La Cité du Vin gives you an immersive, multi-sensory tour of the wine world
Bordeaux is the undisputed capital city of the wine world, and with La Cité du Vin, Bordeaux reaffirms its status as one of the world’s top wine destinations. La Cité du Vin is the only cultural center in the world offering an approach to wine to a wide audience. It will certainly also attract attention thanks to it’s wonderfully audacious architecture and exposition space inside.
It’s powerfully expressive form is supposed to capture the spirit of wine and its fluid essence, intangible and sensual, like the swirl of the wine in the glass, the coiled movement of a grapevine or the gentle curve of the Garonne river flowing past outside.
The Permanent Tour of the Wine World
The permanent tour is a multi-media tour de force of the world of wine. It consists of 19 stations, or themed spaces, where you can easily spend half a day learning about absolutely every aspect of wine-making, around the world, in France and in the Bordeaux regions. Some of the stations are passive in the sense that you sit down, watch and listen, but there are also hands-on themes such as the one about “everyday smells” where you learn to distinguish and familiarize yourself with quite common smells. The expert “trick” seems to be to memorize or to keep a vocabulary of common smells, and more importantly common tastes, and then articulate these impressions and make use of what you already know when you enjoy a glass of wine, or whenever you want to impress your friends. One thing is certain, if you are not already an expert, you will definitely get a flying start at the La Cité du Vin.
NB! You are advised to arrive at least 2-3 hours before closing time in order to get the maximum out of the visit.
Bordeaux – Sleeping Beauty waking up
Bordeaux used to be nick-named “Sleeping Beauty” due to its facades having turned black from pollution. Today most of Bordeaux looks golden white and quite stunning. The highlights are many, among them the stately Place de la Bourse building complex facing the Garonne River and the Grand Théâtre on Place de la Comédie. Its historic centre is a coherent unity with many outstanding examples of 18th century neoclassical architecture.
Some 347 buildings are protected by national conservation laws. Thanks to the revival of the city over last few decades Bordeaux was inscribed on the World Heritage list as an inhabited historic centre and it also features on the list of World Heritage Cities.
What makes Bordeaux all the more enjoyable both for locals and visitors are the city’s many lively Quartiers, squares and backstreets bustling with people having a good time at the numerous trendy cafés, restaurants and wine bars.
La Cité du Vin was designed by Parisian architects XTU and the exposition design and scenography by English museum-design experts Casson Mann Limited.
Chartres Cathedral is a blend of styles – of severe and lofty elegance, elaborately decorated portals and glowing stained-glass windows
As one of Europe’s most important religious sites since the 4th century, Chartres with its magnificent cathedral continuous to draw pilgrims and visitors from all corners of the world. Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Chartres as it stands today, is almost perfectly preserved and one of the first constructions built in a distinct style largely of French origin – an ‘Opus Francigenum’ as it was called then – a Gothic masterpiece from the 12th century. Together with the cathedrals in Reims and Amiens, Chartres Cathedral strongly influenced the building of cathedrals throughout Europe in the following centuries, among them the magnificent Cologne Cathedral in Germany, Westminster Abbey in England (London) and León Cathedral in Spain.
Chartres Cathedral is partially built on the ruins of a Romanesque style construction, clearly visible in the mismatch of the two spires. Following a devastating fire in Chartres in 1194, it was promptly decided by the townspeople and clergy that the cathedral should be reconstructed in a new style more spectacular than ever before, resulting in what is a high point in French Gothic art and architecture. Over a relatively short span of only 25 years, the new cathedral in Chartres rose rapidly over the old remains, and by 1220 the original west (main) façade and towers were incorporated in the new building. On October 24, 1260, in the presence of King Louis IX, Chartres Cathedral was consecrated and dedicated to him and his family. Religious buildings in France from this time in history were typically dedicated to and sponsored by royalties and those loyal to the king.
World Heritage since 1979
Chartres Cathedral is inscribed on the World Heritage list for being a complete expression of one of the most unanimous aspects of medieval Christianity, generally speaking what is now commonly referred to as Gothic-style art and architecture. Chartres Cathedral has exerted considerable influence on the development of Gothic art in Europe, including stained-glass artworks. (UNESCO)
In the year of 1519, a palace rises up from the heart of the Sologne marshlands…
A dashing young king, François I, has ordered its construction. The château of Chambord is not designed as a permanent residence, and François only stays there for a few weeks. It is a remarkable architectural achievement that the king is proud to show to sovereigns and ambassadors as a symbol of his power engraved in stone.
