What are Bordeaux winery visits like?

Hi everyone,

5 of us are travelling to Bordeaux in May. Between us, we’ve done wine trips to Napa, Piedmont, Tuscany, Burgundy and the Northern Rhone.

We have this impression that Bordeaux is like the Napa of France from a commercial perspective. On our trips to the European destinations, we’ve been able to get access to excellent producers just through cold emails (e.g. Mugneret-Gibourg; Fourrier; B. Mascarello; Gonon); the tastings have typically been free (and of course we buy bottles if they have available); and usually it’s been the winemaker there (or at least not a salesman) and quite generous with their time. Of course, Napa – at least the places I’ve visited – was not like that at all.

I understand it’ll be what it’ll be – and I’m looking forward to going regardless – but we are trying to calibrate our expectations and also gauging certain logistical issues. In particular:

  1. How easy is access to the cru classes producers? Have people had success reaching out through cold emails or do you need a hotel or guide to facilitate?

  2. Are visits pretty perfunctory, i.e. in and out in an hour or so? Or is it less structured and more free-flowing?

  3. Based on 1) and 2) above, would you recommend hiring a driver? This would depend on whether they give us access and whether we expect to be drinking much at the tastings or not.

Of course, I’d also love to get any recommendations of places to visit where there is a good balance between the wine and the experience.


We just hired Henri Challeau which several others on this board have also used. I communicated with him about my likes and dislikes. He made some recommendations. We agreed on which producers to visit and spent three full days visiting. He made all the arrangements including lunch reservations on tour days. He drove. Knows his way through the vineyard roads. We will be back in Bordeaux next year and will book Henri. But you have to book early. He is in demand. http://www.bordeaux-wine-travel.com/. He can handle up to 7 passengers.

To give you an idea, this was our schedule on our last trip:
Wednesday July 18th
Medoc region

09:30 AM: Departure from your apartment stay at 45 Quai des Chartrons
10:30 AM: Visit of château Pichon Comtesse in the Pauillac’s vineyard (Free of entrance fee)
12:00 Noon: Lunch at « Chez Meme » restaurant in Saint-Julien town (French bistrot)
02:00 PM: Visit of château Lafite-Rothschild in the Pauillac’s vineyard (Free of entrance fee)
04:00 PM: Visit of château Pontet-Canet in the Pauillac’s vineyard (Free of entrance fee)
06:30 PM: Drop off at your apartment stay 45 Quai des Chartrons

Thursday July 19th
St-Emilion/Pomerol region

09:00 AM: Departure from your apartment stay at 45 Quai des Chartrons
10:00 AM: Visit of château Canon La Gaffeliere in the St-Emilion Grand Cru’s vineyard (12 Euros/pers)
11:30 AM: Free walking time in St-Emilion medieval town
12:00 Noon: Lunch at « Chai Pascal » wine bar restaurant in St-Emilion town
02:00 PM: Visit of château L’Evangile in the Pomerol’s vineyard (Free of entrance fee)
03:30 PM: Visit of château Grand-Mayne in the St-Emilion Grand Cru’s vineyard (15 Euros/pers)
05:00 PM: Tasting at Ets Martin in St-Emilion medieval town (20 Euros/pers or free if you buy 20 Euros of wine/pers)
07:00 PM: Drop off at your apartment stay 45 Quai des Chartrons

Friday July 20th
Medoc region

09:15 AM: Departure from your apartment stay at 45 Quai des Chartrons
10:00 AM: Visit of château Margaux in the Margaux’s vineyard (Free of entrance fee)
12:00 Noon: Lunch at « Le Bontemps » restaurant in Cussac town (Typical French dishes)
02:00 PM: Visit of château Branaire Ducru in the St-Julien’s vineyard (10 Euros/pers)
04:00 PM: Visit of château Lafon-Rochet in the Pauillac’s vineyard (50 Euros/pers including vertical tasting of Lafon-Rochet 2000-2007-2009-2011 and 2015 + the second label Pélerins de Lafon-Rochet 2008 and 2014)
06:30 PM: Drop off at your apartment stay 45 Quai des Chartrons


I can speak to your first question only, as my trip will also be this May (first week). Technically this is my second trip to BDX, but the first was about 15 years ago, before I had as much interest in and budget for wine.

My wife and I will be driving ourselves around, or riding with my parents on the couple of days where our schedules align. We have had mixed results in reaching out to wineries via email, but have been able to arrange appointments at a number of places I’m really excited about, including Gruaud Larose, Lagrange, Brane-Cantenac and Domaine de Chevalier. I think part of the issue is that en premier tastings are taking place the last week of April, so some wineries are full or not taking visitors, even with a full 4 - 6 weeks advance request. I’d say the “hit” rate is roughly 50/50. It’s also readily apparent from their websites which chateau cater more to visitors, and we have had better luck with the ones that outline visit options than the ones that simply provide an email address for contacting the chateau. The visits we have booked generally run from 1 to 2 hours and do have a tasting fee.

Of note, Leoville Poyferre is the only classified producer I found that has a walk-in option - useful to know if you potentially have a hole in your schedule that you may or may not want to fill with a winery visit.

Enjoy your trip!

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Thanks, Michael. I actually tried to book Henri on the strong recommendations of this forum but he was not available for our dates. He did suggest someone else who appears well reviewed at least on TripAdvisor so we may use that person.

