Bordeaux, my French family’s hometown, revolves around the seasons of wine. Harvest. Dormancy. Budbreak. Ripening. And whatever the season, there’s always some wine-related party, festival, or “open house” event going on in and around town.
This year, the highlight has to be the Bordeaux Wine Festival, a biennial blow out where the city’s mile-long riverfront fills with stands offering all kinds of regional vin. There’s food, too–small plates from the town’s best restaurants–at pop-up stands. Admission price (20 euros) buys you a wine glass (there are no plastic cups in Bordeaux) that fits into a lanyard around your neck and off you go.
For a taste of Bordeaux’s world-renowned classified growths, an additional 65 euros admits you to the magnificent 18th-century halls of the chamber of commerce, right on the Garonne, where you can sip and swirl to your heart’s content. Plus, the Bordeaux Music Festival happens at the same time–four outdoor concerts in four days, culminating with fireworks over the river every evening.
But it’s almost always wine time in and around Bordeaux.
Here’s my list of the top yearly wine events, all within an hour’s drive of the city:
> Spring (March-May)
- Futures Market: March is the month when the wine business world descends on Bordeaux to taste the previous year’s wine and buy it on the futures market as the world’s most famous vineyards release their prices. Unless you’re a professional, there’s not much sense in visiting Bordeaux for its wines at this time, as it’s the most frenetic time of the year for wineries (they’re busy with professional tastings) and the worst time for wine tourists. But if you’re a wine junkie, you may spot wine biz glitterati around and outside of town.
- Spring in the Medoc (April): Over two days, visit wineries and taste their wines at the famous appellations of the Left Bank: Medoc, Haut Medoc, Saint Estephe, Pauillac, Listrac Medoc, Moulis en Medoc, and Margaux.
- Weekend des Grands Crus: A yearly event in mid-May, this mammoth tasting of over 100 Classified Growth Bordeaux wines (the famous “Grand Crus”) in a former shipping warehouse along the river is a unique opportunity to sample these world-renowned wines and talk with the owners, without traveling outside of the city.
- Open House at Saint-Emilion: The first weekend of May is the chance for Right Bank wine lovers to get inside these famous properties for tastings.
- Mountain Bike Through Margaux (May): More than 7,000 costumed tipplers biking through one of the world’s most renowned wine appellations, followed by a huge tented dinner and party. Imagine that.
> Summer (June-August)
- Bordeaux Wine Festival (June): See above.
- Wine Tours: July and August are big months in the vineyards, when vines are pruned and grapes coddled toward maturity. Most of the winemakers are at home supervising during this crucial period, so it’s a good time to take advantage of vineyard visits organized by the Bordeaux Tourist Office (also available throughout the year) with daily tours and events like wine cruises and bus tours to the vineyards.
> Fall (September-November)
- Medoc Marathon (September): Yes, it’s a marathon, through the most famous vineyards in the world. A kind of wine-centric hash run with wine rest stops and crazy costumes encouraged.
- New Wine and Antiques Festival: On the last weekend of October, celebrate the year’s “new wine”–the golden bubbly run off from the current harvest–along the cobblestone streets of Chartrons, the heart of Bordeaux’s wine commerce from the 17th century to the mid-1900s. There are street musicians and sidewalk sales, but the highlight is on Sunday morning, when the priest blesses the wine in front of the neo-gothic Saint-Louis des Chartrons church. Drinking wine, in front of a church, with the priest’s blessing? Only in France.
- Open Houses Galore (various dates in the fall): Sample the local flavor at special wine-tasting events held at the Saint Estephe, Graves, Fronsac, and Sauternes and Barsac appellation properties.
> Winter (December-February)
- Cabanes En Fêtes Oyster and Wine Festival: Come out for fresh bay oysters and crisp Entre Deux Mers plus food stands and local oom-pah bands (big in southwestern France) on the first Saturday of December at the port of Andernos-les-Bains, an adorable village on the Arcachon Bay an hour by car from Bordeaux. Sea, sun, oysters, and white wine. Is there a better combo?
- Bordeaux Wine School: While school is in session all year round, winter–when it’s quiet in the vineyards–is a good time to take advantage of introductory and advanced wine seminars (in English) at the Bordeaux Wine Council Center in an 18th-century building downtown, across from the tourist information office.
- Head to the stylish, super-friendly Bar à Vin in downtown Bordeaux for a taste of the depth and breadth of the Bordeaux region wines. Run by the Bordeaux Wine Council, this is the best place in town to taste Bordeaux without ruining your budget. Plus, you can count on excellent quality and multilingual service.
Ceil Miller Bouchet is a travel/wine writer and the author of a forthcoming memoir, The Bordeaux Diaries, about her year studying wine at the University of Bordeaux. Follow her on Twitter @CeilBouchet.