The château of Chambord is one of the most singular constructions that the Renaissance century has handed down to us. The architecture is a highly ingenious and intelligent blending of traditional aspects of medieval French architecture and features borrowed from the Italian Renaissance. Even though the four massive towers that flank the keep remind us of medieval fortresses, the design of the château and the innovative elements it incorporates are unique.
New French style gardens and a park the size of Paris
Visiting Chambord, you are not only visiting a château, you are also breathing the fresh forest air, admiring pure and preserved landscapes, and exploring untold kilometers of hidden pathways. You may even have the opportunity to espy wild animals, and you will be delighted to discover for the first time the French-style gardens imagined under the reign of Louis XIV and brought back to life in 2017. Chambord is the largest wall-enclosed park in France and Europe, and its area (13500 acres) is equivalent to that of Paris proper.
World Heritage since 1981
A truly exceptional work of art, Chambord was classified as a historic monument in 1840, and has been registered on the World Heritage list since 1981.
Since 2000, Chambord has been part of the extended “Loire Valley between Sully-sur-Loire and Chalonnes World Heritage Site”.
“Can you imagine, dear Paul, that ever since I saw Chambord,
I have been asking anyone and everyone:
Have you seen Chambord?” Victor Hugo
The town of Périgueux is situated in Dordogne in south-western France, but the five cupolas and turrets of the Saint-Front Cathedral seem to belong to another part of the world. It was modeled after the magnificent San Marco Cathedral in Venice, which was originally based on the 6th century church of the Holy Apostles in Byzantine Constantinople. Saint-Front’s characteristic domes then went on to become the blueprint for the iconic profile of the Sacré-Coeur Basilica on the Montmarte hill in Paris.
As with San Marco in Venice, the floor plan of Saint-Front is based on a Greek cross layout, each arm being of equal length. The domes used to be of slightly different dimensions. The supporting piers have a section of 6 metres, but the mass is attenuated by two perpendicular passages.
The architect Paul Abadie also designed Sacré-Coeur in Paris, built in the wake of the reconstruction of Saint-Front in Périgueux. He and his team enlarged the domes of the old and damaged Saint-Front basilica in the years between 1852 and 1895.
The history of the cathedral is linked to the legend of Saint-Front who evangelized Périgord in the 4th or 5th century. The first church was built by here around 500-536 but the Normans destroyed it around 845.
Bishop Frotaire was sent to Périgueux in 976 to build the abbey of Saint-Front, to be consecrated in 1047. The abbey church could not accommodate the pilgrims on the way to Compostela, so a dome church was built in the 11th century. It was placed in extension of the existing church and the altar was used for both churches.
The “old church” had its choir to the east and the new to the west. In 1525 a parish church was built where the chapel of the Virgin is now.
In 1551 and 1575, the Huguenots pillaged Saint-Front and destroyed the furniture. The relics of Saint-Front were carried and thrown into the Dordogne river. Between 1760 and 1764 the cupolas, in very bad condition, were covered with a cruciform framework covered with slates.
Although based on Byzantine plans and ideals, Saint-Front is also distinctly Romanensque in style, most evident in the interior. But whereas this style traditionally tend to be rather bulky with much wider aisles, Saint-Front is powerful, yet open and spacious, despite the imposing stone walls and pillars.
The chandeliers, designed by the architect Abadie, were used in Notre-Dame de Paris for the coronation of Napoleon III. The altarpiece dates from the 17th century and comes from the chapel of the Jesuit convent in Périgueux. It is devoted to the theme of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. The pulpit also comes from the chapel of the Jesuits.
Santiago de Compostela – World Heritage
Santiago de Compostela was the supreme goal for pious pilgrims who converged there from all over Europe throughout the Middle Ages. To reach Spain pilgrims had to pass through France. The Pilgrimage Route played a key role in religious and cultural exchange and development during the later Middle Ages. The spiritual and physical needs of pilgrims travelling to Santiago de Compostela were met by the development of a number of specialized types of edifice, many of which originated or were further developed in France. (UNESCO)
The Saint-Front cathedral was inscribed on the World Heritage list in 1998 as part of the French Routes of Santiago de Compostela.
