The next morning we breakfasted and bid goodbye to Erwan, jumped in the car and headed up the Medoc towards the ocean. We arrived at Chateau Fieuzal and were greeted by Annabelle Denis, their Chargée de Communication. Annabelle has worked at Fieuzal for years. They had sent her to intern in Napa the previous year, so her English and her hospitality were impeccable.
Fieuzal is a beautiful chateau in the Medoc. They are a Premier Cru 2nd growth making excellent, premier cru red wine and also excellent white wine. They are located in the Graves region, are owned by an Irish family and their wine maker worked for several reputable wineries in Napa and throughout France before joining Cht Fieuzal.
We toured through their beautiful estate, their cellar room and the vineyards. Annabelle showed us the gravelly soil, so great for growing Merlot. We discussed how they had been fully biodynamic and organic but had such a poor year in 2017 they had to scrap their whole lot – that’s right, they basically decided to get rid of all of their grapes because of the poor growing season in 2017. They decided at that point to stay organic, but recognized that to stay afloat, they may need to use additional means. Clearly this is an estate with character and exceptional expectations and tremendous care about the product they put out.
We tried their 2015 and 2016 Bordeaux and they were absolutely amazing. Both have deep red fruit, with black cherry, gravel, tobacco, blackberries, plums, forest. The 2016 will be released this November, 2019. It is rating really well. Black fruits, fig, chocolate with the gravel minerality. It was terrific!
We thanked Annabel and headed on our way up the Medoc (west) towards our castle for the evening Chateau La Tour Carnet. It was about an hour and a half drive from our first castle and owned by Bernard Marquez as well. Carnet is another Premier Cru but this time in the Medoc, Cabernet country.
The drive out was a bit unremarkable. The road was dotted with farms and cute towns and there were quite a few round abouts to navigate. However, as we neared the heart of the famed wine region, we began to catch views of the Gironde Estuary and the legendary landscape. We turned off the main highway and headed down toward the river about 1 mile and sighted our castle in the distance. There is a grand gate and it opened as we drove up to our residence for the evening.
Straight ahead of us, through blocks of vineyards and blossoming magnolia trees, was a magnificent tiny castle and beautiful parklike grounds. We drove up to the tasting room and were directed to drive around to the side of our moat. There we were greeted by Stephanie who guided us up a tiny hill, around our moat, introduced us to our black swans for the night, then over our draw bridge, through our small courtyard or antechamber and into our 15th century castle for the evening. (ARE YOU KIDDING ME??? OUR OWN CASTLE!!) It was like walking back in to history.
We entered into the downstairs museum and Stephanie assured us that we were the only guests for the night, that we could touch and feel and even try on any of the items in the museum. There was armour from 800 AD, if we wanted to try it on. There were texts from 400, if we wanted to read, if we could read Latin or French. There was a bust of Charlemagne.
We were then led on a brief tour and shown upstairs to our dining room, seating for 20 guests. We had a choice of two decadent bedrooms, fit for a lady of the house. We choose the larger bed with the view of the courtyard. We were in disbelief, this was our house for the evening!
We had scheduled a tour and tasting later in the day at our Chateau, so we decided to drive up the famed Medoc and view the Grand Crus. The drive up to Saint Estephe would only take 30 minutes and our chateau was only 5 minutes from downtown Saint Julien. We headed to our route, starting 5 minutes from the chateau in Saint Julien. We took a left (west) and headed to Pauillac and then up to Saint Estephe. The small towns were very quaint, the views of the river were beautiful, but the Grand Chateaus were incredible. As you drive this road, you pass legends of wine such as Chateau Pichon Longueville Comtesse De Lalonde, Chateau Mouton Rothschild, Cht …… Each was as beautiful as the next. There were huge tour busses along the route, but it was an easy drive. At the end of the great Chateau Road we drove into Saint Estephe.
Saint Estephe has a small town square, but it seemed nearly vacant. We visited the small church, butchery and a tiny tea shop for a cup of cappuccino “to walk” (meaning “to go”). There we found some adorable trinkets to bring back for the kids.
We then headed back to our chateau for our tour of the grounds, vineyards, winemaking process and wine tasting. Following the wine tasting at La Tour Carnet, we were able to buy wines in their shop, which can be rare in Bordeaux. As I mentioned, Bernard Marquez has been working to modernize Bordeaux, but many chateaus still believe that clients should be purchasing their wine through their negotients, at a store.
We tasted four of their wines and I really enjoyed all of them. I purchased a bottle of their white to bring home, it was outstanding and I wasn’t sure I could get it again, and we spent some time learning from the hostess Jennifer. It was a great tour and tasting.
