Come with us to discover Bernard Magrez’ Luxury Wine Experience. Think
vineyards, vaults and vintners and you start to conjure up a luxury vision in La Belle France.
VIVE LA DIFFERENCE
Say the word France to most people and the image conjures up traditional images of striped Breton shirts, and a string of garlic around the neck of a Breton-shirt clad, beret wearing cyclist. Add to the list, their cuisine, cheese, wine
Take a trip to Bordeaux, and you’ll be treated to wine country (the spiritual and literal home to the Cabernet Sauvignon grape) the venue for the Unesco World Heritage centre that is St Emilion, a huge selection of chateaux and the one of France’s most beautiful areas of countryside the Dordogne.
All its vineyards lie within the département of the Gironde. This vast region boasts 120,630 hectares, most of which are vineyards, (four times the size of Burgundy) is home to 10,000 wine producers and 57 different Appellation Contrôlées.
The area is in south-west France, close to the Atlantic Ocean, and is warmed by the Gulf Stream, which means it boasts a mostly mild, maritime climate. This helps protect the grapes during the winter, although the hot summers are often peppered with storms.
The vineyards lie around an estuary near the Dordogne and Garonne rivers whose waters exert a significant influence on both the climate and the soil, known in wine growing terms as “the terroir”. Generally the vineyards lying to the west of the Garonne and Gironde are deemed to be wines of the Left Bank, those to the east, Right Bank.
Right bank blends tend to be softer, less tannic and lower in alcohol and acidity. Because Merlot is the dominant grape, they are much more juicy and usually ready to be drunk much earlier than Left Bank Bordeauxs, and they’re often less expensive.
The Left Bank blends tend to be higher in tannins, alcohol and acidity. They are powerful, rich wines that are said to age a bit better than wines from the Right Bank. They is also the bank that made the region famous.
One of the best-known vineyard owners in the area is Bernard Magrez whose viticulture property portfolio includes Chateau Pape Clement, La Tour Carnet, and Fombrauge. Further afield, his properties include Clos Haut-Peyraguey in Sauternes and 40 other wine estates worldwide in Spain, Argentina, Portugal, Chile, Japan, Morocco and Uruguay.
There’s no denying, Bernard Magrez has dedicated his career to quality. ‘My life and forty years of passion have been dedicated to the vineyard, and my goal is to pass down excellence.’ For him, wanting to achieve excellence and, more importantly to pass this on, has been a lifetime ambition.
‘I have ruled nothing out, especially the impossible – I wanted better and I wanted more. I have relentlessly aimed to offer wine lovers fine wines with different styles, flavours, and pleasures. I decided to add my signature to each of my bottles, the crossed keys, but my main goal has always been to pass on excellence.’
Bernard Magrez has certainly achieved this sense of excellence, particularly at his three luxury vineyards in Bordeaux: Château Pape Clément, Château Fombrauge and Château La Tour Carnet. The experience of visiting or staying at these venues aims to capture the very essence of Bordeaux art de vivre and his passion for the art of viticulture. They were chosen for the perfection of their settings to provide the most luxurious and serene of getaways. And whether you’re an oenology novice or expert the sumptuous surroundings of these unique chateaux will not fail to impress.
The first venue we visit on our luxury wine-tasting journey is Chateau Fombrauge, around an hour’s drive away from Bordeaux’s airport. It’s perfectly tucked away among the gently rolling landscape, and just a few miles from St Emilion.
Probably a good moment to mention who “we” are…
..a professional couple with careers in photography and journalism. As a married couple (10 years and counting), we share many things, not least, a love of all things wine-related. We even went to California recently to sample the sun-kissed, sea-salt dusted varietals the state has to offer, while retracing the dubious steps of characters from the film Sideways. No re-enactments took place, which is possibly a blessing to all.
As we approach through miles s of low green vineyards, we come across two gates that herald the entrance to a bright, white, fresh gravel drive. Crunching up the stones, we can see at the end an oasis of calm. Here the surrounding fields temporarily come to a halt providing a geographical and visual respite from the vineyards with manicured gardens, topiary and surprising artwork surrounding a classically elegant XVth century chateau.
Six families have followed the fates of Château Fombrauge, before Bernard Magrez bought it in 1999. Under his instruction, the single storey property then underwent a total restoration to preserve its period style, with some modern additions. These include 10 foot wine bottle sculptures in the gardens – a nod to Monsieur Magrez’s love and patronage of the arts.
It’s late when we arrive, tired and frenzied from travel and transport. The moment we meet the welcoming staff who, surprisingly easily, scurry off with our considerably hefty luggage, we feel we’ve entered a different world and era. Mobile phones, i-players and laptops have no place here (although wi-fi is available) in fact, even the television in our ground floor ensuite bedroom feels happily redundant in this tranquil space.
The one thing we’ve been dreaming of, pretty much since leaving the airport’s tarmac, is a chilled glass of wine. Happily, this awaits our arrival and we spy the bottle with tempting droplets of cooled water dripping down its slender neck in an ice bucket in our suite. We pour, and float out onto the long terrace behind the chateau to survey the 300 year-old trees and infinite expanse of vines that stretches over the horizon and on into the darkening rainbow sunset.
As night gently falls, our stroll back into the chateau is serenaded by the growing cacophony of croaking frogs of clicking cicadas. A light supper is served on impeccably clean crockery with thick white linen napkins. The cooling parma ham paired with melon, freshest vegetables and creamiest dessert are accompanied by vintage red and wine wine made on the premises. These are all consumed at a slower pace than usual – there’s no rush and there’s nothing to do except enjoy the moment surrounded by historically laden and pleasing antiques.
