My second road trip in France was concentrated in one region, Bordeaux, rather than being cross-country. Renting a car when visiting Bordeaux is best because one of the main things people come to Bordeaux to do is visit its famous wineries, which are spread out all over the countryside. Most of them are also not convenient for access via public transit, so having a car is ideal.
Quaint vineyards like this dot the countryside across the entire Bordeaux region.
NOTE: This is part 3 in a multi-part series on road tripping in France. Be sure to check out the other parts detailing other French road trips linked below. And definitely don’t miss the awesome dashboard video montage I compiled of me road tripping across the French countryside, linked below here and also following each article in this series.
On this particular trip, my friend Tina, her boyfriend Rajiv, and I all piled into a rental car and drove over to Bordeaux to hit the vineyards. Not having done my normal due diligence for this trip, we discovered on the way there that vineyards aren’t typically open on Sundays and that they typically require reservations for tours and tastings. On top of that, it wasn’t just any Sunday but Easter Sunday when we did this day trip to Bordeaux and so we naturally had to google quite a bit and call around while in the car in order to find vineyards that were open.
We eventually did find a couple of them that were open on Sundays – even Easter Sunday – and still had 3 slots available on a tour and tasting, although for one of them we had to do the Spanish-language tour, which was fine for me but less so for my amigos. Regardless, we were on our way to see Bordeaux’s famous vineyards and try some amazing wines, so we were happy and excited.
One thing did strike us all as a little strange, however. We were on our way to Bordeaux to get sloshed on Easter. Could we have possibly planned a more heathen experience if we tried? Well, probably, but it still seemed a little odd. So imagine our surprise when we showed up to our first vineyard and learned on the tour that the estate was actually once owned by a Pope. In fact, the winery was even named after him – Chateau Pape Clement. So we did feel like that coincidence was a sort of divine acknowledgment and blessing of our heathen alcoholic road trip on Easter.
Even on Easter Sunday, the Big Man approves of getting buzzed at a Pope’s winery.
Speaking of alcohol and road trippin’, the Euros are very strict on driving while intoxicated, and that includes being buzzed. While you’re not drinking full glasses of wine at each wine tasting, it’s important to be cognizant of how much you’re consuming over time if you’re doing the driving. Most wine tastings will consist of 4-6 different wines that may add up to one glass in total, and the tastings are usually at the end of the vineyard and estate tours. So if one glass of wine would get you tipsy, it’s best to not consume the full portions you’re given and/or get some food along with it and/or let a sturdier companion do the driving. Lucky for us, I was the sturdier companion and had no problem tasting and pacing.
You may sample anywhere from a half a glass to a glass and a half of wine in total at each winery.
It’s also important to remember that Bordeaux is a rather large region in France, and the wine estates are scattered across the whole of it. So you should factor in driving time – sometimes lots of it – between wine tour appointments and be generous enough with yourself so that you’re not late. They start the tours on time and won’t wait for you if you pull it 10 or 15 minutes after your appointment time. These are group tours and they know that everyone is doing multiple tours in a day, so they won’t cut their tour short or make everyone else late for their other tours. So realistic planning is key to a successful day of vineyard hopping in Bordeaux.
The shortest distance between our winery appts. was 54 km, or 45 mins by car.
Our second winery of the day was, of course, all the way on the other side of the damn region. Lucky for us, the only tour they had slots available in when we called (and only on a Spanish-language tour) wasn’t until 3pm. So that gave us plenty of time to do the papal winery in the morning, head into the city of Bordeaux for a hearty Easter brunch, and drive over to the village of Saint-Emilion for our next visit.
One thing you’ll notice pretty quickly touring Bordeaux’s wineries is that they’re all called Chateau something and they’re all centered around an actual chateau. This is because wine-making in Bordeaux is so steeped in history and tradition and vineyards, like other large agricultural operations in Europe, were historically centered around noble estates, the center of which was a castle or manor house or chateau. In Bordeaux and much of France, many of these centuries-old estates have survived and continue to produce much of France’s world-renowned wines.
So along these lines, Chateau La Gaffeliere was our second stop of the day. We kept getting tongue tied trying to pronounce La Gaffeliere correctly, so we ended up settling on La Giraffe instead, which looked close enough and sounded cute. Before getting to the wino part of the tour, we learned that Chateau La “Giraffe” actually used to be a leaper’s home in medieval times, so the chateau drew its name from the cane that leapers use to walk around. So we were actually kicking it at Chateau of the Leaper’s Cane, which is both weird and interesting at the same time.
In any case, La Giraffe/Canery was a smaller but really neat winery and we really enjoyed the spunk of their guide. We were supposed to be a group of 7, but one set of people didn’t show up (and he didn’t wait!) so it ended up being the three of us plus a couple from Barcelona. The French guide conducted the tour in Spanish, but since now the English speakers outnumbered the [native] Spanish speakers, he was nice enough to make it a Spanglish tour and the Catalunyan couple was totally cool with it.
Winery tours typically include the vineyards plus the fermenting and storage rooms.
Normally you can comfortably fit in three winery visits in a full day in Bordeaux, especially if you plan them time-wise so that you aren’t wasting time backtracking. We opted to only do two tours so that we could spend the middle of the day checking out the city of Bordeaux, which of course serves as the capital of the region of Bordeaux. I was honestly less impressed with the city itself though, and I think your time would be better spent out in the hinterlands visiting the gorgeous chateaus and estates and tasting their delish wines.
Even with only two tours, I learned a hell of a lot about wine and wine-making that I had no clue about. The whole experience makes you really start to feel like a wine connoisseur, and the knowledge you gain will be really impressive to friends back home… you know, when y’all are shopping for that second-cheapest bottle on the grocery store shelf.
Actually, all of the wines from Bordeaux are labeled with the name of the Chateau they come from and not like American or other countries’ wines. And come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Bordeaux wine in a grocery store. But I have seen them in specialty wine shops. So if you know get to know Bordeaux wines, you’ll not only impress your friends but you’ll really impress other in-the-know connoisseurs like yourself now.