Looking into heading to Bordeaux on your own and create your own Bordeaux wine tour? Wine Scholar Guild’s Bordeaux wine tour manager, Sarah Graham Beck, continues her series of articles about wine travel tips to Bordeaux. This fifth blog looks at how to plan your Bordeaux wine tour.
For an intensive, fun and informative week, nothing beats the Wine Scholar Guild’s Bordeaux study tour of course. The 2019 tour will take place this June and is fully booked, so why not look into it for 2020! This year’s lucky group will be led by Decanter magazine’s Bordeaux based correspondent, Jane Anson.
See https://www.winescholarguild.org/french-wine-tours/bordeaux-wine-tours for details on this year’s excellent program.
First, a word on Vinexpo,
Last week was very special in Bordeaux, as one of the most important professional wine & spirits fairs took place here. Vinexpo brings together producers, distributors, retailers, sommeliers and other professionals from all over the world. For other wine lovers, it is not a good week to visit the area, as almost all the top Châteaux will be meeting their distributors and don’t have time for us enthusiasts! But it only takes place every other year, so if you’re starting your planning for late this year or next all is well.
… the Union des Grands Crus’ and other producer groups’ futures tastings,
Another week to avoid is the week of the En Primeur/futures tastings. This annual event sees about 6,000 wine professionals from all over the world race around Bordeaux tasting barrel samples of the last vintage. The next one will be from the 30th of March to the 2nd of April 2020.
… summer holidays and harvest time
Do note that not all Chateaux are open in August, although it is still possible to have a lovely time during this hot month: you will just need to do a bit more research to find those Chateaux that are open for visits. During the harvest, larger Châteaux, with their own dedicated guides, are generally open but the smaller estates, where tours are often done by the owners, have much less time to greet visitors, as they are busy getting the crop in and overseeing the winemaking.
Now we’ve got the “when not to come” out of the way, it’s time to start planning. Unlike in some wine regions in the world, generally you can’t just rock up to Bordeaux wine Châteaux. You need to plan your trip well in advance. The demand to visit the top Châteaux is very high, so they get booked up quickly. The lesser known jewels are often only really well known by those of us who live and work here. Another approach would be to ask the advice of your local favorite wine store or importer.
How much to do in a day
Bordeaux is a large region and if you’re based in the city, allow an hour to get to the Médoc and the same to take you to the Right Bank. So please don’t try to do too much in a short time. Plan for at least one day in the Médoc, another day in the Saint Emilion/Pomerol area and one more for the Graves/Pessac Léognan region south of the city. If you have more time, don’t miss the lovely Sauternes region (which you could combine with a couple of Graves/Pessac Léognan visits) and the lesser known but area of great value-for-money wines in the Fronsac,/Côtes de Bourg/Blaye area north of the town of Libourne.
As a general rule, I plan for 3 (4 maximum) visits in a day; most Châteaux are closed at lunch time, so do have a nice lunch out in the region you’re visiting!
Selecting the best Châteaux?
With over 5000 properties in the area, the options are almost unlimited! A few of the very top Châteaux can rarely be visited, except by professionals. But, for example, if you plan to drive up the D2 Route des Châteaux in the Médoc (a must do on any Bordeaux wine tour!), you will drive past some of these. Most of the super Seconds do visits, as do Châteaux throughout the price/quality range. Most Châteaux have entry charges (on average from 10-70 euros per person, although there are a couple of exceptions where the sky is the limit).
Here are some good websites for researching Bordeaux Châteaux to help you select which ones you’d like to approach for visits:
If you read French, get yourself a copy of either the Bettane & Desseauve or Revue des Vins de France guides. They come really handy when trying to identify estates that will correspond to what you are looking for.
You may also look at WSG’s Bordeaux trip itinerary eventhough many of the Chateaux visited are hard to get in.
More on the WSG Blog about planning your Bordeaux wine tour:
- Top 10 things to see & do in Bordeaux - Not all about wine !
- Best restaurants for your Bordeaux wine tour
- Bordeaux's favorite foods
- Bordeaux’s top wine shops
And, in addition to these WSG blogs entries, here are some more ideas for your trip:
If planning your own trip seems overwhelming, you may consider hiring your own private guide.
Enjoy your stay!
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BY Sarah Graham-Beck
Sarah lives in Bordeaux and has 15 years of experience in the Bordeaux wine industry. She has been manager of a top Right Bank chateau and worked for several top Bordeaux wine merchants. She now guides wine tours in the region and handles logistics for wine-related events.