Sauternais is a region known for its sweet, white wines (Sauternes) located in the south east region of Bordeaux, about 30 minutes from Bordeaux city center. Sauternais’ wines are blends of Semillion, Sauvignon blanc, and sometimes Muscadelle grapes. With Kira having the sweet tooth that she does, this region was a must on our visit to Bordeaux.
Touring the Sauternais Countryside
As we drove in to Sauternais, the landscape changed from city, to highway, to rolling hills of endless vineyards. The grapes were sparkling, the vines were filled with green leaves , and all vineyards were aligned in perfect row. You could almost taste the wine! We were so excited to go from Chateau to Chateau exploring the countryside, meeting the locals, and sipping their fresh made vino.
WE SHOW UP TO OUR FIRST CHATEAU
The parking lot was empty, but Google said it was open. Two ladies kept peering out the window at us as if we just set fire to their vineyard. So finally, after laughing off the awkwardness of their stares and realizing we have no way of communicating with them due to our lack of speaking French, we put the car in reverse and decided to move on to the next one.
CHATEAU NUMBER TWO
As we pull up to what looks to be a magnificent old castle in anticipation for our first taste of their wine, once again, things were seeming a little quiet and empty upon arrival. We parked in a lot that looked like parking for the “workers”, but hey, we are in France getting ready to taste some amazing wine – who cares if we park in the workers lot! As we meandered to the front, we entered the Chateau, but it seemed as if we were interrupting lunch time. We were approached by someone who spoke very broken English (sorry – we don’t speak French, but we had a translation app) who told us wine tasting is only for private, scheduled tours …uh oh…
CHATEAU NUMBER THREE
Optimistically thinking this couldn’t be the rule for all Chateau’s, we moved on to the next one down the road… This one was a big Chateau whose parking lot was filled with tour buses, a possible 100 person family reunion, and other small groups that were scattered around the property. Perfect. We made it to a place we can taste the sweet nectar! On our way in we made friends with a middle aged couple from New Jersey. The lady was nice, he was not. They told us they indeed had a reservation for a tour/tasting at this Chateau and if there were no more openings in the day, we could join with them.
We approached the tasting host and asked if there was availability for two and were quickly denied as “All tastings are reserved for private, pre-scheduled tours of two and were completely full that day .” Of course… The nice, New Jersey lady asked the host if we could join their tour, but was denied as well since we weren’t on the original “guest list”. Three Chateaus, three strikeouts, and we were starting to believe the only way we would be tasting wine that day was at a local convenient market.
WE NEED HELP!
As we drove back through the “downtown” of Sauternais, which consisted of one church, a small park, one restaurant and the Office of Tourism. We decided to stop in at the Office of Tourism for some advice on this whole wine tasting thing…best decision we made that day! The lady working at the Office of Tourism was SOOOO helpful. She spoke three languages (English being one of them- YAY!) and informed us that most of the Chateaus were by appointment only (we knew this now!), but knew of a few that were opened to the public for stop ins. She made several calls on our behalf and scheduled two tastings for us within 10 minutes! Our day of wine tasting was back on track…
WHEN WE FELL IN LOVE WITH Arthur
As soon as we stepped foot onto our fourth Chateau, Chateau Ouvert, the cutest old, hunched back, white haired man came outside and greeted us. Kira spoke first with an outstretched hand and asked, “Are you Arthur?” A large grin appeared on his face as he softly responded in broken English, “Yes, I am”.
From that moment on, we were in love with Arthur. He barely spoke English (we were warned from the Office of Tourism), but he was so jolly and enthusiastic it didn’t matter. He told us the history of the Chateau and how the wines of the Sauternais region came about. He spoke mainly in French and threw in a few English words here and there. We pretended to understand what he was saying, but we really didn’t.
Fortunately, we had the Google translate app, where we typed in phrases and showed him the phone. He would write down phrases for me to type into the phone so we could understand him. He thought it was so cool. We quickly became buddies with Arthur, how could we not? After sampling a few of the Chateau’s delicious blends, we decided the wine would be perfect to take back and enjoy on our porch in Chicago while reminiscing on this day. We purchased a bottle which was a blend of Semillion and Sauvignon grapes — sooo good!
The fifth Chateau was beautiful and our guide spoke perfect English, but we loved Arthur so much she couldn’t compare. Below are a few pictures from the fifth Chateau and Kira tasting grapes right from the vine.
While we only had tastings at two Chateaus in the Sauternais region and were shunned by many, we did learn a thing or two. 1) Book your wine tours in advance! 2) Get to know the locals everywhere you go. Be inquisitive, be vulnerable, and be free. Just because you can’t speak the same language doesn’t mean you can’t communicate.