La Place de Bordeaux.
‘La Place de Bordeaux’ sells 70% of Bordeaux wine. This is not some elegant 18th century square in the city (although there are plenty to choose from) but a network of brokers and wine merchants that have been successfully shipping Bordeaux wine across the globe for centuries, establishing the international reputation of the region. Around 300 merchants and almost 80 brokers funnel these wines across 160 plus countries from almost 6000 estates. Thanks to this efficient system, 44% of the 7 million bottles annual production is exported.
Why would a chateau choose to sell via a negociant, sacrificing margin, rather than selling directly? A Bordeaux chateau often only produces three or four wines. Selling these wines directly entails international travel, language and administrative skills and personnel. A Bordeaux property with an average size of 17ha, producing around 80 000 bottles, rarely generates enough volume or income to merit an international sales force. Selling to negociants is simpler and should allow the international reach to maintain a presence in the major markets. The margins are lower certainly, but so is the cost to sell. It is more cost effective for a negociant with a portfolio of hundreds of wines, chosen from the 65 different Bordeaux appellations, styles and price points, to travel the world selling and promoting them all, than it is for a single property.
The downside is a lack of direct contact with the final consumer or even the retailers selling the wine, although now the Internet helps develop and maintain more distant relationships. Several chateaux have launched their own direct sales via their websites.
Face to face.
Through wine tourism, owners and winemakers can meet their clients face to face and visitors can buy wines directly at the cellar door. Some properties will ship for those who can’t pop a case of wine in their carry on! In all fairness, it’s not always cheaper to buy wines at the cellar door, see economies of scale above, but visitors will find wines and vintages not available back home and also take back new knowledge and a few anecdotes along with their bottles.
One stop shop.
Chateaux shops don’t limit themselves to wine. It’s not always easy to pop a bottle of wine in your suitcase but there are other fun and very often elegant souvenirs to take home. Here are some Bordeaux boutiques worth a visit when you’re next here.
Despite popular belief, most top classified growths are open for visits and tastings. Château Mouton Rothschild was a pioneer of Bordeaux wine tourism, they sell their Bordeaux chateaux wines, including Clerc Milon and Armailhac and wines from their negociant house, their Opus One from Napa and Almaviva from Chile. As well as the cellars, you can visit their wine museum and the exhibition of the original artwork of their labels, designed by a different artist for every vintage. The shop sells a range of posters and cards of this eclectic collection of art works.
Château Yquem, open for visits seven days a week no less, now has a magnificent boutique where a long list of older vintages of Yquem and Y d’Yquem are available for sale and shipment.
Château Haut Brion will open up their new visitor centre soon (COVID permitting) where for the first time visitors will be able to buy wines from all three Bordeaux properties plus their negociant range.
In Saint Julien, Chateau Leoville Poyferre is right on the D2, ‘La Route des Châteaux’ that runs the length of the Médoc Peninsula. They open for visits seven days a week in the summer, by appointment, but you can drop into their shop for a tasting from April through October. It’s worth booking the complete visit as they offer some fabulous customised wine tastings.
Their shop has a full range of their wines but also a great selection of books and wine paraphilia to satisfy any wine geek, all signed with the chateau logo: drop stops, cork screws, case ends, optiwines (to air young wines) and beautiful vinolock glass stoppers. They also have a range of delicious grape jellies, one in each of the grape varieties grown at the chateau and one with the same blend of all four that you find in the wine. Jam tasting anyone?
Chateau Lestrille also has its shop-front right on a road that runs through the beautiful Entre deux Mers. They have a great range of estate wines from dry white, through rosé, red and sparking in bottle or, for the still wines, in BIBs, and they can ship all over the world. You can fill your own bottles with on-tap olive oil, underlying their sustainable philosophy, and choose from a range of fine foods with lots of local products chosen to match with their wine. The perfect country picnic ingredients. If you can’t make it out the vineyard, they also have a wine bar and shop, Un Château en Ville in the centre of Bordeaux.
Sylvio Denz purchased first growth Château Lafaurie Peyraguey in 2014, he also owns Lalique Crystal. The bottles of the chateau wines, available in ‘la vinothèque’, are embossed with a beautiful René Lalique design ‘La Femme aux grapes’. Although the bottles themselves are a work of art, the spectacular display of Lalique Crystal is even more eye catching; glasses, decanters and a range of crystal designs based on vine leaves and grapes that is simply beautiful. The engraved crystal barrel bungs make great paperweights, but the pride of place is the Bugatti carafe, sold full of wine!
Another pioneer of wine tourism, Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte, has always welcomed visitors to the vineyard, the cellars, the cooperage, the land art visit and their on-site hotel, restaurants and spa. Of course they have an excellent shop. As well as wines they have honey from the vineyards, wine-themed chocolates and Riedel glasses beautifully engraved with the Smith Haut Lafitte logo. There are books about the vineyard, including recipe and lifestyle books from the property and the on-site Michelin star restaurant. In case you don’t have time to call in at the spa, (you really should!) they stock the complete range of the Caudalie cosmetics, created by the owner’s daughter from grape skin and grape pip extracts.Their relaxed Rouge restaurant offers a great selection of wine from Bordeaux and beyond that can be enjoyed in or to take away with an excellent selection of traditional, local fine groceries.
Château Haut Bailly has a beautiful shop in one of the buildings surrounding the elegant chateau. Working closely with local publisher Mollat, they offer a large range of books on food and wine. They have an exclusive range of hand-made Alexandre Mareuil leather wine accessories, beautiful bottle carriers and a ‘piquenique’ case (much too chic for picnic) with personalised Haut Bailly china plates, engraved glasses and bottle of wine of course. My favourite are their hand-made chocolates, created by local chocolate maker Saunion specifically to match their wines.
In 1978, the Baron Bich bought Château de Ferrand, his heirs have since completely, and very tastefully renovated this spectacular 18th century chateau with a perfect blend of old and new. The Zen tasting lounge has a unique ceiling with pale blue aluminium blades that reflect the daylight; it’s like sitting under a beautiful cloud. The oak circular tasting ‘bar’ is a nod to the barrel cellar but with a little bit of James Bond technology as it rotates to suit number of guests joining your tasting.The shop next door will ship wine across Europe and to the USA, but look for the beautiful Gien porcelain, personalised for the chateau, honey from the four hives on the property, hand blown Italian glasses and a range of wine accessories. Don’t leave without a souvenir Château de Ferrand Bic pen. You might be inspired to mastery, following in the footsteps of artist Alexandre Doucin, whose floor to ceiling fresco around the interior of the private tasting room was drawn uniquely in Bic biro.
Cover photo : photo credits Lafaurie Peyraguey