further, some 45 minutes from the city lie the two most famous wine regions; to the north the beginning of the Medoc (at Margaux) and to the East, St Emilion.
The Medoc is probably the most famous region with its grand châteaux but the landscape is flat and the vineyards are large and owned more and more by corporations. There is quite a lot of driving involved between the different famous villages of Margaux to its south and Pauillac and St Estephe to its very north (around 30 minutes from one to the other). It is a peninsular that runs straight up and down and at the end of the day one has to retrace one’s steps (alright if the kids fall asleep, not so ok if not!).
I think that the best overall choice for all the family is St Emilion for its beautiful medieval village and the pretty vineyards on hills that surround it (so there is not much time spent in the car once there). The properties are smaller and more family-owned and frankly the landscape is much prettier.
Which Châteaux? I have never been refused a visit with a family with kids even in some of the most prestigious châteaux but there is a certain protocol and formality involved when visiting and tasting wines renowned around the world (not to mention the prices of their wines). I would recommend visiting smaller family-owned châteaux which are better suited as they can be flexible and tailor the visit to the children. Some châteaux have visits specially created for children such as treasure hunts or quizzes. Many châteaux offer grape juice for children to taste while the parents are tasting something stronger!
How to Book? All visits to wine châteaux in Bordeaux are booked in advance – most easily by email (on their website). Always inform the guide of the number of kids and their ages in advance so the guide is able to tailor the visit accordingly. Visits for children are normally are free. For adults it is around 10 to 15€ per person. The tourist information websites in the different wine regions are useful.
There are also sites that group the châteaux available to visit together, such as the excellent Wine Tour Booking website or Bordeaux Wine Trip.
How many Visits? One or maximum two visits per day – ideally with no other people, so the guide can be flexible with timings and content of the visit. (It is cheaper to ask for a group visit but just see if it is possible to be on your own or for the guide to advise others in the group of the younger participants so they are aware). Make sure to leave plenty of time in-between visits. Visits take around one hour at least and more time if you would like to buy any wine. This is not required, there is no pressure to buy. Use mappy.fr to work out the timings involved in getting to the châteaux on time.
Which Clothes? Take a jumper for you and the kids even in the summer when visiting as the barrel cellars are cool. Comfortable shoes for all the family as visits often start in the vineyards.
Lunch-time Have a relaxed lunch in open grounds rather than a restaurant or even prepare a picnic (buying wine from the chateau of course. The châteaux can suggest where to enjoy your picnic they may even invite you to have it in the chateau grounds.
My Top choice of Four Child-friendly Family-orientated Châteaux in different wine regions (not more than 40 minutes from Bordeaux city)
1. ST EMILION Château Panet, St Emilion – Treasure hunt, walks in the vineyards, view of the vines while relaxing by the lake tasting or picnicing as the kids play in the gardens
Château Coutet, Grand Cru St Emilion – family owned for 14 generations, organic since the beginning, beautiful setting, lots of history and fabulous walks
Château Beausejour Bécot, Premier Grand Cru Classé St Emilion – underground cellars and tasting of 6 wines and juice for the kids; more expensive 30€pp
2. FRONSAC Château la Dauphine (Fronsac 20 minutes from St Emilion) – beautiful grounds, biodynamic property, possible to enjoy a picnic
Château la Rivière, (Fronsac) – medieval castle and underground cellars
Château Cassagne Haut Cannon (Fronsac) – relaxed family setting and playground for kids
3. HAUT MEDOC Château d’Agassac, Haut Medoc (near to Margaux) – with its fairy tale castle and moat it captures kids imagination. Ipod quizzes for older children. About 20 minutes from Bordeaux.
Château Angludet, Margaux – great family house with grounds, relaxed visits and a terrace for tasting wine and local food specialities. About 30 minutes from Bordeaux.
Château Siran, Margaux – great grounds and varied visits and tastings to accomodate the kids. Nuclear bunker and gorgeous roof terrasse. About 30 minutes from Bordeaux.
Château Camensac, Grand Cru Classé Haut Medoc (near to St Julien) – picnics and relaxed setting. 45 minutes from Bordeaux.
4. GRAVES Château de Cerons, Graves red, dry white and sweet rare Cerons wine – beautiful park and chartreuse still family owned. Great picnics in the gardens. Nice dogs Laurel and Hardy!
Château Carbonnieux Grand Cru Classé (Pessac Léognan) red and white wine, ancient château still lived in my the family and beautiful grounds
Background Info on the Bordeaux Wine Region.
Bordeaux is a wine region recognised around the world as producing some of the finest wines. It has beautiful countryside of rolling hills of vineyards. It is France’s largest quality wine region with 65 appellations (different wine areas). The most important wine areas to see lie around 45 minutes from the big city of Bordeaux (a model of grand 18th architecture which makes a great base).
Bordeaux means on the ‘edge of water’ and it is two large rivers (Dordogne and Garonne) and their Estuary (Gironde) slice up this big wine region and help create its different ‘terroirs’.
Most of the vineyards in the Bordeaux wine region produce red wine from a blend of grape varieties. There are two different main styles of red wine reflected in two main quite different landscapes.
RIGHT BANK produces a soft rounded wines made predominantly from Merlot from vineyards on hills around the small medieval village of St Emilion and the flatter Pomerol.
LEFT BANK produces a more concentrated wine from predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon in vineyards in the flat Haut Medoc to the north of the city, where the region’s most impressive châteaux are located (and the most expensive wines) in the famous wine villages of Margaux, St Julien, Pauillac and St Estephe along the ‘Route de Châteaux’, the D2 road.