Rue Limogeanne is one of the busiest pedestrian shopping streets in Perigueux. Here you will also find some interesting Renaissance buildings such as the Hôtel de Mèredieu and Maison Estignard with ornate carvings and inner courtyards.
The Abbey is part of the Routes of Santiago de Compostela World Heritage
Situated in the midst of the dense Entre-Deux-Mers forest just southeast of Bordeaux, the remains of the Notre-Dame de La Sauve-Majeure beautifully captures the spirit of a place that was once an important stop for pilgrims on the way to or from Santiago de Compostela further south. Founded in 1079 by a Benedictine abbot, the abbey’s monastic functions and its ideal location on the pilgrims’ route placed it at the head of some 70 priories stretching all the way from England to Aragon in Spain. The place takes its name from the Latin “silva major”, “great forest”.
Entre-Deux-Mers literally translates as “between two seas”, referring to the land between the Garonne and the Dordogne rivers. Both rivers are influenced by the ebb and flow of the tides of the Atlantic in these parts. Here as well as in other regions of France, including nearby Saint-Emilion, vines first planted by the Romans 2000 years ago were typically grown by monks in the middle ages. In the case of the Abbey of La Sauve-Majeure, a large plot a land was given to them by Duke William VIII of Aquitaine. The thick forest was cleared to make way for vines, and the wine, produced for religious purposes or as part of their general livelihood, became over time an important commodity on the bustling pilgrimage and trade routes.
La Sauve along with the rest of France witnessed difficult times during the Hundred Years’ War with England (1337 to 1453). The priory was revitalized in the 17th century before the French Revolution a century later effectively put an end to its life as a religious place. The buildings were subsequently used as a stone quarry, leaving it in a ruinous state. La Sauve was registered as a historic monument in 1840, acquired by the State in 1960 and in 1998, the Abbey was inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage list as one of a series of sites on the Routes of Santiago de Compostela in France.
Built between the 11th and 13th centuries, the remains of La Sauve-Majeaure are considered masterpieces of Romanesque art. Especially noteworthy are the many decorative capitals.
The Wines of Entre-Deux-Mers
A visit to the Bordeaux region would not be complete without tasting some of its wines. Entre-Deux-Mers ranks among the most well-known wine producing areas of Bordeaux, and it still is the largest with some 250 producers. Only white wines produced here are labeled under the Entre-Deux-Mers appellation, while the reds are sold as a generic Bordeaux or Bordeaux Superieur (AOC). Entre-Deux-Mers white wines are made mostly from the Sauvignon Blanc and the Semillion grape varieties, which make for fruity yet deliciously fresh and rather elegant wines.
The “Maison des Vins de Entre2Mers” is situated right at the entrance to the La Sauve-Majeure Abbey premises, in other words; a perfect stop before or after a stroll among the evocative ruins of the old priory. At the Maison des Vins you can sample, purchase and learn more about some of the wines of Entre-Deux-Mers.
The Cathedral, the Former Abbey of Saint-Rémi and Palace of Tau were inscribed on the World Heritage list in 1991
Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Reims, along with the cathedrals of Chartres and Amiens near Paris, are the departure points of the Gothic art and architectural style, inspiring construction of cathedrals throughout Europe. Erected between 1211 and 1516, Reims Cathedral is typically decorated with numerous sculptures of biblical characters and scenes, but at Reims the abundance of sculptures was integral to the overall style of the building. Among them is the symbol of Reims, the iconic Smiling Angel, situated right above the main entrance. Her sweet smile stays with you as you walk inside, reminding you perhaps of the importance of fairness in all matters. She was, in fact, among the cathedral’s fortunate survivors of heavy bombardments of Reims by German forces in the first World War (1914).
Shards of primary colours meet sombre Gothic ambiance
In 2011, hundred years after the start of WW1, two sets of stained glass artworks created by German artist Imi Knoebel (1940) were installed in the cathedral’s Saint Joseph chapel (see header photo) and in the Sacré Coeur chapel. Enmity and emotional scars from old strife tend to run deep between nations. Inviting a German artist to create art in a cathedral and city they nearly completely destroyed, in a city and cathedral that for centuries had been the most important site for the coronation of French kings, would for a long time have been inconceivable.
