The cradle of Bordeaux wines

Château Grand Branet © T.Joly
South of Bordeaux, vineyards, villages, romanesque churches and medieval castles compose superb scenery on the right bank of the Garonne. This area produces some excellent red and white wines at an affordable price.

[ Practical ]

- Getting there
By road
620 km from Paris on autoroutes A6a, A10, then N320 (Bordeaux ring road), then A630, A62 and D117 till Cadillac
By train
TGV Paris Montparnasse – Bordeaux. Journey takes approximately 3 hours. Then bus 501 from Bordeaux-Stalingrad till Cadillac, information :
- Getting around
A car is necessary to be able to get to the wine estates
- Lodging
Château Salins
Château Grand Branet
Château du Payre
Château du Grand Mouëys
- Restaurants
Entrée Jardin in Cadillac
L’Abricotier in Saint Macaire
Auberge de la Vieille Poste in Rions
- Weekend packages
The Entre-deux-Mers tourism office sells several wine tours. Example : week-end vendanges (grape harvest) 2 days / 1 night : 138 € per person full board. Tel : 0556618273,
Weekendesk offers a 2days / 1 night weekend : 292 € per person full board.
- Information
Entre-deux-Mers tourism office
Tel : 0556618273
From Bordeaux to Langon, the right bank of the Garonne is for 60 km long and about 5 km wide the territory of the Premières Côtes de Bordeaux. An appellation which from this year is part of a wider one, the Côtes de Bordeaux. According to historians, this is where the Romans started to produce wine in the area.

Premières Côtes de Bordeaux © T.Joly
 300 winemakers
Almost 300 independent winemakers and two cooperatives share more than 3 700 ha of vineyards planted along the river and above all inland, on the hills facing the South and the East. They surround châteaux and picturesque towns and villages many of which have preserved a medieval appearance.
Seven varieties of grapes are cultivated here. Merlot, cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and a bit of malbec that give aromatic red wines, with a structured roundness on the palate and a deep purple, almost black colour. Sémillon, sauvignon and muscadelle that serve to make a sweet, fruity and aromatic white wine with a golden yellow colour and aromas of acacia, honey, peach and apricot. The best of these, coming from specific areas, have the right to bear the appellation Cadillac. These vineyards and this scenery can be discovered all year round.

Vendanges Château Brethous © T.Joly
 Take part in the grape harvest
However, fall is a particularly enjoyable period as it is the time of the grape harvest when those who so wish can take part. Red varieties are harvested in September and white ones in October, in successive batches since in order to obtain a sweet wine only grapes afflicted by botrytis or “noble rot” can be used. Work for a connoisseur. But don’t worry, you will only be working for one or two hours with friends of the winemaker or with other tourists. You will also be invited into the cellar to watch the grape sorting and the process of wine making. For example at château Berthous, the estate of promising young winemaker Cécile Verdier. Or at château Grand Branet, a beautiful 17th century neo-gothic mansion renovated in the 19th century that overlooks the vineyards and also offers bed and breakfast. The Entre Deux Mers Tourist Office organizes such weekends and also has a full list of charming lodging.

Château Malagar © T.Joly
 A rich heritage
But the Premières Côtes de Bordeaux are not only appealing for wines. The region also possesses a rich historical, cultural and architectural heritage. The Nobel Prize in Literature of 1952, French writer François Mauriac owned a wine-producing estate there bought by his ancestors in 1843: château Malagar. Nowadays belonging to the Department of Gironde, this beautiful mansion flanked by wine cellars and surrounded by a 4 ha park is decorated exactly as it was when the author came here to rest or work. A must see and the estate still produces excellent red and white wines.
A practising Catholic, François Mauriac liked to go to the nearby village of Verdelay that was in the 19th century France’s most important place of pilgrimage. People flooded there to worship a wooden statue of the Virgin brought back from the Holy Land by a crusader and said to perform miracles.

Calvary of Verdelay © T.Joly
 Toulouse-Lautrec’s grave
Moreover, all the captains of ships from Bordeaux and many other ports of the Atlantic coast came to ask her protection before sailing. From this period remains a large basilica and a 108 meters high Calvary that slowly but surely disappears amidst vegetation. A very romantic walk and from its summit there is a splendid view over the Garonne valley and the Sauterne vineyards on the opposite bank of the river. Alain Girotti, from château Charreau, sometimes combines tasting of his wines with a guided tour of all these sights and also of the cemetery where the painter Toulouse-Lautrec is buried. His family owned several properties around Bordeaux and he died nearby, at Château de Malromé, a mansion that is not open to the public at the moment. Unfortunately so, because it conceals an original work by the artist, a self-portrait drawn on the dining room wall.

Château Malromé © T.Joly
 Forgotten vegetables
Here also, wine has been produced since time immemorial and Toulouse Lautrec liked it so much he had 900 litres sent every year to his Parisian house in Montmartre. This man of florid complexion who put goldfish in the water bottles to force his guests to drink wine also wrote a book of local recipes.
This is an interesting read for people who like tastes from the past. They will also enjoy a visit to Bernard Lafon’s farm named “Oh ! Légumes Oubliés”. For about twenty years he has grown fruit and vegetables that disappeared from our plates a long time ago. Visitors can taste wild nettles, Jerusalem artichokes, “potimarron” squash, dandelions, sorrel, eider berries, Perigord verjuice, ground cherry or “amours en cage” that are also sold in cans or in ready made recipes. And many other varieties are visible in a conservatory vegetable garden.

Rions © T.Joly
 Fortified towns
Finally, no trip in the Premières Côtes de Bordeaux is complete without discovering the banks of the Garonne that brought prosperity to the area. In the past wines were shipped by boat and the fortified towns lining the river bear witness to this economically important past. Cadillac is one of the most beautiful. This bastide built by Englishmen in the 13th century keeps its ramparts, its gates, blocks of old houses and is topped by a 16th century castle. Smaller and more intimate, Rioms hides a medieval neighbourhood behind its fortified walls that makes you travel back in time. And another good reason to go there is Château Salins wine estate that offers charming bed and breakfast accommodation and produces one of the best wines from the Cadillac appellation.

Premières Côtes de Bordeaux © T.Joly
 Surfers on the Garonne
Several times a year, these towns are flooded with tourists and even locals coming for the Mascaret. This is a series of waves of varying heights that travel up the Garonne and are produced during rising tides by the shock between the water of the Atlantic and those of the river. A particularly impressive phenomenon on days when the tide gradient is close to or over 100. It will be like that on August 31st and September 1st, 16th and 17th. In some places waves can reach a height of 2 metres and attract many surfers. The perfect time to go for a wine tasting at Domaine de Bellevue, in Langoiran, since this estate not only produces excellent wines but also offers a great view over the Garonne.

August 19, 2010
Thierry Joly 

[ Wines ]

During our visit we particularly enjoyed wines from the following estates :
- Premières Côtes de Bordeaux Red
Domaine de Bellevue
Château Brethous
Château Charreau (SCEA Girotti)
Château Pascot
Château Carignan
Château Les Guyonnets
Château Suau
- Premières Côtes de Bordeaux White
Domaine de la Croix (Vignobles Jean-Yves Arnaud)
- Cadillac
Clos du Monastère du Broussey (Château du Payre)
Château Mémoires
Château La Croix d’Armagnac (EARL Arnaud Didier)
Château Charreau (SCEA Girotti)
Château de Malagar