On holidays before children, if we passed a vineyard or two, we’d stop to taste the wine and maybe buy a bottle. We loved going on holidays where wine tasting was the main aim. But with three young children, we thought that particular pleasure was over, at least for 16 years or so. We could drive with Thomas, aged seven, Ins, five, and Eloise, two, through the acres of vines and admire the chateaux from afar, but going in and tasting the wines couldn’t really be an option, could it? Surely it would be no fun for anyone not for the children, us, and especially not for the staff and other visitors.
But hearing about some changes within the Bordeaux region’s booming “oenotourisme” made me reconsider.
Ten of the region’s thousands of vineyards have, over the last two to three years, decided to actively encourage families to visit, laying on special activities for children, all available in English.
This was great news for we oenophiles, but we wondered if we would be condemned as irresponsible parents if we took up the vineyards’ tempting offer. Wine might be quite civilised but it is still booze.
But Sophie Gaillard, head of oenotourisme at the Office de Tourisme in Bordeaux, said: “In the Bordeaux region, wine is such a part of our culture that children learn about it from a very young age, including the dangers of alcohol.”
Half convinced, I arranged a short tour, to include two chateaux a day so the children wouldn’t get too tired. Bordeaux is about two and a half hours from our home in Toulouse, so we booked two nights in a familyrun chambre d’hte called La Ferrade, in Bgles, just outside the city. On Saturday morning we made the half-hour drive to Chteau d’Agassac (agassac.com) in Ludon-Medoc. With immaculate lawns and a forest backdrop, pointed turrets and a moat, Agassac is a proper fairytale castle. “Wow!” said the kids. We all had a go at the audio and video iPod tour and quiz, designed for children who are often left out at vineyards. Thomas happily roamed the lawn with headphones on, noting down the answers to questions about the history of the chateau and grape growing. Eloise was a bit little for that but loved the ducks in the moat.
The tour ended at the old pigeon tower, now a tasting room, where the grown-ups got to taste three of the chateau’s wines. The children were chuffed to get certificates for their efforts and cool down with a glass of grape juice. Five-year-old Ins sniffed my glass “it smells very strongly of wine” and giggled at daddy’s use of the spittoon, but they were restless and it was time for lunch so we made a quick exit.
Once fed, we headed off for another 30-minute drive to Chteau Saint Ahon (saintahon.com), a family-run chateau right in the middle of the town of Blanquefort. It’s only little but it makes some very nice, affordable wines and, unusually, puts families at the centre of what it does with its new attraction, the Jardins de Mirabel trail, which costs 6.20 for adults (including tasting) and 3 for children aged 4-16.
Pauline Devaux, who runs the tourism side and helped devise the trail, sent us off with quiz sheets, and the information boards took us past the vines, horses, Mirabel the donkey and the shady picnic and play area. It was a pretty, pushchair-friendly stroll, and the littlest soon nodded off.
“We designed it for children, but adults really learn a lot from it too,” said Devaux, back at the boutique. The older kids tasted local fruit juices, colour in pictures and checked their quiz answers, the littlest snoozed and we tasted three of the chateau’s wines embracing a fruity, full-bodied ros named after Mirabel. The trip was a success. “I didn’t enjoy it,” said Thomas, “I loved it.” Us too.
On Sunday, fuelled by pains aux chocolat, we drove to Chteau Soutard (chateau-soutard.com), an 18thcentury country house that overlooks Saint-Emilion on a hill surrounded by vines. It is peaceful, beautiful and looks like hell for parents with small children. What havoc could they wreak here? But Chteau Soutard says it aims to welcome all connoisseurs, novices, wine lovers, friends and families.
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