In 2015, a third artwork consisting of three windows was installed in the Jeanne d’Arc chapel, donated by Knoebel himself, the German Federal Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the NRW Arts Foundation, as a gesture of pardon for the destruction of the cathedral in 1914.
A small child at the time, Imi Knoebel did apparently witness the bombing of Dresden in the second World War. Only the artist will know to what extent past conflicts or personal war-time memories have affected the creation of these stained glass windows. Looking at the them, however, we see a shattered world of flat, irregularly shaped fragments in white and shades of the three primary colours dominated by blue. The abstract restlessness is held in check by the simple geometry of the slender Gothic framework. The artworks have an immediate and refreshing impact, in striking contrast to the otherwise sombre Gothic ambiance of the cathedral.
In the axial chapel, between Knoebel’s expressive windows, is a quietly moving work by Marc Chagall (1887-1985). The world renown artist worked closely with the Jacques Simon Workshop in Reims on a number of stained glass projects both in France and internationally. Commissioned by the Committee of Builders of Champagne-Ardenne and Friends of Reims Cathedral, the artwork which took six years to realize was inaugurated on June 14, 1974,
The central window depicts the history of Abraham and the last moments of the earthly life of Christ. The rose window represents The Holy Spirit.
Cathedral of Notre-Dame including the Former Abbey of Saint-Rémi and Palace of Tau were included on the World Heritage list in1991 for being a masterpiece of Gothic art and architecture (the cathedral), influencing numerous later constructions in Europe, particularly in Germany.
The complex as a whole is directly linked to the history of the French monarchy and subsequently for the evolution of the balance between Church and State, in France as well as in Europe in general.
“Port of the Moon” is a popular name given to the city, owing to the crescent shape bend of the Garonne river…
Bordeaux – a cosmopolitan city and a distinguished brand that conjure up images of illustrious vineyard chateaux with names as complex as their world-renowned wines. Situated by the Garonne river in the Aquitaine region, Bordeaux is the undisputed capital city of the wine world and the heart of a region with wine-making traditions that go back to Roman times. The production and export of wine as well as Bordeaux having been an important centre for exchange of cultural and human values for centuries – in particular during the so-called Age of Enlightenment – continue to provide vitality, growth and prosperity for the city and the region.
The wine trade took a great leap forward in the late 12th century when Bordeaux and the Saint-Emilion jurisdiction came under English rule, following the marriage of Henry II to Eleanor of Aquitaine. The English dominion of this part of France lasted for three hundred years. From the early 18th century onward the city saw a massive transformation of its urban plans with large scale constructions of important buildings in the centre and along the banks of the river, a development that continued until the middle of the 20th century, and which apparently also inspired the redevelopment of Paris.
The city used to be nick-named “Sleeping Beauty”, referring to its facades having turned black due to pollution. Today most of Bordeaux looks golden white and quite stunning, the highlights being the stately Place de la Bourse and the Grand Théâtre on Place de la Comédie. Bordeaux’s historic centre is a coherent unity with many outstanding examples of 18th century neo-classical architecture. Some 347 buildings are protected by national conservation laws. Thanks to the revival of the city over last few decades Bordeaux was inscribed on the World Heritage list in 2007 as an inhabited historic centre.
Bordeaux – A World Heritage Site
The Port of the Moon in Bordeaux is an outstanding example of the exchange of human cultures over more than two thousand years, due to its role as the capital city of a world-famous wine production region and the importance of its port in commerce at regional and international levels.
The urban form and architecture of the city are the result of continuous extensions and renovations since Roman times up to the 20th century.
Urban plans and architectural ensembles stemming from the early 18th century onward place the city as an outstanding example of classical and neo-classical trends and give it an exceptional urban and architectural unity and coherence…
“Bordeaux, A World Heritage Site” is available as Kindle eBook from Amazon For info on all editions of World Heritages of France series by Jérôme Sabatier, see the official page
Porte d’Aquitaine (above) was once upon a time a portal on the pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. A plaque on the ground under the arch says that “Pilgrims used to be tended to at the St.Julien hospital (nearby) until 1695. Porte d’Aquitaine leads the way to Spain”. In Bordeaux, the Basilica of Saint-Seurin, Basilica of Saint-Michel and the Saint-André Cathedral are listed as part of the Routes of Santiago de Compostela in France – World Heritage Sites.
