{"api":{"host":"https:\/\/pinot.decanter.com","authorization":"Bearer NWY4Y2I0MzZhNmI5MTJmY2ZmMDdkN2EyYTJhZDljNGMxNDljZjFkM2NkMTYyNTEzYzFmZWE3OTZlYTIyYzRkZA","version":"2.0"},"piano":{"sandbox":"false","aid":"6qv8OniKQO","rid":"RJXC8OC","offerId":"OFPHMJWYB8UK","offerTemplateId":"OFPHMJWYB8UK","wcTemplateId":"OTOW5EUWVZ4B"}}

International Women’s Day: Spotlight on the women driving wine tourism in Bordeaux

To mark the annual celebration, taking place on 8 March, we take a look at the female driving forces behind the boom in Bordeaux’s wine tourism from pioneers of vine-to-cellar experiences and guest accommodation offerings to picture-perfect sunset apéritif spots.

Pioneers

Catherine Leparmentier has been developing wine tourism for 20 years. She is currently the director of Great Wine Capitals (GWC), a Bordeaux initiative that was established to link cities connected to great wine regions in order to sustain the health and prosperity of their wine-related activities. GWC started with six members and is now a global network of 12 including Adelaide, Rioja, Mendoza, Porto and Napa Valley and growing. Leparmentier says wine tourism may have started in Napa with Robert Mondavi but that Bordeaux wasn’t far behind. Small properties reliant on direct sales started the trend, with classified growths selling through ‘La Place’, slower to catch on until they understood the loyal fan base visits created. Now many estates have shops offering direct sales for tourists and locals alike.

Sylvie Cazes, co-owner of Pauillac fifth growth, Château Lynch Bages worked there alongside her brother Jean-Michel before setting up her own tourism agency Bordeaux Saveurs in 2005. The company specialises in organising tailor-made stays and events on the theme of great wines, gastronomy and the French art of living. She is also president of Bordeaux wine attraction La Cité du Vin and welcomes visitors at her St-Emilion Grand Cru Classé estate Château Chauvin.

Former Olympic skier Florence Cathiard has worked tirelessly since 1990 to welcome visitors to the Pessac-Léognan estate Château Smith Haut Lafitte she owns with her husband Daniel. What started with the pair running visits themselves seven days a week now sees the estate receive around 25,000 visitors a year, 5,000 of whom Florence meets in person. In 2014 she was elected for a three-year stint as president of the Superior Council of Wine Tourism with a mission to attract visitors to all the vineyards across France.

Cathiard’s daughter’s also followed her entrepreneurial footsteps: Mathilde Thomas created the Caudalie range of beauty products harnessing the beneficial and therapeutic properties of grapes in 1995 and four years later Alice Tourbier opened the first destination wine spa, Les Sources de Caudalie at the Pessac family property. It is now a five-star hotel and wellbeing complex that Jay-Z and Beyonce privatised in 2023 for their trip to Bordeaux.

Alice Tourbier

Alice Tourbier

Just down the road at Château Malartic la Gravière, Severine Bonnie, wife of co-owner Jaques Bonnie (with his sister Veronique) has opened the elegant family château for visits and tastings that showcase the property’s sustainable initiatives, elegant lunches and dinners in the reception rooms, picnics in the park and cooking classes. As well as being active in the tourism industry, the family also supports the arts as the official sponsor of the American Cinematheque Award. In 2024 Veronique jetted to Los Angeles for the award’s show which saw the estate’s wines poured at a gala dinner.

Caroline Perromat is another Graves tourism heroine. Starting at Château Haut Bailly with Veronique Sanders, she helped create one of the first vine to cellar visitor circuits as well as a tasting room and boutique – still the best château shop in Bordeaux. The estate also introduced ‘La Table Privée’, inviting guests into the intimacy of the 19th century building with a custom built menu based on local and seasonal foods. In 2022 the estate revealed a new state-of-the-art, sustainable cellar designed with visitors in mind, taking them from cellar to the roof garden in a glass lift. The neighbouring property, Château La Pape, was also transformed into a guest house.

In 2012, Perromat took her expertise to the family-owned Château de Cérons. Despite the beauty of this classified monument, it was hidden from view. Passionate about sharing the story of the property with the public, they opened it to visitors. Now, 18th century tunnels link to the banks of the Garonne and Perromat hosts elegant picnics in the park of the 17th century building with comfy loungers made from ancient vats staves perfect to take a siesta.

Caroline Siesta at Château de Cérons

Caroline Perromat having a siesta at Château de Cérons

Sweet hospitality

Laure de Lambert created five guest bedrooms at her family Sauternes property Château Sigalas Rabaud. Wake up to breakfast on the sunny terrace and sip her coffee aged in Sauternes barrels before a dip in the pool overlooking the vines.

Château Guiraud has always been open to the public and guests can explore this big, organic property on electric bikes but since Sandrine Garbay (formerly of Château d’Yquem) took over, they reopened the ‘Circle Guiraud’ restaurant and are converting the château to a 26-room hotel.