Our hostess of our castle, Stephanie, had made a dinner reservation for us in Saint Julien, so we walked back to our castle, changed for dinner, bid goodnight to Stephanie (as our staff goes home for the night) and headed out to quaint Saint Julien for dinner. There, since we were guests of La Tour Carnet, were greeted with a glass of champagne. We enjoyed a decadent meal, wonderful wine and we were greeted by the chef of Saint Julien Restaurant, who seemed to know everyone there. It was a lovely evening on their garden patio.
We headed back to our castle, entered through our automatic gates, parked and crossed over our moat, via our draw bridge, were greeted by our swans, opened our enormous door and entered our museum in our castle for the evening (!!!). Michelle and I toured our museum and contemplated putting on our armor, but decided we would check out the bayonet instead. It was really sharp. After reading our 4th century text, we headed upstairs through our dining room to our music room and then visited our chapel to bid the saints goodnight. It was incredibly fun to feel like this castle was ours. After soaking in the experience, we headed to bed, still in disbelief that we were staying in a castle of our very own for the evening.
The next day we woke early for a run through our vineyards and then returned to a beautiful breakfast in our dining room. The question was, what do you wear to your own private dining breakfast experience immediately after a run through our vineyards???? We stopped in our room, threw on dresses because, “I want to feel like a queen when I sit for my beautiful breakfast”, and adjourned to our private dining room.
After breakfast, we packed up, hugged the wonderful Stephanie goodbye and followed our plan to drive up the Medoc again (west towards the ocean), and to then head to St. Emilion on the right bank of Bordeaux, where we had reservations for this night. Jennifer had made an appointment at Chateau Tronquoy-Lalande in Saint Estephe, so we continued our journey west on Chateau Road. We made a stop at Chateau Mouton Rothschild, a Grand Cru first growth, and were welcomed to walk around the grounds. It is an historic and beautiful estate, with many outstanding wines starting at $1000+. This was yet another location of hallowed ground, with so much history and pride and authenticity in wine making.
Tip: So many of the top estates in Bordeaux do not need to welcome visitors. Their wines sell before they come to market. People buy futures in the wine and most of the Grand Cru’s sell out to China or the US before they even come to market. There isn’t as much incentives in these “best” houses to give the public tours or to host tastings. This is why they welcome people in the industry with appointments months in advance. In fact, most industry professionals now travel to Bordeaux for their expos and make their decisions to purchase then.
After Mouton Rothschild, we headed up to Chateau Tronquoy-Lalande in Saint Estephe. We were given a tour of their winemaking process, vineyards and then a tasting. It is a beautiful estate and was recently purchased by a well known winemaker. The views are outstanding and the difference in the gravel and sand in their various vineyards will undoubtedly providing outstanding wines in the near future.
Fact: Many wine producers in this region are beginning to decouple themselves from the antiquated classification system. For example, the red wines at Tronquoy-Lalande are classified under the Saint Estephe classification as a Premier Cru, however the white wines were not classified originally. Thus, the white wines made by this chateau are labeled “Bordeaux Superiore” or “Bordeaux.
After this visit, we decided to make an impromptu stop (unheard of in Bordeaux) into Second Cru Château Cos-d’Estournel, Saint-Estèphe, AOC Saint-Estèphe. This chateau is beautiful and offers a grand residence for lodging https://www.estournel.com/en/.
Their garden was impeccably landscaped with elephant figures and the estate is decorated by the owners with middle eastern flair. The scenery was beautiful.
Tip: If we had time we would have followed the trail west to the Atlantic Ocean. There are the largest sand dunes in the world. The Arachon sand dunes are so tall, they control the weather and the storms that come across to the Medoc off of the ocean. There are quaint stops to get oysters and amazing regional wine.
Alas, it was time to leave the left bank and head across the river to Saint Emilion and the right bank. For the Medoc, the landscape was dotted with farmland and vineyards. I was hoping for quaint towns, but many of the towns we visited were either closed down for the summer holiday or many shops were closed. However the right bank did have quaint towns, so we were excited to head over to the other side.
We hopped on the highway, back through the city of Bordeaux and then over to the right bank. It should have taken us about 1.5 hours, but the traffic was substantial so it took us about 2.5 hours. As we drove into Saint Emilion, the views took my breath away. The region is dotted with medieval walls, tiering the vineyards on the small hills all around St. Emilion. It was quaint and adorable and I couldn’t wait to tour the area.