Fun all day long, but the real magic begins in the evening when the lights come on…
The majestic Place de la Bourse with its neoclassical facades reflected in the still surface of the “Miroir d’eau” at night has become something of an icon of Bordeaux. Built in 2006, the world’s largest water mirror also reflects, symbolically speaking, another renaissance of sorts for the City of Bordeaux in its 2000 year-old history on the banks of the Garonne river.
In 2007, Bordeaux’s entire inner city was inscribed as one urban, living World Heritage site, boosting local pride in a city that used to be called the sleeping beauty due to its dirty facades. Go for a stroll through cozy old yet très cool neighbourhoods and Quartiers, or take a ride on the tramways past the elegant Grand Théâtre and along the restored quay area and you will discover a city set on reinventing itself. In 2016, Bordeaux saw the opening an audacious construction reminiscent of the swirl of the wine in a glass. La Cité du Vin has already become a magnet for wine-lovers and Bordeaux enthusiasts.
The ebb and flow
Designed by landscape architect Michel Corajoud and developed by fountain expert J. M. Llorca, the highly popular water mirror is a made of granite slabs, measuring 130×42 meters in total. At certain intervals, the granite surface is flooded by 2-3 cm of crystal clear water which turns into a perfect mirror, unless ruffled by the wind. After a show while the water is slowly drained, followed by plumes of mist creating a dense fog. When the fog lifts, the recycled and cleansed water is pumped back up until it covers the entire granite surface once again, and the cycle is repeated. Fun all day long, but the real magic begins in the evening when the lights on the beautiful façades on Place de la Bourse come on, ideally accompanied by a deep blue evening sky above.
The water mirror is not in operation during the winter months.
The authorized grape varieties grown in Champagne are Chardonnay (30%), Pinot Meunier (32%) and Pinot Noir (38%)
Take in the view from the hills overlooking the vineyards and the town of Epernay, home to some of the world’s most renowned producers of the sparkling wine universally known by the region’s name and exclusive trademark: Champagne. While this is a drink normally associated with festive occasions, its way from the vines on the limestone slopes to the glittering champagne flute tells of a terroir and of an appellation that is unique to this land, and not mere wine jargon but the very expression of the original champagne.
The Champagne production zone lies some 150 kilometres east of Paris and encompasses 320 villages in the departments of Marne, Aube, Aisne, Haute-Marne and Seine-et-Marne. The city of Reims and the town of Epernay are the largest commercial centres in the Champagne district.
Some of the factors that make this ‘terroir’ distinct are; a northerly latitude and a climate that is subject to oceanic and continental influences; combined with a predominantly limestone subsoil that keep the vines watered all year round; situated on slopes in an undulating landscape that assures good draining and maximum exposure to the sun.
The International Organisation of Vine and Wine (OIV) defines ‘terroir’ as follows: “Vitivinicultural ‘terroir’ is a concept that refers to an area where the collective knowledge amassed from, on the one hand, the interactions between the identifiable physical and biological environment, and on the other hand, applied vitivinicultural practices, imparts distinctive characteristics on the products originating from that area”.
Source: Comité Champagne
The historic vineyards of Hautvillers, Aÿ and Mareuil-sur-Aÿ, Saint-Nicaise Hill in Reims, and the Avenue de Champagne and Fort Chabrol in Epernay were inscribed on the World Heritage list in July 2015. See also France for more.
Avenue de Champagne
Epernay’s famous main street Avenue de Champagne may seem overly cool at first glance, but behind the wrought iron gates and exclusive chateau-style estate façades of the many famous wine and trading houses you will find centuries of champagne-producing history, most of which is hidden underground in cellars and tunnels. The first house to open in Epernay was Nicolas Ruinart in 1729, Moët & Chandon in 1743, followed by Perrier Jouët, de Venoge, Mercier etc. in the 19th century.
Altogether there are 110 kilometres of cellars in the ground under Avenue de Champagne.
