Open doors in Bordeaux’s vineyard

A Sunday morning in April...

... the sun shines and Nature is waking up, just coming out of hibernation. The fine days are back, and today my friend and I are setting off on the Médoc wine route for an open doors in the wineries.

Before anything else, know that open doors week-end in Bordeaux’s vineyard require a canny mixture of preparation and going with the flow. Let yourself discover a terroir and its inhabitants by criss-crossing landscapes shaped by the work of man.

On the programme: winery tours and wine tastings, interspersed with activities of all kinds.

But enough chat, and on with the show...

Back to the 2017 Médoc open doors  

Well, let’s be honest, the open doors were only a pretext to finally tick the boxes against some châteaux recommended by friends. And what better pretext than a dedicated day?

And the guide to Médoc Open Doors is a real travel companion! You will find the wineries open for the occasion of course, plus a whole lot of activities to do at the property: horse riding, craft markets, vineyard meals and rides in vintage cars.

No time to lose! Breakfast finished, we set out on the road.

Visite à Chasse Spleen  

Horse-drawn carriages at Château Lanessan (Haut Médoc)

Orangerie Château Lanessan  

Heading north of Bordeaux, on the D2 road which is called the “Castles Road”, we are very quickly attracted by a pretty château at the top of a hill, and we decide to turn off. Good news, Château Lanessan is on our list! Free visits to the estate are organised every 30 minutes and tastings of the 3 wines from the property continue throughout the day: Château Lanessan 2008, les Calèches 2011 and Saint Gemme 2012. On site, a food truck, “Baguettes et Fourchette”, offers Asian-inspired dishes to go with the wines of the property. For the little ones, a treasure hunt and colouring or artistic creation workshops are on offer.

After a quick tour of the beautiful greenhouse, stables and the horse museum, we decide to move on. There is so much to do...

Vignes Château Lanessan  

Château Castera (Médoc) and its “Wine Casino”

Visite tour du Château Castera  

Our journey then takes us north of Saint Estèphe, to the grounds of an estate of 185 hectares including 63 of vineyard, a real vestige of the beginnings of feudalism: Château Castera. This mansion is one of the oldest in the Médoc, since its history dates back to the 14th century. No sooner have we arrived, then a voice announces the imminent departure of a guided tour of the château. Perfect!

Our guide is called Mounia, and she starts with a tour of the property before unveiling the flagship of the building: its square defensive tower. Like the rest of the property, in 1986, the tower benefited from a renovation worthy of the name by the father of the current owner.

And so the visit of the tower begins.

Each floor of the tower is dedicated to part of the history of the château. Photos, paintings and letters are there to illustrate the words of our guide. For example, a wine purchase deed dating from 21 January 1616, shows that wine production at the château goes back over 400 years! Did you know that wheat was more expensive than wine at this time?

 

After hearing some great names from the history of France, we approach vinification in the technical parts of the winerie. Between the vat room and the barrel cellar, our guide traces each step in the design of the wine, in a very instructive way. Far from the technical manual, Mounia’s fun approach fills the gaps left from previous visits.

 

13:00: our guide completes her visit just as we detect the aromas from the Food Truck, installed in the park of the château. On the menu, skewers of duck hearts and grilled magret: the south-west of France on a plate. Lunch is served!

Lying in the grass of the park, the sun high in the sky, time stops as the birds sing, our eyelids drooping for an instant. Quite simply, happiness!

Chai Château Castera  
Dégustation Verticale au Château Castera  

Let’s go! No time to waste, the programme continues! A short stroll through the stalls of a farmers’ market set up for the day at the château and we head towards the shop.

 

2 activities are on offer: a vertical tasting of the estate’s wines since 2004 and a “wine casino”. The latter, an original idea of this château, allows to cumulate discounts on purchases thanks to 3 mini games to test your senses:

  • blind tasting,
  • visual recognition of the age of a wine,
  • memory game on the history of the château

 

... there is a crowd, so I choose the professional tasting (meaning I have to spit).

A generous nature on the Médoc wine route

The tasting done, we decide to reach our next stop-off by taking the road that runs along the estuary and passes through Pauillac. The landscapes of vineyards and châteaux as well as the fishing cabins on the estuary make for excellent photo opportunities. A little further on we arrive in Pauillac, and by chance a flea market is taking place on the quays. The atmosphere is friendly and we decide to stop there and mingle with the locals. While bargaining over a pretty engraved decanter, the seller advises us to visit the Maison des Vins de Pauillac, at the end of the street: “It would be a shame to buy a decanter if you have nothing to pour in it!” He has a point!

The shop has so many wines, it is difficult to leave empty handed! It’s decided, we choose a bottle of Château Paloumey 2009.

Carrelet estuaire Gironde  
Château Paysage Médoc  
Chenal Médoc  

Art and culture at Château Chasse Spleen (Moulis-en-Médoc)

Delighted by this fruitful halt, we head back towards Bordeaux. Even if the pace imposed leaves us little respite, the sun, the sweetness of spring and the landscapes of the Médoc are there to remind us that it's the weekend.

It is at Château Chasse-Spleen that we decide to make our next stop.

Going up the pretty alley bordered by small French gardens, which runs along the cellars, you can see the beauty of this mansion. At the end, the wisteria is in bloom and fits perfectly with the property's mauve shutters. Everything about this château is harmonious. Everything... even the 2 giant khaki-coloured boots installed in front of the house.

Let’s not forget that if the château was awarded a Best of Wine Tourism in the “Art and culture” category, it was thanks to its turn towards contemporary art, making this property one of the ambassadors of the genre in the region.

An art that we discover here and there throughout the visit, like in the barrel cellar where walls and pillars are painted in geometric forms, the work of the Franco-Swiss artist Felice Varini, that only come together at a single angle thanks to perspective.

One thing is for sure, you don't get bored in this château... that is what the British poet Lord Byron, a great wine lover, must have thought when he visited the estate in 1821, saying: “This wine has no equal to chase away black thoughts.” Unless it's just a legend...

The château finally offers a horizontal tasting, that allows us to taste all the wines of the property. Outside on the terrace, the rays of the setting sun envelope the vineyard in an orange veil. We start to daydream while looking away, we think back over the day, with a smile not far from the lips...

-          “Shall we come back next year? ”

-          “Oh yes, for sure...”

Visite façade Chasse-Spleen  
Chai Chasse-Spleen  

Advice to make the most of open doors in Bordeaux’s vineyard

Taking a weekend for the open doors in the wineries should be a time of fun and sharing. It can be confusing to set out a battle plan when you don't know any of the châteaux. But you should also know that a though-out and pre-arranged programme has every chance of being turned on its head. There is so much to see and so much to do that a full week would barely suffice! So, whether one day or two, it's not worth arguing about...

 

My advice? Pick out a château to start, and set out on the adventure! Once there, be sure to meet the locals, but also the other visitors that you come across. Share your experiences and don't hesitate to take advice about your next stop. You can only be pleasantly surprised!