What happens when you combine a Kiwi bloke, a van, and a thirst for wine? A potentially dangerous situation not to be tried at home, or also perhaps the beginning of a very bad joke? In this case, it’s neither. Phew. Instead, pop those three things in France and you get the creation of Rustic Vines, a company running wine tours in Bordeaux. A Kiwi running a tour about French wines in France? Now that sounds a little risky, but clearly the candid Kiwi charm (yes, I’m a little biased) has won people over as it’s the most popular tour in town!
It may have started with a man and a van, but these days Rustic Vines now has a team of five guides who run tours around the surrounding wine regions and bike tours around Bordeaux city itself. On our recent girls getaway, we decided to forgo the bikes and head straight for the wine which pleased me immensely… not only would I not get very far on two wheels, but when given a choice, wine always wins.
We booked The Famous Monk Tour which would take us about 45 minutes out of the city to Saint Emilion, a Unesco heritage site and medieval village boasting a spectacular number of vineyards or chateaus as they are known in France. During the journey out there, our guide Sarah, gave us an overview of the wine region – plenty of facts about the rules and regulations of wine-making specific to this region, as well as plenty of figures on the physical size, number of vineyards, and amount of wine produced. All this information was fascinating, but it mostly just made me thirsty for a glass of wine, even though it was not yet 10am…
First Stop – Chateau Queyron Pinderfleurs
When we arrived at the chateau, we were greeted by an Australian accent and the charming story of an Aussie expat and his French wife returning to France to take over her family’s business. Along with their young children, the couple live onsite and oversee everything to do with the vineyard – from the tending of the vines, the blending, and the marketing of the end product. From the way Peter talked us through his own learning curve from the corporate world to the wine-making world, their passion and commitment to growing their business was evident, and their wines were quite easy on the palate!
Second Stop – Saint Emilion Village
We headed into the village to visit one of the many wine shops and taste yet more wine from a range of chateaus. This is a wine tour after all, and while it was clearly mentioned by our guide that this is not a booze cruise, they are quite generous with the tasters… I swear we had just hit midday and I had probably had the equivalent of a medium sized glass, and a red at that! At the shop, we tried another handful at least; all had distinct properties, emphasising the variety in the region and the impact of the soil and location of each vineyard to the end product.
A quick break for lunch was next on the agenda, an enormous, filled baguette was just enough sustenance to power us along for the rest of the afternoon. We took a stroll through the village and ended at the lookout by the Monolithic Church; from here the views are a quite something so I can only imagine what it’s like almost 200 steps later from the top of the Bell Tower.
Third Stop – Chateau de Pressac
In stark contrast to the first chateau we visited, Chateau de Pressac has long ceased being anything one would describe as a ‘family operation’. On the site is the stunning home of the owner, a well-known and perhaps even eccentric French businessman who took over the chateau some 20 years ago, and has seen it go from strength to strength in that time. The vineyards are equally breathtaking; their vines are set in three different types of soil on various gradients across the property, each providing different qualities to the grapes.
After our tasting, Sarah surprised us with a little picnic in the chateau garden overlooking the endless rows of vines. I honestly couldn’t think of a better way to end the day – a glass of rosé, a selection of cured meats and cheeses from the region, and some merry chatter amongst friends in the sun. Situations like this could really convince a person to turn their back on corporate world and run away to the French countryside… I’m sure I could learn to make wine as well as I drink it…?!
What a day… we set off at around 10am and arrived back into Bordeaux city in the late afternoon. Yes, we drank a fair bit of wine and marvelled at some wonderful views of the countryside but I actually learnt a lot about the wines and the region itself. That’s probably what impressed me the most on the tour – our guide was really knowledgeable but she didn’t just spit out facts like a well rehearsed robot, and was always happy to answer questions or just chat about her own experiences. She summed up their aim perfectly by describing their tours as an intimate but relaxed day out with a friend – one that I guess happens to know a lot about wine!
I would happily recommend the Famous Monk Tour with Rustic Vines – priced at €89, they run morning and afternoon tours which both last around 6-7 hours. They also work with a large number of chateaus so you may not visit the ones I did but you can guarantee that they’ll all be equally fantastic!
Special thanks to our guide Sarah for a wonderful day and for taking the beautiful photo of us walking through the vines!