By Nicole Campbell

I am officially entering my second month as a stagiaire for Bordeaux negociant Compagnie Medocaine. My first week here I was lucky enough to attend a private (!) two-day crash course on all things Bordeaux wine at the Ecole du Vin de Bordeaux.

When you are in an one-on-one 16 hour intensive- including multi-course wine lunches- you get to know your professor quite well. Such an intense amount of time with a stranger is a potential disaster. Thankfully my instructor, Alex Hall, was passionate and interesting (fiou! *French for phew).

On top of his duties at the wine school, Alex also leads high-end Bordeaux wine tours for small groups with his company, Bespoke Bordeaux. For Bodeaux lovers who want to visit top estates getting a guide is essential. A spontaneous drive to Margaux will lead you to a welcoming locked gate and a sober ride home. Beyond getting you through the door and driving you to appointments, a guide will also tailor your visits based on your favourites, help you with trip planning and have the expertise to take your learning beyond the boundaries of a basic tour.

This week Alex was hosting a Canadian couple- the perfect opportunity for me to tag along and experience Bordeaux not as a stagiaire, but as an average consumer (weird). I was delighted when I saw the itinerary: Haut-Brion and Chateau Haut-Bailly in the morning, lunch in Sauternes at Le Saprien and finishing our day with the famed Chateau d’Yquem.

I kept my notepad away- as scribbling down maceration time, barrel preferences and clone varieties is less cool when surrounded by ‘normal’ people- but I grabbed some great shots of the day. It is harvest time in Bordeaux and it was fantastic to see the wineries at work.

We began the day at La Mission Haut-Brion, sister winery to First Growth Haut-Brion, currently closed for construction.

The property is stunning:

La Mission Haut Brion entrance
The grounds of La Mission Haut Brion.

Our guide Laeticia, spoke perfect English- save beginning each sentence with “alors”, instantly making everything she said precious. We watched a video of the history of Haut-Brion in their old church before seeing the winemaking facilities and ending with a tasting.

Grapes starting their journey from sorting table to tank.
Tasting Haut Brion and La Mission Haut Brion.

Next we were off to Chateau Haut-Bailly, a wine I had never tried, but will definitely be keeping a look out for in the future (see: delicious and great vibe). It is in the Pessac-Leognan appellation, the home of Graves’ top red wines.

When we arrived the pickers were hard at work, a great introduction to the soul of the property.

Pickers hard at work at Chateau Haut Bailly.

I was just about ready to steal a crate.

buckets of grapes at Haut Bailly.

Pickers and grapes mean sorters as well, a peep hole into the  time-consuming, labour-intensive process of making great wine.

Sorting team at work.

We finished the day with a visit to Sauternes, 40 km southeast of Bordeaux, along the Garonne and its tributary, the Ciron. The temperature difference between these two rivers creates misty mornings that- when combined with dry hot afternoons- promote Botrytis cinerea or noble rot. Botrytis is a fungus that attacks grapes skins, enabling the evaporation of water from grapes and concentrating and adding complex flavours to the sweet wine. The most famous winery in Sauternes is undoubtedly Chateau d’Yquem, it’s history stretching back to the 15th century and the only wine to achieve a “Great First Growth” status in the classification of 1855.

Getting a private tour of the estate was fantastic and the perfect way to end the day with Alex and the Canadians.

Some shots:

Botrytised grapes at Yquem.
The stunning vineyards of Chateau d’Yqeum overlook the rest of Sauternes.
Oh and there is a castle.

Nicole Campbell is a wine blogger and all around worker
bee for Lifford Wine Agency,
Ontario’s largest supplier of wine to the hospitality industry. Currently
living in Bordeaux, getting first hand experience as a stagiaire for
negotiant Compagnie Medocaine. Follow her on twitter @liffordnicole or on her personal blog.