Ever dreamed of running away to France, buying a vineyard and becoming a winemaker? At Château Fombrauge, a Grand Cru Classé winery in Saint-Émilion, you can do just that. At least for a day, anyway. With their B Winemaker blending workshop, you create your very own unique bottle of Bordeaux wine to take home with you. It’s about as close to becoming a winemaker as you’ll get without purchasing a vineyard all your own and one of the unique wine experiences you can have in the World Capital of Wine.
Surrounded by 60 hectares of vineyards, Château Fombrauge is Saint-Émilion’s largest Grand Cru Classé wine estate. Vines have been planted on the grounds of Château Fombrauge since 1466, making it one of the oldest in Saint-Émilion. It was Jacques de Canolle who planted the first vines here, and the château takes its name from him as he had declared himself the Lord of Fombrauge.
Through an alliance with the Dumas family in the 17th century, the château remained in the hands of the same family until the French Revolution. Like many Bordeaux châteaux, it became a national property during the French Revolution until it was once again reclaimed by descendants of the Dumas family. The château was eventually given to Ferdinand de Taffard in the second half of the 1800s, and under his direction the estate’s wine was awarded a gold medal at the World’s Fair in Paris in 1867.
More than 100 years later, the modern history of Château Fombrauge begins in 1999 with Bernard Magrez. A wine magnate with wineries all over the world and others like Château Pape Clement and Château Tour Carnet here in Bordeaux, Bernard Magrez is also a visionary. It was his works on the estate and introduction of modern wine making technology like the use of robots and drones to monitor the vineyards that helped Château Fombrauge finally achieve the coveted classification of Saint-Émilion Grand Cru Classé in 2012.
The visit begins in the topiary styled gardens in the courtyard of the single level castle. It’s here that a sundial is evidence of the château’s beginnings in the early Renaissance, ordered by the founder Jacques de Canolle in 1679. Fombrauge means surrounded by heather and bush, and the more than 100 years old olive trees and 300 year old trees are also pointed out that still stand on Château Fombrauge’s grounds.
The château serves as a luxury bed and breakfast with just three guest rooms, and though you won’t likely get a peek inside of each of the uniquely decorated guestrooms themselves, you are invited inside to have a look at the lounge areas guests can enjoy. Like the sundial that remains in the courtyard, you find a collection of antiques that Bernard Magrez has curated.
Outside, we have a look at the vineyards that edge the terrace just beyond the towering 300 year old trees. Depending on when you visit (late August is our favorite time to visit Bordeaux vineyards since the beautiful grapes are jewel tones), you’ll see the grape vines in one of the various stages they go through is a relatively short period from the bud break in April to the harvest in September. While things like manually harvesting in small crates hasn’t changed at all since the very first harvest in 1599, Château Fombrauge uses some really interesting modern technology like drones and robots to aid in their viticulture.
Back inside the winery, there are actually five different cellars housing some 9000 bottles of wine. The oldest vintage, a bottle of 1871, can be found in one of the cellars. It probably won’t ever be opened or sold since it has never been re-corked, but it’s incredible a bottle well over 100 years old even still exists in the cellar.
The winery itself is stunning with the large oak vats accented by the oak ceiling. The barrels in which the wine ages in the barrel room are all hand painted with Château Fombrauge’s wine in a classic Bordeaux style that was adopted to hide the wine that inevitably spills when filling and topping up the barrels.
The classic visit ends with a tasting of the white Magrez Fombrauge, their second wine and some vintages of the Château Fombrauge Saint-Émilion Grand Cru Classé.
B. Winemaker Workshop
All Bordeaux wine is a blend and each châteaux has their own unique blend and characteristics. For many châteaux, their blend doesn’t change from year to year and it’s often even indicative of how their vineyard is planted. And though the blend varies from châteaux to châteaux, one thing will always be true when it comes to Bordeaux wines: Right Bank châteaux will have a majority of Merlot in their blends and Left Bank châteaux will have a majority of Cabernet Sauvignon in their blends.
If you’re a Bordeaux wine connoisseur, you probably have a favorite bank and even a favorite appellation. It’s really deeply personal, and as you learn if you’ve been to the 5 Senses Experience at Château Pape Clement, is influenced by many environmental factors. You might have a memory associated with a Bordeaux wine and that particular château or vintage will always be your favorite.
Château Fombrague’s B Winemaker Workshop is a look into how to their own winemaker finds the perfect blend. You’ll leave with your own unique Bordeaux blend that is bottled, corked and capped for you to take home as a souvenir of your visit.
We start with tasting the Merlot and Cabernet to get a feel for each of these wines separately. To help get you started, Château Fombrauge has a couple of suggested blends otherwise you could be there for days blending various percentages of Merlot and Cabernet.
They’ve also put together a nice conversion chart to easily convert percentages to milliliters. It’s a bit like being in a science lab, but way more fun. As we decide what blends we want to try, we write down the percentages on our placement and then fill the graduated cylinder with the equivalent centiliters of Merlot and Cabernet for our blend. Then we taste the blend and adjust to your preference.
It’s truly amazing and you don’t realize how different a wine can be just because of the blend. A little too much Cabernet and suddenly it’s a bit too tannic.
Satisfied with our blend, we then used the conversion chart and a much larger graduated cylinder to blend enough wine for our own bottle we’d be taking home. After pouring it in to the bottle, you use a machine to cork the bottle. Another machine seals the cap over the cork. And finally you get to name your Cuvée and create the labels for the bottle on a computer. The label printer quickly spits out the labels and the final step is to place your front and back labels on as straight as possible. It’s a little more challenging than you might expect, especially after tasting all of your various blends.
We ended up with our Cuvée Luxe Adventure Traveler with a blend of 37% Merlot and 63% Cabernet. It can age a bit in the bottle to let the blend marry together, but your Cuvée isn’t something you should keep for 5-10 years or longer. For that, you can purchase some Château Fombrauge Saint-Émilion Grand Cru Classé in the shop.
Stay at Château Fombrauge
You can wake up surrounded by the Saint-Émilion vineyards in one of the three guest rooms. Each is uniquely decorated with period furniture to match the styling of the château. There are several lounge areas for guests to enjoy and guests all are invited for a classic tour inclusive with the stay. Breakfast with juices and freshly baked pastries is served in the château dining room in the morning. There are also bicycles available for guest use.
The village of Saint-Émilion is just a 5-minute drive from the château, where you’ll find a variety of restaurants. L’Envers du Decor and Café Saïgon (a Vietnamese restaurant) are some of our favorite restaurants in the Saint-Émilion.
Note that there is no wifi or internet, so you might want to rent a WiFi hotspot or purchase a pay-as-you-go SIM card for your trip.
Know Before You Go
Our B Winemaker Workshop was provided by Château Fombrauge in partnership with Saint-Émilion Tourisme in order to bring you this story. However, Bordeaux Travel Guide maintains full editorial control of the content published on this site. As always, all thoughts, opinions, and enthusiasm for travel are entirely our own. This article contains affiliate links. When you book on Rue des Vignerons or Booking.com through our affiliate partner sites, we earn a small commission at no additional cost to you.