A Sunday Wine Adventure

Sunday dawned cold and … well not so bright. But it also marked the portes-ouvertes in Pessac-Leognan. I’d been invited to visit with my usual crew on Saturday morning, but practicality (and truthfully a massive headache) kept me at home. Particularly as I had an invitation to head out on Sunday.

So Sunday morning five of us piled in a car meant for four and we were off. Chateaus Pape Clement, Brown, Haut Bailly, Merlet, Latour Martillac and a lunch pit stop at Smith Haut Lafitte. It was a busy, if tasty day.

Chateau Pape Clement Our first stop was the Chateau Pape Clement, Grand Cru Classé owned by wine magnate Bernard Magrez. The estate itself is lovely and unlike most Bordeaux estates is open to the public for tours, workshops, private events and overnight stays. However, despite this impressive resume for tourists, I will confess to being disappointed.

When we arrived, we were told the next tour would start in 30 minutes, so we tracked down a bathroom and wandered the grounds. Only to find the tour had started 10 minutes earlier than we expected and with a group of about 50 people. Sadly we were unable to visit inside the chateau. But we did go for a brief tour of the winemaking facilities – where we learned that the grapes are not only sorted by hand but de-stemmed by hand.

We then left the tour early – we didn’t need to learn about vinification, thank you very much – and moved on to the tasting portion of the days festivities. The paid portion of the days festivities. Granted we did taste an incredibly lovely 1994, but we still had to pay for it. Rumor had it that there were free tastings, but if there were we couldn’t find it. I’ll confess to being a bit peeved, portes ouvertes are meant to be free access for the public.

Chateau Smith Haut LafitteAfter a quick stop at Chateau Brown (great white wine, passable red and a rather industrial warehouse tasting area), we proceeded to Chateau Smith Haute Lafitte for lunch. We were hoping to also taste the wine, but sadly it was not open for the portes ouverts. Instead we proceeded to the relatively new tapas bar and boutique, Rouge. To be perfectly frank, I was again sadly disappointed. The food was very good, if a bit pricey and a bit fish heavy, and the wine list was extensive. But the by the glass selection was laughable and, even by French standards, the service was atrocious. Nevertheless I hope to go back someday and indulge in the services at the Sources de Caudalie spa.

We finished out the cold, slightly rainy afternoon with three additional visits. The most memorable was the relatively unknown Chateau Merlet – located across the street from the celebrated Haut Bailly. A small rather unassuming property, the proprietors were welcoming and excited about providing visitors the best possible experience. There were free tastings of local cheeses, foie gras and chocolate. Yum. And course wine. The small estate was nearly overrun with people and sadly I was so overwhelmed I can’t find anything memorable to say about the wine.

I will say this was one of the busiest portes-ouvertes I have experienced. Nearly every visit included huge crowds, competition parking and a fight to get to the wine. Nearly every visit also included a run-in with fellow classmates. Apparently all of INSEEC Master 2 was out and about in Pessac. So as per usual here are the day’s photos.

That’s all for now, but I’ll be back with additional updates – it’s going to be a very good, very busy and very wine filled week.

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