One of the most characteristic estate buildings in Épernay is situated at the far end and just off Avenue de Champagne. From the tower of Champagne de Castellane’s red brick building you can enjoy a 360-degrees view of the town and surrounding vineyard landscape before you head down underground for a guided tour of the production area and the 6 kilometres of cellar tunnels.
Epernay is home to major authorities such as the Comité Interprofessionnel des Vins de Champagne and the Syndicat Général des Vignerons (General Growers’ Union).
The Champagne method
Immediately following the harvesting of the three main grape varieties, the Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier and Pinot Noir grapes are pressed at approved pressing centres. The primary fermentation then takes place in tanks, mostly of the stainless steel kind. The yeast consumes the natural grape sugars, producing alcohol and carbon dioxide (CO2) as well the basic sensory characteristics and style of the final champagne.
After the initial fermentation period on tanks come the blending and bottling, which can not be started earlier than January. The winemaker may choose to focus on certain dimensions of the wine when blending, but it is in general done according to various natural factors that come into play each year. In order to maintain a consistent level of quality from one year to the next, wine from a previous years’ growths (crus) which complement or blend well with the current year’s harvest may be added so that the champagne tastes more or less as the consumer would expect. Hence, a typical champagne is non-vintage. Only in years with exceptionally good yields will the producer consider making a single-year (vintage) champagne and label it as such.
Turning still wine into champagne
A single grape variety Champagne is called a Blanc de Blancs or Blanc de Noirs
To turn still wine into sparkling champagne, the winemaker kick-starts the effervescence, that is the bubble-making process, by adding a sweet solution known as the ‘liqueur de tirage’ – a mixture of still champagne and cane or beet sugar – to help induce the next round of fermentation that will take place inside the bottles.
An important technique peculiar to the production of champagne is the ‘remuage, the ‘riddling’ and tilting of the bottles. At regular intervals, once or twice per day, the bottles are turned one-quarter or one-eight of a circle and tilted slightly upward each time, with the bottle neck-down, so that whatever sediments (lees) still left in the champagne finds its way downwards and eventually settles in the temporary cup-shaped cap.
When the process reaches is final stage and all the deposit is collected in the cap, the bottle-necks are dipped in a salty -27°C solution. This causes the sediments in the bottle neck to freeze and the temporary cap and its content can now be removed, pushed out by the ongoing carbonation inside the bottle. This short but critical process, also know as disgorgement, triggers an instant intake of oxygen, which together with the dosage have a significant impact on the development of the aroma of the champagne.
Before final corking a small quantity of ‘liqueur de dosage’ is added to the wine. The ‘dosage’ is the winemakers last chance to add a final touch to the aromas and to sweeten the champagne according to its final style. For a doux (sweet) champagne more the 50 grams of sugar per litre may be added, while for the more common ‘brut’ or extra dry champagne only 12 grams per litre are added.
Finally, the cork is squeezed into the neck and covered with a metal cap held in place by the a wire ‘muselet’. The bottles are then shaken vigorously so that the ‘dosage’ is thoroughly mixed with the champagne, before they are put back in the cool and dark cellars to continue to age and develop its potential.
The village of Hautvillers and Dom Perignon
Known as the birthplace of champagne, the village of Hautvillers is situated in the hillside a few kilometres from Epernay. It was here at the Benedictine abbey that the legendary monk Dom Perignon lived and worked as a cellarer until his death in 1715.
Legend has it that he invented champagne but in his lifetime the drink known as champagne today was often referred to as ‘the devils drink’. The standard bottles in those days tended to explode in the following spring when the warm weather triggered the secondary in-bottle fermentation, increasing the pressure from the carbon dioxide. Contrary to legend therefore, Dom Perignon sought to prevent this from happening. As a full-time cellarer he worked diligently at improving production methods which helped the vineyards of Champagne to flourish.
The monastery in Hautvillers where Dom Perignon lived is the property of the winery Moët & Chandon. Their prestige cuvée is named after him.
