Bordeaux and its castles!!!

I have plenty on wines in my blog , one of my passions since childhood, I have,also written on the Bordeaux region, my favorite wine place in the world, However, I like to do a black and white series, no pictures on the architecture style of the place, Therefore, here is Bordeaux and its castles!!! Bear with me and hope you enjoy it as I.

There is a word in Bordeaux call castle or château very confusing to some, especially those not from the wine trade or passionate as I. There is a « château viticole » ; it designate the wine and the property that produces it, The name on the label does not mean that it is a castle from the architectural point of view as there are some castles that are simple homes without having an influence on the high and low quality of the wine. In a radius of 60 km (about 37 miles) from Bordeaux, the wine region includes 3 sectors : The estuary of the Gironde with the Médoc and the Blayais ; the Garonne with its left bank Sauternes and Graves, and the right bank of the Dordogne with the Libourne. A total of over 115k hectares with about 4K properties that have on their label the word castle Château.

The fashion of the châteaux viticoles left the Médoc to gain other appellations, It was here that before the 17-18C appears the designation more often the reconvertion of a agricultural domain, The 19C created a frenzy to built these castles first in the Médoc then in other appellations like Saint Emilion, Sauternes, and Fronsac, etc, The castles were built with a commercial eye with theatrical decorations, beautiful architecture that represented the quality of wines to the public, A very modern approach in the 19C. The concept of « Bourdieu » understood to be the exploitation of an agricultural domain including the house and its dependencies, They were administered by a manager and it was developped rapidly from the 16C on the banks of the Garonne and the Gironde, An example exist in Barsac with the Maison forte de la Sallasse , a fortified house. This one dates from the 14C very well preserve to our days, It is said to be built in 1340 still under English domination with a defensive wall today gone.

The commercial boom came in the 18C with the islands in the Americas and a triangular commercial entreprise, The interest of England that asked for fine wines created the production towards the high end, It is the reason why the new French clarets the ancestors of our wines today were sold four times more than the classic clarets while at the same time appeared the first cork bottle wines. During the Second Empire (Napoléon III) the commerce done thanks to the agreement of free trade and the railroad line between Bordeaux and Paris put the lights on the Bordeaux wines. Other regions such as Saint Emilion, Pomerol, Sauternes, put the competition on the quality level, The Bordeaux wines tried to differentiate themselves by bringing on the name Château/castle.

The great dates of wine making in the Bordeaux/Médoc area comes from the 1C when the merchants of Narbonne were more expensive and the grape biturica was well in the Roman areas of Brittany that is England. Jump to the 12-13C thanks to this commerce with England made more so from the Aquitaine was English and later when it came back to France in 1224 Bordeaux becomes a very important port, The vineyards extends to Saint Emilion, Bourg and Blaye, Again in the 17C the arrival in Bordeaux of the merchants Flamandes that encourage the making of white and sweet wines, To the claret for England becomes more so preferable the black wines of Spain (the reds), Coming to the 18C the golden age of Bordeaux ! The image of the Pontac family and their Haut-Brion started the movement, The fine Bordeaux wines conquers and give rise to the Grand Crus, In the 19C the classification of 1855 give priority to the château wines making a list of 58 grand crus of the Médoc and Haut Brion on red wines and 22 sweet wines of Sauternes, In this period many castles were built between 1850 and 1880. And we come to the 20C, here in 1935 was created the INAO (Institut de l’Origine et de la qualité) that groups the properties of the control origins, Bordeaux is reborn again from 1960 onwards to today.

Now good moment to tell you about the Médoc again (see post), as most call it Bordeaux but as you can see above, the name of Bordeaux is a much bigger area. My best wines comes from the Médoc. This is the region bounded by the Atlantic Ocean, Gironde, pointe de Grave, and the Landes forest as well as the Bruges marshes. There are three parts: the Bas-Médoc, the Haut-Médoc and the Landes, and two terroirs, the famous Médoc vineyard along the estuary, and the Landes du Médoc towards the ocean. Get it or ask me.