Do you mind me asking the approximate cost?

We did one day with Henri in 2019 and it was 350 euros for the two of us.
Here was our itinerary
09:30 AM: Departure from your apartment stay at 5 rue de Thau in St-Emilion
10:00 AM: Visit and wine tasting at château Coutet in the St-Emilion Grand Cru’s vineyard (7 Euros/pers)
11:15 AM: Sightseeing driving tour through the most famous place of St-Emilion
12:00 Noon: Visit, wine tasting and picnic at château La Croizille in the St-Emilion Grand Cru’s vineyard (35 Euros/pers)
02:30 PM: Visit and wine tasting at château Canon La Gaffeliere in the St-Emilion Grand Cru’s vineyard (12 Euros/pers)
04:00 PM: Visit and wine tasting at château Gazin in the Pomerol’s vineyard (Free of entrance fee)
06:00 PM: Drop off at your apartment stay in St-Emilion town

His prices are on the website. The prices are not per person, they are per vehicle depending on the size of vehicle needed. In your case, a minivan would be required. There are half-day and full-day rates on the website. All of our tours were full-day tours. We always bought Henri’s lunch as well. Chauffeur service Bordeaux Wine Travel - Tariffs. Contact Henri to confirm prices based on your requirements. We paid the prices listed on the website and that was back in 2018. With gas prices higher now, there may be some adjustment.

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I booked a tour last week organized by a local wine merchant but I decided to add one more day and contacted Henri Challeau who was available. He was awesome and better than the driver for the rest of the week. I wanted to explore the city of Bordeaux on the weekend which has become a real hip place. We stayed at the Intercontinental Le Grand. We warmed up with a cocktail at the Ayawasca Cocktail club and had dinner at Brasserie Bordelaise on the first night followed by L’Obsavatorie du Le Gabriel which is owned by the Bouard family from Angelus. Henri took us to Yquem and Sudiaraut in Sauternes and we followed his suggestion of Chateau Biac in Cadillac which is one of the few “mom and pop wineries” in Bordeaux. Excellent QPR and a wine worth seeking out. After Biac Henri took us to meet the rest of the tour. We were treated like family at Biac. Expect to meet PR people at bigger wineries unless you have connections.

One other thing. Bordeaux is not a casual place as far as wineries and Michelin starred restaurants go. The pandemic has relaxed tie requirements so a sport coat and a dress shirt are fine for men and women should dress like going out to a nice event.

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We went to Bordeaux a few years back and hired Dewey Markham. Dewey was tremendous but unfortunately he has passed away recently, such a loss as we had such a wonderful time him over two days. I’ll generalize a bit but the tours are extremely structured and they prefer to spend time on the process versus the wines themselves. We have done Napa, Tuscany, Southern Rhone and a few others and this was definitely the most commercial of all our experiences. It wasn’t always the case as we went to some small producers on the right bank and it was certainly a different experience. I think having a guide will really hep with the experience. Our biggest problem was our last wine trip was to Tuscany and it is about the exact opposite of that.

Here’s another vote for Henri Challeau of Bordeaux Wine Travel. contact@bordeaux-wine-travel.com

His family has a winery, he studied wine, was a sommelier and is one of the first people to dive into Bordeaux wine tourism. He’s also loads of fun and will make your stay really special. His rates are very reasonable (he should charge much more) and offers discounts for multiple days (we did a Medoc day and a “Lesser Known Regions” day).


Any other recs? Henri is booked for my days in June-July.

We’ll be in Bordeaux on a small cruise ship for 2 days in September, and have booked Henri for both days. Full day in St. Emilion/Pomerol and and 1/2 day in Medoc. We’ve been to Bordeaux several times, but not since 2011.

Come and see us if you fancy something other than Bordeaux.


I reached out to Henri on this board’s recommendation. Henri was booked but he recommended Frederic Borliachon (contact@rendezvousauchateau.com).

My four friends and I just got back from France including our 2.5 day tour with Frederic. We’ve done trips to Piedmont, Tuscany, Burgundy, N Rhone, etc… without a driver before and were a bit skeptical of hiring one. We’re glad we booked him. He’s an oenology school grad, spent 20 years working in wine production, WSET 3, and an all-around funny, engaging, hospitable, passionate, highly knowledgeable guy. Note that he’s also more than a bit quirky, but we enjoyed that he had a distinctive personality.

I can’t speak for the “prestige” of the chateaux to which he has access – as we actually booked most of them ourselves and it was also a holiday weekend in France so some chateaux were closed – but he did set us up with a couple interesting visits at smaller producers. (We specifically did not want to visit big chateau after big chateau.) In particular, we liked the wines at Chatelet and had a fantastic experience meeting with Thierry Vallette at Clos du Puy Arnaud.

Relative to many on this board, I’m a wine neophyte (and knew nothing about Bordeaux before this trip), and have no idea how Frederic stacks up vs. Henri, but I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Frederic if you can handle a bit of quirkiness.

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I did not experience this. I found Bordeaux to be no fancier than any city and the wine visits no more “dressy” than any other region. Granted we did not eat at the Gordon Ramsay restaurant or visit Chateau Margaux, but nowhere did we feel out of place wearing shorts or polos. I had actually packed several pairs of slacks and a sport coat expecting to wear them daily based on your post but there was little need once we got there.

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Use Henri and wear whatever you are comfortable with