Visiting a Bordeaux château: a user’s guide

It’s after hearing your English friend telling you about the countless beauties of the Bordeaux vineyard and the amazing encounters made that you tell yourself: “I’ve decided, I’m doing it, I’m going to visit a château in Bordeaux”. Once the decision is made, the first questions come up: When? How? Which château to choose? Is it free or do I have to pay? What will I see there? Don’t panic, visiting a château should be a pleasant, immersive experience. Together, let’s shed some light on it...

Visiting a château means coming into contact with a terroir, and with men and women ready to let you discover their job and their passion.

But first of all, what is a château

In the Bordeaux vineyard, the term “château” can mean either an entire winemaking operation or the home of the family that owns it, a storybook castle, a prosperous-looking home or a simple “girondine” (a typical Bordeaux stone-built house)

Chateau De Ferrand - Allée Arbres  

Les fondamentaux

Prepare your château visit

Forget the received wisdom: most châteaux can welcome visitors without an appointment and have someone ready to take your call or sell you their products.

But wine tourism often takes up precious time at a château, the time devoted to visits and tastings... A phone call to ensure availability and/or to reserve will always be welcome and will allow your hosts to make preparations for your arrival. Making people feel at home is part of the Bordeaux tradition!

A famous château or a family property?

This question will allow you to decide, in particular, which part of the vineyard you want to visit. Even if it is true that you can find both possibilities on each of the 6 Bordeaux wine routes, some regions like the Entre-Deux-Mers or Blaye and Bourg are famous for their warm reception in family properties, often by the winegrowers themselves. As for Saint-Émilion-Pomerol-Fronsac, the Médoc and the Graves, the wines from the properties in these regions are fought over in markets all over the world.

Do I need to pay for my visit?

Don’t panic, even if there is often a charge it is still affordable, allow between €3 and €15 per person, depending on the château. Some châteaux offer different rates for different types of visit. The appellation, the fame of a château and the price of its wine very often determine the cost of the visit.

Some châteaux also let you visit for free, or will deduct the price of the visit from any purchases you might make.

Planning to be observed?

As noted above, a visit to a château is above all an encounter. With the men and women who work there and sometimes live in the château. Even if not all of them close at the weekend, it is preferable to get prior information about opening hours.

Also, remember that the time of year is important when preparing your visit. From the end of July to mid-October, for example, work in the vineyard takes up most of the winegrower’s time. But given enough advance notice you could very well be there for the harvest... and even take part in it.

But what does it mean to “visit a château”?

In Bordeaux, visiting a château means discovering all the stages in making a wine: knowing the terroir to understand the characteristics of the wine, seeing the equipment to better comprehend the production process, tasting the wine to interpret its history, and talking with the winegrower to create a bond. Once a château has been visited, the wine will never taste the same!

Here is what you can expect during a classicchâteau visit:

The history of the family and the château

Whether owners for generations or newcomers, each family has its own history. And since wine is the work of human hands, each wine is different. Some present it with an entertaining video, while others prefer to talk about it. Listening to winegrowers talking about their know-how, their techniques, their commitment, will doubtless influence how you appreciate their wines!

Bouteille Pape Clément  

The Terroir

Soil, climate, grape varieties, exposure and the work of man: these are the factors that make up a wine terroir.

They are very much responsible for the typical characteristics of a wine.

Letting the winegrower tell you about the terroir is to receive a priceless gift!

vigne sol haut bailly  

The property

Even if some properties have no château except in name, many of them have historic buildings, sometimes listed, and always rich in historical details and anecdotes. Others are masterpieces of contemporary art which are like museums inside. Follow the guide through these buildings, plots and gardens, but take care about which door you open... Many winegrowers live on site, and even if they open the doors of their cellars, they like to keep their residence private.

Haut bailly portrait chateau  

Technical installations

Get to the heart of the visit and listen carefully to understand all the secrets of winemaking. Don’t forget to take in the different areas where the grapes arrive and the wine leaves: the sorting room, vat room, cellar, shop... some of them, like the cellar, are the château’s signature.

Cuvier - château Petit Village  

Tasting

What would a château visit be without a tasting of one or more of its wines? All that you have learnt up till now will help you understand what there is in your glass. Maybe it is also the moment that the winegrower is waiting for the most. So don’t hesitate to ask questions, as winegrowers will be delighted to talk about their wine, the possible food and wine pairings, or the best date to open the bottle. To be enjoyed in moderation, of course...

Dégustation simple  

The shop

After the tasting, you will be able to leave with wines from the property, to allow your friends and family to discover them.

Time to do a debriefing on the visit and make yourself the ambassador for this experience in the Bordeaux vineyard.

boutique château Portets  

It is a safe bet that once you have visited a château, you will never again taste its wine in the same way.

Of course, not all visits are the same and the Bordeaux vineyard is brimming with châteaux that are open to visitors, and they compete to offer original tours. Some of them are rewarded each year with a “Best of Wine Tourism” award, for the quality and originality of their offer.

Nevertheless, this is a foretaste of what you can expect if you knock on the doors of a château on one of the 6 Bordeaux wine routes.

So don't hesitate, it’s time to tell your English friend that you can see exactly what he was on about...

pontet canet golfette