For many people, especially outside France, Bordeaux is synonymous with wine. But this city whose name is inscribed on thousands of bottles does not actually have any large vineyards within its boundaries. I have a few places where I can take friends who want to see vineyards without having to travel miles to the Médoc or to Saint-Émilion, to mention just the most prestigious appellations. But I prefer to keep a few surprises up my sleeve.
There are a few châteaux close to Bordeaux, including Château Smith Haut Laffitte no less: a Pessac-Léognan. This is the château where the cosmetics brand Caudalie was created, which uses certain properties of the grapes and vines in its creams and serums. Here you can enjoy the Sources de Caudalie spa. Close to Bordeaux, you can also discover Pape Clément and Haut-Brion, two châteaux within the Graves appellation.
However, I also know of some more surprising and more secret places in Bordeaux. “More secret” is really just a figure of speech, as these vines are so conspicuous that they become almost invisible as a result. The crowds pass in front of them without even a glance. Something else which is unusual is that you will never be able to buy bottles from these vineyards. They do not leave their owner’s cellar.
One of the oldest vines in Bordeaux is located at the Place de la Victoire and now shelters a McDonald’s. You have to lift your gaze to see its foliage spreading out over a kind of high trellis. It was planted at the end of the eighteenth century by the Duverger family. Originally, there were six vine plants, but only this one has survived and the city council now maintain it all year round. It is a very old grape variety called Cruchen Nègre which is now rare and deserves to be pampered.
The grapes harvested by the French National Institute for Agricultural Research (INRA) produce eight to ten bottles of the Bordeaux appellation a year, which are stored in the cellar at Bordeaux City Hall together with wines from Château La Béchade. This younger vineyard lies deep in Jardin de la Béchade. Its 1,000 Merlot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon grapevines were planted in 2002 by children from Bordeaux schools.
Finally, my favourite vineyard due to its location is at Bordeaux-Merignac Airport in the Bordeaux conurbation. I never pass up the chance to have a look at it when I am going away or coming back from a trip. The vineyard is called Croix de Guyenne and is the only one in the world planted at an airport, but isn’t just there to look pretty. It is managed by Olivier Bernard, who is in charge of the prestigious Domaine de Chevalier. Everything is done by the book and by hand. For 18 years, the harvests have been undertaken by different socio-professional groups and have produced 1,200 bottles. I took part in the harvest of 2009 carried out by journalists.