Classic French châteaux are by nature impressive beasts, but when you stay in one that was once the Bordeaux home of Pope Clement V in 1306, well that is another thing entirely. Such is the divine experience that accompanies a stay at Château Pape Clément with the Benard Magrez Luxury Wine Experience
Today, surrounded by vines planted in the 14th century, Château Pape Clément, as well as being a highly regarded wine, is the flagship property of Bernard Magrez, a legendary figure in winemaking with over 40 estates around the world. A man who’s fingerprint is all over the transformation of Bordeaux as a wine and tourist destination. And who would argue with the influence the Margrez family has had on the city; the only owners of four Grands Cru Classés , La Grande Maison – a luxury boutique hotel with a gourmet restaurant run by Michelin starred chef Pierre Gagnaire, an art gallery showcasing stunning pieces from the Magrez personal collection, and they are one of the prime benefactors and creative forces behind Bordeaux’s stunning new wine museum, the much celebrated Cité du Vin.
So what better way to personally absorb some of the Magrez magic than with some tours and tastings courtesy of the Benard Magrez Luxury Wine Experience. This is a VIP journey around Bernard Magrez’s four exclusive Grand Crus Classés. A journey of historic proportions that includes staying in some extraordinary properties, sampling some fine French food and getting to taste those fine Magrez wines.
Château Pape Clément
As my driver approached the park entrance, I just knew this was something a little special. 30 hectares of vines, towering Lebanese cedars planted by revolutionaries, ancient olive trees and a glasshouse built by Gustave Eiffel no less. The château positively defined classic French architecture. The interior elegance of a bygone era was everywhere, from the antique furniture to the majestic chandeliers. It was as if I had literally stepped into the 18th century.
However my bedroom suite, one of five in the castle, was the perfect study in how to blend the historic with 21st century luxury. A huge room, dominated by a black Baccarat chandelier waxed parquet flooring, held hands with a thoroughly modern bathroom decked in black marble and stocked with l’occitane toiletries. The bed was dressed in crisp high thread linen and the generous flat screen TV fought for my attention with the Nespresso machine balanced on the elegant dresser.
With a bottle of the legendary Château Pape Clément and two wine glasses sitting proudly over the fireplace, It was a temptation far too great to overlook.
The morning dawned crisp but sunny as Florien, the chateau’s breakfast angel wove her culinary magic before my tour of the estate’s legendary winery, cellar and tasting.
Château La Tour Carnet, Haute – Médoc
Bernard Magrez’s chauffeur at the wheel of a Rolls Royce Phantom was certainly an impressive way to travel to my next stop on the Benard Magrez Luxury Wine Experience . Another achingly beautiful Magrez property, just an hour’s drive from Château Pape Clément.
Château La Tour Carnet may only have two bedrooms, but what it lacks in occupancy it more than makes up for in history. This is one of the oldest properties in the Médoc with a tower dating back to 1112; a proper castle with a drawbridge and water filled moat. As I crossed over the bridge, black swans glided up and looked at me expectantly clearly hoping for a morsel or two to be thrown their way.
There was no doubting the love and attention and serious finance invested here; suits of armour stood like silent sentinels in the hall, an antique harpsichord awaited in a lounge and upstairs two bedrooms fit for royalty sat on either side of the large dining hall.
The limited occupancy only added to the prospect for me. It would feel to anyone staying here that you were living in your own private luxury castle. A very special feeling indeed.
The state of the art winery was just a few steps away from the castle and the tour in the capable hands of Estate Manager Alix practically brought the grapes to life. This was clearly a man who lives for the fruit of the vine and even though he manages an exceptional Grand Cru, he’s planted a small section of other grape varieties from outside the region, just so he can experiment with different flavours.
As I walked past the chateau on my way out, the black swans turned away in disgust, their hopes of a few tasty morsels shelved for another day.
Château Fombrauge, St. Emilion
Another day and another ride in the Phantom to the final estate on the Benard Magrez Luxury Wine Experience. Château Fombrauge is in good company, just a stone’s throw from the village of St. Emilion and one or two notable neighbours such as Pétrus and Cheval Blanc.
Sculpted gardens with their topiary and 300 year old tulip trees sailed past my window as the Phantom rolled up the long gravel drive towards Château Fombrauge. This former Carthusian monastery is St. Emilion’s largest Grand Cru with almost 60 hectares of vines. There are wines in the cellar here dating back to 1871 although wine has been harvested here since the 1400s.
As with Château La Tour Carnet, there are just two bedroom suites, Cadran and Promesse with the luxurious furnishings and fittings equally comparable to the other two châteaux. Once again, the feeling of having an entire mansion to wander was quite intoxicating.
This had been a relaxing tour up until now, but with the Magrez B-Winemaker tour I had my chance to blend my own wine and bottle it under the watchful eye of Château La Tour Carnet’s winemaker. With a Merlot and a Cabernet Sauvignon in front of me, I spent time mixing and tasting a blend of the two until with an 80% Merlot and 20% Cab I found my perfect match. Then I just had to create a whole bottle of my blend, cork it, seal it and print my label. Voila, my very own (almost) Grand Cru.
Tell me more about the Benard Magrez Luxury Wine Experience
The Benard Magrez Luxury Wine Experience is a tailor-made tour of the Magrez four Grands Crus Classés including accommodation in either the châteaux or La Grande Maison Hotel.
One example might be:
Pick-up at the airport and Bentley transfer to La Grande Maison Bernard Magrez
Visit of the Bernard Magrez Cultural Institute
Diner in Jöel Robuchon’s restaurant, the only cooking Chef with 26 stars in the Michelin guide all over the world
Overnight stay and breakfast in one of the 6 luxury rooms of the 5*Hôtel La Grande Maison Bernard Magrez
Transfer to Chateau Pape Clement, Grand Cru Classé of Graves
“Harvest & Black Gold” tour : private guided tour of Chateau Pape Clement, followed by a tasting of 3 Bernard Magrez’s wines in harmony with 3 Caviars from the local renowned producer Sturia
Private gastronomical lunch in the dining room of the Chateau, by the Chateau’s Chef
Rolls Royce transfer to the airport
The Magrez B-Winemaker tour is available separately for €79
Other tours and tastings available from €20
Getting to Bordeaux
easyJet and BA offer regular fights to Bordeaux from London Gatwick.
Gatwick Express, the non-stop rail-air service between Victoria station and Gatwick Airport, departs every 15 minutes with a journey time of 30 minutes. Gatwick Express is the fastest and best way to travel between central London and Gatwick Airport with return tickets starting from £27.40. With an ongoing 10% discount, it is always cheaper to buy your ticket online at www.gatwickexpress.com