Saint Emilion, its satellites and Côtes de Castillon and Francs
By Jane Anson
This Guide was last updated on 22 March 2010
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Looking over the roofs of Saint Emilion, the most tourist friendly town in the whole of Bordeaux. © Mick Rock/Cephas
While the average size of a vineyard in the Médoc is 40 hectares, over in Saint Emilion the average shrinks right down to five hectares. This human scale is further evidenced by the fact that most properties are family run, and that more are open for visits without appointments. Set amid an attractive rolling landscape, Saint Emilion is Bordeaux’s dolce vita – and because the grape is dominantly Merlot, the wines are easier to approach before their tenth birthday. The mediaeval village of Saint Emilion, together with its surrounding vineyards, has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1999, beating the city of Bordeaux to the title by eight years. All of this, however, makes it far more touristy than other parts of the region – good luck getting a parking space on a sunny Saturday in July, try to avoid the mediocre food at the restaurants on the main square, and expect to pay around 10% more for wine than you would elsewhere. But find a quiet Sunday and climb to the top of the bell tower, and it’s all worth it.
Getting out into the Saint Emilion satellites, or to Castillon and Saint Foy la Grande, rewards with steep, dramatic hillsides, sweeping views and plenty of dynamic young winemakers who can’t afford to buy land in affluent Saint Emilion. Many of these producers are full of ideas, picked up most often from working holidays in Australia and California. In the main appellation, it can be hard to get into visit the big names like Ausone, but there are plenty of winemakers who are only too happy to show you around - be sure to visit at least one whose barrels are stored in a monolithic cellar, dug out of the limestone hillsides. Also, don’t miss the stone cloister hidden within the tourist office.
Located on the right bank of the Dordogne River this region spans out over an area east of Libourne. The vineyards are situated either on a bedrock of limestone or on hillsides sloping down to the Dordogne. Soils are diverse: mainly clay and lime on the plateau, with a higher gravel content in the western area bordering Pomerol; and sandy alluvial soils on the slopes. Some of the best properties are located on the côtes, steep hillsides with just a thin layer of top soil. The easterly area has vineyards on some of the highest hills in the whole Bordeaux region, with lime, clay and marly soils.
Overall there is a mild maritime climate influenced by the Gulf Stream with hints of the Mediterranean, having drier summers with higher daytime temperatures than other Bordeaux vineyard areas. September and October bring fine weather allowing grapes to achieve good maturity. The average annual temperature is around 12.8°C and the annual rainfall 800mm. There is low risk of frost due to the influence of the Dordogne and Isle rivers.
The fastest route from Paris, by car, is to take the A10 which takes you straight to Bordeaux. This vineyard region is found 40km east of Bordeaux on the N89, the D670, or D243, which is the prettiest route. By train, the TGV Atlantique service reaches Bordeaux in less than three hours from Paris, five hours from Lille and seven from Brussels. This area can be reached on the Bordeaux-Sarlat line. Also the local bus company Citram Aquitaine services this area. The closest major airport is Bordeaux-Mérignac.
Conseil Interprofessionnel du Vins de Bordeaux (CIVB)
1 Cours du XXX Juillet, 33000 Bordeaux
Tel: 05 56 00 22 66
Maison du Vin de Saint Emilion
Place Pierre Meyrat, 33330 Saint Emilion
Maison des Crus Satellites de Saint Emilion
Place de l’Eglise, 33570 Montagne
Tel: 05 57 74 60 13
Saint Emilion Tourist Office
Le Doyenné, Place des Créneaux, 33330 Saint Emilion
Libourne Tourist Office
40 Place Abel Surchamp, 33500 Libourne
Tel: 05 57 51 15 04
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