Here, nature reigns supreme. Flowerbeds and wild grasses diffuse their rainbows of colours and their vitality. A far cry from the impeccably-styled gardens of most great estates. Here, on the 1,800 m2, the team of Château Guiraud in Sauternes has fashioned its “garden at the heart of the vines”, a lush, green oasis embracing some 200 varieties of tomatoes, strawberries, beans, onions, aromatic plants, over 40 varieties of peonies, nasturtiums, borage… “This garden is an educational tool to explain our organic philosophy to our visitors”, explains Clémence Planty, Head of Oenotourism and Communication.
Observation and love
At Château Guiraud, organic farming principles have been used for over 20 years now. Observation, love and in-depth expertise acquired down through the years. The Sauternes Premier Cru Classé of 1855 was also awarded with the French AB Label (Organic Farming label) in 2011. A somewhat militant title in the region, when we know that only 6.2% of Bordeaux vineyards are organic. “This certification is but a milestone for us”, states Luc Planty, the Château’s Technical Director, who took over from his father in 2013. “We are already beginning to use biodynamic principles by continually improving our methods to respect the vine, soil and ecosystems’ balance”. In the garden and the plots of land, grass is only cut once: the wild grass-ground covering and the existence of hedges close to the vines are used as habitats by insects which will pollinate and protect the vines from planthoppers, carriers of the dreaded flavescence dorée disease. In 2009, 675 species of insects were inventoried on the vineyard. On average, in non-organic vineyards, there are only around 200.
A conservatory of white grape varieties
Since 2001, particular focus has been placed on perpetuating genetic heritage, through the creation of a conservatory which hosts almost 140 strains of Sémillon and Sauvignon blanc. 40,000 vines are replanted every year on the estate from the winemaker’s own nursery. A unique occurrence among the classified vintages in Gironde.
A choice of visits and wine tastings: from €22/pers., booking required, in particular online: www.chateauguiraud.com
And to enjoy a meal while you’re there, www.lachapelledeguiraud.com, for a pleasurable gastronomic interlude with a view over the vineyards or in the castle’s former chapel.
OENOTOURISM AND ALSO…
MARGAUX BY BIKE
The Château Marquis de Terme, poised elegantly at the entrance to Margaux, proposes a 10-kilometre hybrid-bike ride to discover its various vines. Accompanied by a guide, visitors weave their way through three areas of vine stocks to better understand the terroir’s specificity and the appellation’s biotope. With your feet definitely in the earth, you’ll find out everything there is to know about vineyard work. The tour ends with a sweet or savoury (depending on the time of day) tasting session in the castle.
Guided bike tour and tasting: €50/pers. Duration: 2h30. Bikes provided. Booking online on www.ruedesvignerons.com
A STATE-OF-THE-ART WINERY
For Château La Dominique, Saint-Emilion Grand Cru classé, Jean Nouvel imagined a spectacular winery in 2014. Adorned with mirror-effect, six-hued-red stainless steel slats, the winery plays on our perception offering us nuances of wine. The panoramic vista over the châteaux set around the estate is a must-discover from the terrace: Figeac, Cheval-Blanc, La Conseillante, l'Evangile, Petrus, Gazin, Jean-Faure.
Visit-tasting: €15/person, free for under 16s. chateau-ladominique.com
Until recently, only a privileged few had the chance of visiting Château d’Yquem, Bordeaux’s most legendary estate. Since 2016, it has been welcoming visitors. A timeless wander through this exceptional estate where a rare wine is produced, the only Sauternes Premier Cru Supérieur. The main building reigns supreme over the 104-hectare wine estate running along the hillside. A gigantic screen invites visitors to discover the various steps of the intricate work carried out on each plant before entering the stillness of the underground cellars and sipping on a glass of the precious nectar.
Visit-tasting, booking required: from €75/person. www.yquem.fr
ARTS AND VINES AT ARSAC
Philippe Raoux has owned Château d’Arsac since 1986. After having breathed new life into the estate which comprises 112 hectares of vines, he went on to make it a shrine for contemporary art by creating his Sculpture Park. Niki de Saint Phalle, César, Claude Viallat, Bernard Pagès, to name but a few, some thirty works of art to admire. “Each work of art is the continuation of the castle’s architecture, like a plant which changes over time”, states Philippe Raoux.
Visit-tasting: €8 or €10/person depending on the formula. www.chateau-arsac.com
For lovers of art and wine, a trip to Château Siran, Best of “Art and Culture” Wine Tourism 2017, is a must! It hosts a “Collection Winery” with over 300 wine-related and fired-art objects. Visitors will discover Vieillard plates, from the Bordeaux faience manufacture, Jacquot jugs, traditional pitchers in the form of Bacchus, as well as an 18th-century tapestry “Burgundy grape harvesting”.
Visits from €10/person, booking required.