The UNESCO World Heritage Site of St-Emilion is one of the most visited villages in France, an advantage for hospitality that many winemakers have capitalised on. Magali Decoster opened guest rooms and the tasting room at Clos des Jacobins. Furthermore,  their Château de Candale property was the first to open a (beautiful) restaurant in the vines in 2012 with its terrace overlooking the rolling hills of St Laurent des Combes.

At Château Grand Corbin, director Laure Canu works with hospitality manager Marion Millaire welcoming visitors. They are also investing in a new cellar and visitor centre at their sister property Haut-Médoc fifth growth Château Cantemerle.

As general manager of the Fayat vineyard holdings, Gwen Lucas is based at Château la Dominique in St-Emilion, where architect Jean Nouvel designed the cellar with a rooftop restaurant, La Terrasse Rouge. It has the best views of Pomerol, as well as great food. The estate also has a large gift shop to buy bottles and other trinkets.

La Maison Cardinale is the new name for Château Fleur Cardinale and Croix Cardinale. Two-time winners of the Best of Wine Tourism awards thanks to Caroline Decoster bringing her passion for nature into the design of the cellars and creating innovative guest experiences. The estate offers professional receptions and places to host seminars as well as private dining spaces, immersive winemaker tours and fun tastings for the whole family to enjoy.

It’s hard for surrounding appellations to pull visitors from St-Emilion but nearby Fronsac is managing thanks to Lisa Saunière at the stunning Château La Dauphine on the banks of the Dordogne. Visitors experience the sustainable philosophy of the certified-organic estate with a tasting in the ‘living’ pod in the park. Discover the estate in a vintage Citroen 2CV car or fly over in a light aircraft then enjoy a picnic in the grounds, by the pool or lunch in the 18th century château.

Lisa Sauniere at Château de la Dauphine

Lisa Sauniere at Château de la Dauphine

Then head to Château George 7, where British winemaker Sally Evans serves sunset apéro platters on the terrace of her boutique winery.

Sally Evans Château George 7

Sally Evans at Château George 7

The Médoc

Owned by five sisters and managed by Armelle Cruse, you couldn’t find a more ‘feminine property’ than Château Le Taillan which opened to visitors over 20 years ago and now welcomes over 10,000 a year. Cruse’s daughter Tatiana Falcy organises weddings and receptions in the ancient cellars and the beautiful historical monument that is still their family home.

Armelle Cruse and Tatiana Falcy

Armelle Cruse and Tatiana Falcy

Margaux has a long list of dynamic women, Daisy Sichel who heads up Château Angluet with their informative tours by electric golf buggy and terrace tastings, Lise Latrille longtime deputy director at fourth growth Château Prieuré Lichine which offers both public and private tastings as well as lunch in the grounds and Marie-Laure Lurton at Château La Tour de Besan who is renovating her cellars for a new visitor experience.

A team of women welcomes you to Château Marquis d’Alesme. Aymone Fabre joined owner Nathalie Perrado and winemaker Marjolaine de Coninck to create a unique experience with Melissa Cobbold. Enjoy private tours and tastings as well as a gourmet break at La Table de Nathalie where visitors can sample food prepared from ingredients picked from the grounds that morning. There’s also a children’s treasure hunt looking for the lost senses of the dragon, a key symbol at the estate bridging the East and West and emphasising the family’s dual Franco-Chinese culture.

Marquisse d'Alesme'd Aymone Fabre & Melissa Cobbold

Marquis d’Alesme’s Aymone Fabre & Melissa Cobbold

As an architect and landscaper (look out for the giant wellington boots) Céline Villars-Foubet created a water mirror running through the park of the family property Château Chasse Spleen in Moulis to enchant guests as they arrive for tours and tastings. The estate also offers a wine bar, art gallery and guest rooms in the 18th century ‘chartreuse’.

Veronique Dausse, general manager at Château Phélan Ségur in St-Estèphe, entertains in the château dining room but also in the kitchens, where guests explore the cuisine of the Médoc with ingredients fresh from the estate gardens. Visitors can also experience interactive tours from vineyard to cellar as well as tastings.

At Château Beychevelle, fourth growth estate in St-Julien, hospitality manager Christine Pinault offers a private welcome in the elegant salons of the ‘Versailles of the Médoc’ on the banks of the Gironde. Guests can enjoy a trip back in time through the estate’s three centuries of history and get a guided tour of the new winery whose design is in homage to the Duke of Epernon’s love of sailing boats.

Bordeaux wine tourism might have started small a few decades ago but with these inspiring and resourceful women it’s now big business.


Related articles

Best sparkling wines for Mother’s Day

Decanter Bookmarks: Things to read, watch and listen to for wine lovers

Chinese Zodiac 2024: Which wine stars share your animal sign?

Latest Wine News