Until recently, many of the Classified Growth Châteaux of Bordeaux did not open their gates to the public. Luckily for me, things have begun to change in this world-famous wine region. Now more than ever, some of the best wine estates are welcoming guests to their property for a once in a lifetime look into the world of luxury.
This winter, I have been taking full advantage of my proximity to these now welcoming châteaux. I roamed 18th-century courtyards in Margaux, played with peacocks in Pessac-Léognan, and savored wine with the vineyards at my doorstep in Pauillac. While there are so many châteaux that have won me over, these three in particular are the reason I have fallen in love with Bordeaux.
The symmetrical towers of Château Palmer are impossible to miss while driving along Bordeaux’s “Castle Road.” My first time seeing the estate was back in November during a day trip up the Left Bank. As I was on a tour, I was not able to stop for a desperately wanted photo and promised myself I would make a trip on my own another day.
While some may think February is not ideal to visit France’s most famous wine villages, I beg to differ. Not having to compete with tourists makes the drive to the vineyards all the more enjoyable.
I made this discovery on a crisp winter day a couple weeks ago. My friends and I had an afternoon appointment with the Hospitality Manager, Melanie, at Château Palmer. Fortunately, it had stopped raining earlier that morning, but quite frankly I did not mind. I was just so excited to finally be visiting this breathtaking place.
Finding the entrance proved to be a feat as the estate is arranged into its own mini village. Buildings carved from limestone are blanketed in wild grape vines and feature green adornments, giving the estate a vibrant pop of color on our mostly cloudy day.
It wasn’t long before I spotted Château Palmer’s adorable vineyard cat, named Muscadelle after the indigenous white grape of Southwestern France. The little guy was such as ladies’ man and eagerly followed us throughout our tour.
My favorite thing about Chateau Palmer is that despite its high rank among the top Bordeaux producers, the estate still manages to remain modest and charming. The people are incredibly friendly and approachable and were happy to take us on a private tour during their off-season.
Also, the winery has recently committed to biodynamic wine production which is an attestment to their high quality standards. They are leading the way in Bordeaux’s organic farming and hopefully others will follow suit.
Château Pape Clément:
Château Pape Clément is one of the first wineries I recommend to people who are planning on wine tasting in Bordeaux. Not only is the estate lavishly gorgeous, but they love visitors, which I need to remind you is still a new concept in France.
Super close to the city and reachable by tram or bus, Pape Clément is among the most accommodating of Bordeaux’s Grand Châteaux. Tours are offered daily (even on Sundays!) as well as overnight stays at the castle for those craving extravagance. For the dreamers out there, you can even plan your ideal wedding in their Louis XV styled ballroom.
The Neo-Gothic inspired Château sits on 150 acres of grapevines and pristine lawns, home to an array of plant and animal life. Palm trees, lemon trees, and orange trees give the French palace a tropical vibe while free-roaming peacocks transported me back in memory to the Alcázar of Sevilla.
One of the most striking features of the estate is a delicate glass pavilion, designed by Gustave Eiffel, most famous for his contribution to the Eiffel Tower. Set between the vineyards and the Château, the six-sided pavilion emits bright colors of blue and yellow in the afternoon sun. Although it’s not customary to have your tasting in the Pavillon du Prélat, if you’re lucky you may be able to sneak a peek while on your tour.
Stepping inside the wine cellar, golden chandeliers form two perfect lines from the ceiling. Their halo-like light illuminates rows of preciously stacked wine barrels, housing the latest vintage. The barrel room truly reflects the elegant history of Pape Clément and alludes to its religious past. Beautiful stained glass windows and Christian relics line the perimeter of the room as a reference to Pope Clément V, the Château’s most famous owner in 1305.
Château Pichon Longueville Baron:
Château Pichon Longueville Baron or more commonly called, Château Pichon Baron is what comes to mind when you think of grand Bordeaux châteaux . How could it not? With its four conical towers and clear blue reflection pool, Pichon Baron is the personification of a fairytale castle. This was along our thinking when my four closest friends and I made arrangements to spend our Valentine’s Day on its magnificent grounds.
The day could not have been more gratifying for mid-February. After a couple weeks of rain and chilly weather, the girls and I were elated to be outside. I was camera-happy, snapping photo upon photo of the vineyards, clouds, and spring flowers sprouting from the ground.
Our Italian guide was very knowledgeable and brought us to the vines where she explained Pichon’s use of pheromones to control insect populations. Through small tags that hang on the branches of the vines, synthetic sex pheromones are released into the air to cause sex confusion. Female butterflies get the sense that there are too many other females nearby and leave. At the same time, male butterflies start to leave out of fear of too much competition as well. Another stride in sustainable farming, pheromone tags are non-toxic and are effective in expelling vineyard pests.
The barrel room of Chateau Pichon Baron is no ordinary barrel room. Yes, it is temperature controlled and yes it is underground. But what makes it so unique is the fact that it is also underwater! Water from the reflection pool above laps over large portholes in the roof putting on a light show beneath.
It was definitely a memorable Valentine’s Day. Even though I could not spend it with my love back home, at least I spent it with great girlfriends, surrounded by fields of Cabernet Sauvignon vineyards, and tasting exceptional wine.