A day at the Château Cos d’Estournel winery, Bordeaux

I have visited a few of the great wine regions of the world such as Napa Valley (USA), Stellenbosch (South Africa), Tuscany (Italy), Margaret River and the Barossa Valley (Australia) and also cruised along the Danube and Rhine Rivers passing by Wachau Valley’s wine growing province (Austria) and Rheinhessen (Germany).

All of these places are beautiful in their own right and produce award-winning wines, but one wine precinct stands out like a colossus, and that’s Bordeaux, France.

A day at the Château Cos d'Estournel winery, Bordeaux

Bordeaux is one of the most famous wine growing regions in the world and home to the “Bordeaux Blend” (70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Cabernet Franc, 15% Merlot) and it’s here many of the best red wines are blended from a selection of approved grape varieties as well as some white wines.

Today we’re visiting one of Bordeaux’s most exclusive and historical wineries: Château Cos d’ Estournel.

The drive from our mid-city centre accommodation takes only about 90 minutes and it’s not long before we sight the château’s famous and unique pagodas that feature on the labels of each bottle.

Louis Gaspard d’ Estournel, nicknamed the Maharajah of Saint-Estèphe (he imported wine to India, hence his nickname) founded Château Cos d’Estournel in 1791.

A day at the Château Cos d'Estournel winery, Bordeaux

He was convinced the terroir (constitution of the soil, topography and climate) of this estate was exceptional and took it upon himself to take risks to enhance it. He invested massively in the acquisition of neighbouring land and in due course expanded his vineyard from 14 to 45 hectares. Today the winery extends to over 100 hectares.

Eventually Louis Gastournel, who lived close by but never actually lived on the estate, sold the property but returned later only as a resident and eventually died there. A statue in his honour is located prominently at the entrance to the winery.

Today the Cos d’Estournel is owned by Switzerland’s successful hotelier, Michel Reybier, who recently built a splendid eight-bedroom private villa on the estate that boasts indoor and outdoor pools and spas, and a most impressive private wine cellar.

Mr Reybier stays there when in Bordeaux but when he is away, it can be hired in its entirety. This residence also comes with a house manager, chef and private tours and tastings.

A day at the Château Cos d'Estournel winery, Bordeaux

We are taken on a tour of this magnificent property, surrounding gardens and private courtyards. The residence and entire estate have doors and fittings imported from India and Zanzibar due to d’Estournel’s past connection with the Orient.

It’s late September when we arrive and luckily for us, it’s harvesting time and we’ve been given the opportunity to be involved in the collecting process. We are met by our guide Vanessa and are driven to an area of the winery where the harvesting is in full swing. The warm autumn sun is beating down on us and the deep purple coloured grapes are bunched up on the greenest of vines bursting with colour and screaming out to be picked.

A day at the Château Cos d'Estournel winery, Bordeaux

The grapes are harvested entirely by hand by a team of people that come from Ermita Nueva, Spain who have worked at the château since 1974. The harvesters comprise of grandparents, mums, dads and their children; many from the same families.

We only assist in harvesting for approximately an hour, but it will go down as one of our finest travelling memories as we observe these enthusiastic workers who harvest here for only a few weeks of the year and do it with love and passion.

After our harvesting contribution, we’re taken on a tour of the barrel rooms and other controlled temperature areas such as the remarkable cellar that houses priceless bottles of wines dating back decades.

In 2003 the château was equipped with insulated, cone-shaped vats for optimal juice extraction. They were specially designed for the estate and were the first to be used in the winemaking industry. In 2008, Cos d’Estournel was also the first Bordeaux estate to install a 100% gravity-flow cellar. This unprecedented innovation was designed and developed by the château’s teams to meet their specific requirements. The entire winemaking process is driven by gravity as this makes it possible to preserve the character of the fruit and fully express the complexity of the terroir.

After our extensive and fascinating tour, we are invited to a lunch that is being held in the winery’s refurbished horse stables and includes the entire Cos d’Estournel staff, harvesting team and also the owner, Michel Reybier, and his colleagues. Long communal tables draped in red and white chequered tablecloths are jam-packed with lively conversation as traditional food and a selection of their wines are being served.

This is an intriguing day that gives us a unique insight into the running of a hugely successful operation of one of Bordeaux’s finest wineries.

Photography by Daniel Resnik.




Vicki Gilden at Rose Bay Travel

(02) 9371 8166