I have been dreaming of a winery tour in France for a couple of years now. Why France? I have always had a loving relationship with this country. When I was younger, I traveled many times to France. I was lucky enough to spend more than one year of my life in this country and visit its many cities, although I never had the chance to stop in Bordeaux and visit their famous wineries.
There are 2 ways to visit the wineries: you can either book an organized tour through an agency, or you can organize a winery tour by yourself; by booking and planning your own day trip.
Knowing I don’t like organized tours, I opted for the 2nd option. Let me tell you that it was a day to remember!
I am sharing my journey as well as my tips and tricks to create the winery tour of your dreams.
PLANNING THE ITINERARY
At first, you must pick the wine region you wish to visit. Personally, we went in the Médoc. The Médoc is located 1 hour away from downtown Bordeaux and you can find many wineries of 2nd grand cru. The winery tours usually last between 1h to 2h depending on the institution. We planned our 1st visit during the morning around 10 o’clock, our 2nd visit at 13 o’clock and finally our 3rd visit at 15 o’clock. Since the wineries were close to one another, we could visit multiple wineries in one day. That’s why it’s important to pick the specific wine region you wish to visit.
RENTING A CAR AND THE CAR INSURANCE
There are many ways to rent a car. At first, you must evaluate your needs (small or medium size car, with A/C, with a GPS, etc). Once you have made up your mind, you can start looking for a company to rent the car from according to your budget. You can rent your car via any car rental website; Hertz, Europcar, Avis, etc. Or you can rent a car via BCAA, if you are a member the prices are affordable. You should rent the car at least one month in advance. According to my experience, the more you wait, the more expensive it will become.
Also, you should book car insurance. If this is the only car you will be renting for this trip, it could be economical for you to purchase the car insurance while renting the car. Although, if you are planning on renting many cars during that trip, I highly recommend booking a car insurance via your credit card company. They usually offer an all year long coverage on a rented car for as low as 50$ to 75$ a year. Which is very inexpensive compared to buying car insurance every time you rent a car.
SELECTING THE WINERIES
While searching online for Bordeaux’s wineries, I found it easy to track down the ranked grands crus. I was really looking forward to visiting wineries classified during Napoléon’s era. There are many kinds of grand cru ; 1st grand cru, 2nd grand cru, 3rd grand cru, etc. Most of the 1st grand cru is not open to the public, but rather only open to the industry professionals.
This leaves you with the 2nd grand cru. It’s far from being a bad option, their wines usually retail around 60$ and can go up to 200$ a bottle. Let’s say it’s far from your average 12$ Trapiche bottle from the liquor store. You can definitely taste the difference and appreciate the structure as well as the flavors of the wine. The tours are usually offered in French or English. I highly recommend booking the winery tours at least one month in advance.
3 WINE TASTINGS, 3 UNIQUE EXPERIENCES
I will always remember my boyfriend’s comment after our 1st winery tour; « So… why are we going to 3 different wineries? Aren’t they all going to be the same?”. I must say I was very perplexed too and for a moment I doubted my decision of visiting 3 wineries. Turns out, they were all very different from one another.
Our 1st wine tasting was at Château Léoville Poiferré. We learned a lot about how the wine is created, but nothing outside of the box. It was a formal visit, but a good starting point.
Our 2nd tour was at Château Gruau-Larose. Our tour guide was amazing, he made us taste a different grape variety even before they are mixed together. We tasted pure Petit Verdot, pure Cabernet Sauvignon, etc. All those tastings allowed us to understand where the flavors of the wine come from once mixed. He even opened fermenting oak barrel, so we could smell the different degree of alcohol depending on the age of the wine… On that day, our tour guide was feeling pretty wild, they are usually not allowed to open the barrel.
Our last tour was at Château Pichon Longueville Baron. On that day, the owners of the castle and their business partners came for a visit and a wine tasting of their best wine. So, the most prestigious bottles of wine of the castle were open for the occasion. We tasted amazing wines that usually sell for 300$ a bottle. It was a crazy wine tasting!! My boyfriend and I still look back on that moment.
TIPS FOR THE DAY OF
Plan your itinerary, you might find fun things to do along the way and it will allow you to take some time to relax as it’s going to be a long day. Often, the wineries are in small villages. Therefore, finding a restaurant to eat at was not always easy. I recommend you bring a blanket and food to have a picnic. And why not enjoy a bottle you bought the same morning during your 1st visit.
It was an amazing experience, the castles were beautiful and the wines were delightful. This day is forever marked in our memory. We were far from regretting to do 3 wine tastings in one day. Our experiences and learning were very different at all of them. The best of all was that we got to taste rare wines, wines that I would never dare to look at the bottle or the price at the liquor store. #Cheers!