These collections of artefacts are one of the owner’s passions and can be seen in all the chateaux he has purchased and renovated in the area. They’re most evident in the two bedrooms here – we have the Cadran suite – which, with its four-poster bed, plush shades of ruby red, classic portraits and furnishings feels timeless, authentic and elegant.
The ensuite bathroom boasts double sinks, an oversize bath, wall to wall marble, impeccably soft bathrobes and slippers and beautiful L’Occitane toiletries – it’s all very classic, and faultless. The rooms in the chateau are typically French with their refined furnishings, and the experience offers five-star luxury, in a time-warp setting. For the icing on the cake, high-quality services can be provided by your own butler to suit you and your tastes.
After a night’s sleep in a refreshingly technology-free atmosphere where the chirrup of French sparrows replaces alarm clocks, and refreshingly simple continental breakfast, the tour of the winery adjacent to the chateau begins.
Leaving the chateau through the garden, we pass the 17th century sundial. This marks the transition between old and new as in the cellars we see the processes from grape collection to fermentation and the state of the art technology that produces the award-winning wine.
The first ever harvest here was in 1599 and one of the vineyard’s five cellars, brimming with 900 barrels of resting wine, features bottles dating back from 1871. According to our lovely guide who guides us through the cool depths of the hallowed halls, the exceptional surface area at Chateau Fombrauge gives the soil a unique character and diversity that provides the wine with its complexity and identity.
The tour is over and we go on to the tasting, hosted by hugely knowledgeable and friendly staff. Our palettes are, apparently, at their best at this time of day and as we knock back the aromatic red juices of the area, we forget it’s 10 o’clock in the morning. Nevertheless, it is, which means we are soon to vacate this pleasant and intoxicating venue.
Leaving the chateau is a sadness, although the sleek black Phantom Rolls Royce with carpet thicker than the one in my bedroom helps lift our mood. And it’s not long before our sprits are raised even higher when we catch sight of our next venue for the night, the Chateau La Tour Carnet.
As one of the oldest properties in the Médoc region, this moated former Medieval fortress evokes the days of knights, chivalry and damsels in distress. Very much updated in the signature Magrez style with original antiques, this chateau exudes a luxurious, fantasy element.
Soft fabrics in rich jewel shades drip over dark, moody furniture, while sumptuous cushions and two-foot long curtains tassels are simply there to look utterly gorgeous.
We are shown to our quarters, La Boétie, where the only thing missing in these fairytale bedroom surroundings is a soporific princess on the four-poster. She should be awaiting her knight in shining armour to kiss her or possibly, like the butler service that is available, tend to her every need.
The tour and tasting this time, come first on our timetable. As the afternoon heat blazes down on, we welcome the temperature respite offered by the cool windowless cellars. Here we witness the same vats, the concrete “egg” (the latest in vintner knowhow) and it’s all impeccably clean. The tasting offers three different varietals that includes two reds sporting the classic Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot Bordeaux blend, and a white Chardonnay and Semillion mix.
Armed with tasting notes we finish our samples at the back of the chateau, watching the semi-aquatic coypus plop into the warm, shallow waters of the moat. Beyond the ordered waterways a gentle wood becomes a dense untamed forest, which home to wild boar and deer. Any minute now we expect a horse-bound hunting party in full livery to emerge onto this picturesque tableau.
Supper is served in a small, impeccably furnished lounge overlooking the feudal grounds, where tea and coffee facilities are also available for guests throughout the day. Garlicky gazpacho and an ensemble of light bites provide us with sustenance before we retire to our chamber – one of the two bedrooms available – overlooking the drawbridge.
Breakfast is served at a different venue, following another fabulous Phantom ride in the Rolls, at La Grande Maison de Bernard Magrez, a five-star luxury hotel on the outskirts of Bordeaux.
Attentive staff hover discreetly to attend to guests’ gastronomic needs in the opulently furnished dining room, where an abundance of fresh fruit, pastries, coffee and eggs await our arrival.
Opposite this mansion is another Bernard Magrez’s project, L’Institut Culturel. The 18th century building is a permanent exhibition space, which his free to the public.
A devoted patron of the arts, Magrez has also established a residential programme for students and each year, a group of young artists are chosen to live, rent free, to focus on their work unencumbered.
Our last visit is to Château Pape Clément which, surprisingly for a vineyard, is near a town – Pessac to be exact. Surrounding the 32 hectares of vines, houses and roads have gradually emerged, but nothing stints the quality of the wine produced here.
The updated Neo Gothic building, was once the residence to the French pope, and today sports the papal crossed keys, the signature on all things, particularly wine, from the Bernard Magrez estate.
In the floral garden is another Magrez favourite, an ancient olive tree. Several hundreds years old, these were imported from Spain and Portugal and now grace the entrance to his three Bordeaux castles. Also in this tranquil, leafy grove and uniquely at Pape Clément, is a pretty glass house designed by Monsieur Eiffel, of Parisian Tower fame.
Out of all the vineyards, this is where old and new really do meet. State-of-the-art drones provide images for experts to discern how well the grapes are progressing and when to pick them, while oxen plough the fields to prevent the impact tractors might have on the all-important terroir. Ancient vines sleep under street lights, while century old trees grow next to steel structures.
And maybe this sums things up. Bernard Magrez’s unique, custom-made tours and visits of this classic region are exactly that – a mix of old and new. They are where five-star service meets authentic simplicity, where culture rubs shoulders with history and opulence has found a home in the natural world.
Much like his wine, these experiences are a carefully selected blend of ingredients that create a harmonious balance exuding quality, luxury and indeed, as the man would want himself, excellence.