The Champagne World Heritage Site is made up of three distinct ensembles: the historic vineyards of Hautvillers, Aÿ and Mareuil-sur-Aÿ, Saint-Nicaise Hill in Reims, and the Avenue de Champagne and Fort Chabrol in Épernay. These three components – the supply basin formed by the historic hillsides, the production sites (with their underground cellars) and the sales and distribution centres (the Champagne Houses) – illustrate the entire champagne production process. (Source: UNESCO)
Chateau Les Carmes Haut-Brion is a walled urban vineyard estate surrounded by the city of Bordeaux
Is it a prow of a ship, or perhaps a blade of a plough cutting through the same soil that nurtures the roots of its vines? The chillingly cool minimalism of the new cellar building of the Chateau Les Carmes Haut-Brion estate seems at first strange and otherworldly, as if it had fallen from the sky. Stripped bare of any references to the rich wine making traditions of this land, the polished matrix concrete building is both powerfully present yet discreetly elegant, blending effortlessly in with the park-like surroundings. Designed by world renown creator Philippe Starck and Bordeaux-based architect Luc Arsène-Henry, the new cellar marks a major turning point in Les Carmes Haut-Brion’s centuries-long timeline.
The history of the estate goes back to the 16th century, more specifically to 1584, when Jean de Pontac, the lord of Haut-Brion donated a large mill with surrounding meadows and vines to the Carmelite Order. The Carmelites remained the sole owners of the estate, which eventually became known as “Carmes Haut-Brion”, until it was confiscated by the state during the French Revolution. Half a century later, in 1840, Les Carmes Haut-Brion was sold to a Bordeaux wine merchant and ancestor of the Chantecailles-Furt family, owners and caretakers of the estate for many generations to come.
“Its home had to be evocative, a minimum, an intuition, a reflection…” Phillipe Starck
A new chapter began in 2010 when Les Carmes Haut-Brion was purchased by the Pichet real estate group as part of their diversification strategy and, perhaps more importantly, a reflection of the founder’s passion for Bordeaux wine and his strong belief in the unique potential of one of the most beautiful estates in the Pessac-Léognan appellation. Major investments have since been made in the vineyard, cellars, wine-making facilities and work force. The cellar building was officially opened in June 2016.
The wine is produced in accordance with sustainable viticulture practices using traditional methods. Since 2009, only natural products, totally organic, are used to work the soil with the utmost respect for the land and the environment. The grapes are handpicked and horses are gradually replacing the tractors.
Separated by a stream bed, Le Peugue, the terroir consists of two slopes with soil made up of gravel, clay and sand in variable proportions. This unique combination of soil and micro-climate clearly contributes to Château les Carmes Haut-Brion’s finesse and elegance. Vines average about 41 years of age with a density of 10,000 vines per hectare.
The cellars are buried below the surface of a body of water to avoid any temperature or humidity fluctuations, while maintaining air quality and energy self-sufficiency.
A BORDEAUX PESSAC-LÉOGNAN APPELLATION
The atypical blend of grape varieties (40% Cabernet Franc, 18% Cabernet Sauvignon, 42% Merlot) is yet another factor in what makes the estate so special. These proportions are particularly well-adapted to the terroir and contribute to the wine’s unique profile: complex aromatics, both powerful and refined, in keeping with the very finest wines of Pessac-Léognan. Since 2012, the vinification process uses whole grapes with a small proportion of stalks in vats ranging from 21 to 86 hectolitres. The wine is aged in wooden barrels (80% new) for 18 to 24 months.
Château Les Carmes Haut-Brion produces two excellent wines in distinctly different but complementary styles; the elegant and complex grand vin and the full-bodied and more up-front “Le C”:
The grand vin, the Château Les Carmes Haut-Brion, is a refined wine with considerable freshness, bright fruit and a floral note throughout. The tannin is very smooth. The wine consists of approximately 40% Cabernet Franc, 18% Cabernet Sauvignon and 42% Merlot.
The “Le C” des Carmes Haut-Brion is made of up to 80% Merlot, hence it has noticeably more body and concentration compared to the grand vin. The colour is deep and brilliant and the wine is silky with a long aftertaste.
The wines are available at the estate or at retailers such as La Vinothèque in central Bordeaux.
By appointment only.
Bookings can be made on their website or by phone at: Château Les Carmes Haut-Brion
Tel: +33 (0) 5 56 93 23 40
From Monday to Saturday:
9:30 AM to 12:30 PM
and 14:00 PM to 18:00 PM