Some brief description of what it is a Bordeaux « château »:

First in the property you have the master house normally rectangular in shape with small towers and decorative elements ; the wings holds the most important facade. Then you have the commons ,which could be attach to the master house in U shape or apart, This is for the animals, stables etc. Then, you have the vinification buildings ,which could be near or apart, with industrial materials like bricks, metal poles, for the vats and cellars. You have the vat where the juice is put to ferment in older days of wood or stone, and today of concrete or stainless steel, and sometimes a press on the same building. The cellars house the barrils where the wine is aged before putting them in the bottle. The big properties have a large personnel that have rooms for them such as in the Château Margaux, You have gardens, to make the castle look in a natural environment, There are chapels apart from the above buildings and sometimes in the extension of a wing;this tell us the merchants speak with God without passing by a priest or parish such as the Chapelle de Château Loudenne. Today the cellars are a work of art build by the great masters of architecture such as those in the Château-Rothschild work of Ricardo Bofill (RIP) or Egyptians lines like the Château Pichon-Longueville done by Jean de Gastines and Patrick Dillon.

Again for reference, the main cultivated grapes here and by now spread all over the world proof of French excellence are : Merlot, Cabinet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Cot for the reds , and Sémillon, Sauvignon, and Muscadelle for the whites.

Let me give some examplary properties ,briefly:

The Château Haut-Brion built in the middle of the 16C, the master house is rectangular from the times of Jean de Pontac by 3 corner towers of which one is gone, The facade is in one floor with reduce decorations and old fashion renaissance look. One of the owners of this castle was Talleyrand for four years between 1801 and 1804.

The Château Margaux, in neo classic or neo palladien style in an antique decoration baptised the « Versailles of the Médoc » built between 1810 and 1816. The master house is like a theater on adriveway of plane trees , the facade has 30 bays on four levels with in the middle a monumental stair and at its feet two sphinxes looking like the guardians of the place. The front has four iconic columns of great majesty, It has nice commons as mentioned above, The anecdote here is that after the French revolution the castle is acquired by immigrant Spaniard Bertrand Douat , Marquis de la Colonilla, and later in 1816 it passes by another Spaniard Alexandre Aguado and in 1977 to a Greek André Mentzelopoulus, it is his daughter Corinne at the commands today.

Other follies came like the Garros dynasty in the second half of the 19C with a mix of architectural influences from Italy, England and the Loire valley. Examples of this are the Château Clément-Pichon in Parempuyre with the loire castle inspiration. The castle fortress of Sauternes where they are inhabited all year as an agriculture domain, examples are the Château d’Yquiem at Preignac built in the 15C but renovated several times thereafter. The Tudor style with the English influence in its golden age of the 19C expecially the Oxford style, Examples of these is the Château Cantenac-Brown in Margaux built for John Lewis Brown in the middle of the 19C. You ,also , have the charterhouses like those in Périgord and in Bordeaux are call « girondines » built between 1650 and 1850 with a central master house surrounded by two wings and a principal door in the middle, examples of this style is the Château Loudenne in Saint Yzans de Médoc, The one unique is the Cos d’Estourel a castle apart ! Chinese pagodas without any style but universal look and a simple Burgundian master house,An eclectique decoration with theatrical look in the cellars with heads of bulls, dragons, etc. The main door of the cellars all in sculpture wood comes from the palace of the Sultan of Zanzibar ! This is the masterpiece of Louis Gaspard d’Estournel, inherits some vinyards in 1810 at Cos that means in old gascon pebble hill, his wines were appreciated by the tzar of Russia, Queen Victoria, Napoléon III, Stendhal, Jules Verne, Eugéne Labiche and even Karl Marx ! Ruined by his lifestyle he sells Cos in 1823 to an English banker with the right to stayed in the property. He died at the age of 91 while able to see the consecration of his castle at the head of Saint Estéphe in the classication of 1855.

The Bordeaux tourist convention office on wine castles: https://www.visiter-bordeaux.com/en/discovering-vineyards/wine-chateaux

The Bordeaux city tourist office on wine castles: https://www.bordeaux-tourism.co.uk/wine-chateaux/most-beautiful-chateaux-bordeaux?_wrapper_format=html

The city of Bordeaux on wine heritage: https://www.bordeaux.fr/ebx/pgPresStand8.psml?_nfpb=true&_pageLabel=pgPresStand8&classofcontent=presentationStandard&id=63304

There you go folks a wonderful world of Bordeaux and its castles. Hope you have a little better idea of what a castle means in Bordeaux and appreciate better its wines. Hope you enjoy the post as I. And remember, happy travels, good health, and many cheers to all!!!

2 Comments to “Bordeaux and its castles!!!”

  1. Property porn of the very highest order

    Liked by 1 person

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