Bordeaux Wine Tour Etiquette
7 tips on how to make the most of your winery hopping
A style of winery visits in Bordeaux can be different from those in the US or other parts of the world. There is a lot of emphasis on tradition and history, unique winemaking techniques and wine education, which I think is great. You get to see historic castles, walk moist underground cellars, touch vats full of wine, and watch wine makers do magic in way it was done for hundreds of years.
Plan ahead and do some research
At the end of the visit you will be rewarded with a tasting of excellent wines. However, in many cases, especially on group tours, you will be offered to taste only 1 or 2 wines. It is not very generous, you might think. A chateau is typically a small independent operation which only produces one or two labels of wine. Voila, you tasted them both already.
Some wineries offer extended tasting options which are not always well advertised in my opinion. Vertical tastings, food and wine pairings, lunch with a wine maker or wine blending atelier that can make your experience quite unforgettable. If you are interested in those, be sure to ask in advance.
My favourite wineries mastered an art of combining tradition of Bordeaux with hospitality of Napa. Those are the ones where you still get very personalized and culturally enriching tour and tasting yet with a touch of hedonism, relaxed luxury and excellent customer service. Chateau Gazin in Sauternes is one good example. Imagine overlooking gorgeous vineyards of Semillion from the shade of an oak tree with a glass of dry white wine, a relaxing experience that leads to a winery tour and discovery of the legendary Sauternes noble-rot.
The takeaway, is to decide what type of wine tourist you are. Many of our clients tend to ask for 1st growth chateaux. Don’t get me wrong, these are great wineries and iconic wines. However, if you are more up for a hands-on experience, a friendly chat with a wine maker and a relaxed and generous tasting, I would recommend going to a family-owned winery. Chateau Hourtin-Ducasse in Pauillac is at the top of my list for customer experience. On the contrary, if you are in Bordeaux to taste its prestigious wines, plan to ahead, research the interesting options wineries can offer, come with a list of your favourite wines and vintages.
Actually, it is ok to wear anything. You may consider dressing up just a bit when visiting top wineries where your guide will likely wear a suit jacket. In the summer, bring a light sweater as cellars may be much colder than the outside. Some wineries with underground cellars would distribute blankets, but it is better to come prepared.
I can’t stress enough the importance of comfortable shoes. There is gravel, dirt, cobblestone and cellar stairs to climb. The only thing, the French don’t really wear flip-flops outside of beaches, so probably better to avoid those for safety and a bit of a style.
Be on time
Our tour guides will watch the time, but if you are on your own, make the most of your day by being on time. Since all visits at Bordeaux chateaux are by appointment, there is a specific time slot allocated to your group. Being late rushes your tour especially the tasting part, as there maybe another group waiting for their turn. If you are 15 minutes late, a chateau may deny you a visit.
A typical visit starts from quick look in the vineyards, an tour of wine making facilities and cellars and it is followed by tasting. I don’t really recommend visiting more than 3 wineries per day in this fashion. Opt for the ones with tasting only option to squeeze more tastings into your day.
Walk in vineyards
Outside tasting experiences are still quite rare in Bordeaux. Take advantage of a nice summer day and walk in vineyards to take pictures and taste some grapes. The latter is not always encouraged but isn’t prohibited either. Vineyards aren’t fenced, even those of Petrus and Chateau Margaux. Just be aware that some spraying may have taken place recently and don’t eat skins in that case.
Some wineries offer picnic options in their gardens. Don’t you love the idea of a relaxed picnic with a bottle of your favourite Bordeaux? This isn’t yet the widespread offer. If you would like to have a picnic lunch at a chateaux, ask your guide.