St Émilion Wine Tour
A couple of weeks ago I spent the day in one of Bordeaux’s most famous villages, St Émilion, all in the name of wine education. The wine tour is hosted by my village neighbour Caro Feely who has a wine education and tourism business, as well as a biodynamic winery with her husband.
I’ve been to St Émilion a few times as it’s only about 40 minutes away, but this time I was able to learn more about the village’s history and its wineries.
The earliest vines were planted back in Roman times when the Roman poet Ausoneus planted a vineyard. Today, the vineyard Château Ausone still produces wine from those vines. The 10-hectare vineyard is one of only four Premier Grand Cru Classé A wines in the St Émilion appellation and is apparently valued at €10,000,000! Obviously, we didn’t go there for a wine tasting.
Looking over to the vines at Château Ausone. Apologies for the photo quality but it was a very grey day.
The village is named after a hermit monk called Émilion, who back in the eighth century became famous for performing miracles. He gained a following of Benedictine monks and evangalised the village. He spent the last 17 years of his life in his cave, which the village is now built around (and over). After he died he was made a Saint and the village is now a UNESCO Word Heritage Site. The Knights Templar also had their HQ in St Émilion and the building still stands.
Our wine tour included lunch at The Red Terrace restaurant of Château Dominique, a Grand Cru Classé vineyard. Because it was the first place we visited, none of us bought any wine to take home which was a shame, as it turned out to be the nicest wine of the day. My wallet was probably thankful though.
We then moved on to Château Guadet, which is a tiny seven-hectare vineyard at the top of the village and is also a Grand Cru Classé vineyard, which in recent years, has converted to become a biodynamic winery. The cellar is underground, in the space where the limestone was carved out to build the château and is reached by a rickety wooden ladder. We were allowed a maximum of four minutes in the cellar (and it took us one and a half to get down the ladder) as the owner believes that our body temperatures will affect the cellar temperature and the wine. That seems a little extreme but maybe at some point the wine was affected as we done of us particularly liked it. It was filled with tannins and wasn’t a patch on the Relais de la Dominique wine that we had at lunchtime (which is their second-tier wine), and at €65 a bottle, it didn’t make it into my shopping basket. The €4 bottle of Duras wine that Dad bought when he stayed was much nicer.
The second wine tasting was at Château Bernateau, another Grand Cru Classé vineyard that also has a second vineyard where they produce wine under the label Chateau Tour Peyronneau (also Grand Cru Classé). Both of the vineyards are organic and although located in different parts of St Émilion, are produced at the Bernateau winery. The winery was very modern, which included a fancy machine that rejects sub par grapes using a sensor. wines we tasted there were much smoother and much more to my taste so a couple of bottles did find their way home with me.
It was a great day out and an opportunity to try some Grand Cru Classé wines. The Grand Cru Classé classification is reviewed every 10 years and is an expensive process (the entry fee is €15,000 so it is out of reach for smaller or less established wineries), but achieving the classification doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone will like the wine and in France you can buy great wines for €3.50-5.00 a bottle, which is unheard of back home.