A line of trees on either side of a path guides the way towards a mansion house. Beyond the trees are rows upon rows of leafy vines, made up of mainly Cabernet Franc and Merlot. As you approach the house, it is quiet, and you are left to marvel at the 18th century façade with its 16th century limestone wings that flank the sides. Vines of roses climb up the limestone walls. Umbrellas shade two small café tables nearby and a little dog bounces around in the distance.
This is what you see when you come upon Chateau Soutard, an estate that dates back to 1513. Chateau Soutard is a Bordeaux wine producer and is specifically ranked among the Grand Cru Classe of St. Emilion, a list that is updated every 10 years to reflect the best of the best chateaux in St. Emilion that produce red wine. (See my post, ‘Day Trip from Bordeaux: St. Emilion,’ for some light reading!)
The Chateau offers many ways to see its beauty. There is the traditional tour, which ends in a tasting, either in a group setting or a private tour. There is also an opportunity to see the grounds by bike with a tour guide, which includes both a tour and a tasting. If you are more of an independent explorer, you can simply rent bikes at the Chateau, but this does not include a tour or tasting. Another option would be to join Chateau Soutard for a cooking lesson, subsequently tasting your meals and having them paired with appropriate wines chosen by the Chateau’s oenologist. If you feel like you are on vacation and do not want to lift a finger to prepare any meals, a picnic where the chef makes your food might be something that interests you! Lastly, you could become a winemaker for a day. This is the route CJ and I chose!
When you choose the winemaker workshop, a cellar master or a vineyard manager greets you as you arrive. We were welcomed to the Chateau by the most friendly, knowledgeable, and down-to-earth staff. We then walked to the back of the mansion to view all of the beautiful rows of vines. We learned an incredible amount about wine and how the grapes are grown. For example, roses are planted at the end of each row of vines because both roses and grape vines are susceptible to some of the same diseases. However, the roses are a tad weaker than the grape vines, which means they provide early warning that if something is wrong with the roses, it might only be a matter of time before something is wrong with the vines as well.
After a tour of the grounds, you are able to make your own wine blend! St. Emilion wines are blended wines, as in they are a mixture of Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec, etc. You are first taught to smell, swirl, smell again, and taste your wine. We tried Cabernet Franc alone. We then tried Merlot alone. Then we created a 50/50 blend. Next, we both created our own blends, beakers and measuring tools in tow! The vineyard manager or cellar master then does a blind taste test of your favorite blend you have created, and compares it to your partner’s creation.
Once you are done playing with your wine chemistry set (CJ’s blend was chosen as the victor!) you are invited to taste Chateau Soutard’s wines, paired with two different types of cheese. If it is a dreary day on your visit, a cavernous private room will be your backdrop. If it happens to be a fabulously sunny day, you can have your wine and cheese outside, thus ending your 2-3 hour experience!
If you are not an avid wine drinker or a sommelier, this workshop is extremely helpful. The Chateau Soutard staff makes learning about wine incredibly accessible and enjoyable, to the point where I truly did feel like I was making something delicious (that maybe one day someone would actually order off a menu!) It was a gorgeous and one of a kind experience that I will never forget, especially because of the little gift shop where I bought a little bag to carry the wine I bought! Santé!
Tour and tasting: 12 euros per person, 20 euros per person for a private tour
Winemaker for a day workshop (the one CJ and I did): 50-90 euros per person, depending on the season
Guided bike tour: 60 euros per person
Unguided bike tour: 6-15 euros per person
Cooking lesson: 150 euros per person
Picnic: 30 euros per person
All of these options must be booked in advance
How to get there:
The train from the Bordeaux St. Jean station arrives at the St. Emilion station in 30 to 40 minutes, and it is a 35 minute walk from there. Tickets are about 10 euros per person.
An Uber or taxi from Bordeaux to St. Emilion will take about 45 minutes to an hour. This is the most expensive option, especially if you are taking an Uber and surge pricing is in full swing.
To buy your train tickets: https://www.trainline.eu/train-times/bordeaux-to-st-emilion
To book the Chateau: http://www.chateau-soutard.com/en/wine-tourism.aspx