Suburban Vineyard: Finding Haut-Brion in Bordeaux’s Pessac-Léognan

It is our last day in Bordeaux.  We had visited Graves and St-Émilion.  But we have yet to see Pessac-Léognan.

medoc-map-2010In 1855 Bordeaux merchants ranked the top houses.  Of the Premier Grand Cru (best of the best), all were in the Médoc save one in Pessac-Léognan.  Now we could debate the validity of an 159 year-old classification, but Pessac was just a bus ride from our apartment.

Midway, famed, wine-focused (and graffito-tagged) Bordeaux University passes us by:

Bordeaux University

They have some vineyards as well.

We get off the bus and hike, expecting suburbia to turn into farmland.

It doesn’t.  Just past a gas station and apartment we find this:

After the never-ending green fields of St-Émilion’s, we feel weird.  But even Bordeaux’s greatest Château is not immune to suburban sprawl.  Château Haut-Brion sits like an island of viticulture, city-bound like a high school football field.



We climb the sidewalk past painfully manicured and trellised vines.

Haut Brion Vine

Ratcheted vines

Gates bar me from nabbing grapes.  But then we reach the entrance:

This place matters.  Romans planted it.  It became the first British Claret as “Hobriono” in Charles’ II 1660 cellars.  The first tasting note of any Bordeaux, in any language, claims to have “drank a sort of French wine called Ho Bryen that hath a good and most particular taste I never met with” (1663, Pepys).  The Brits absorbed it.  Philosophers Locke and Hegel loved it.  It was the first Bordeaux shipped to the US, thanks to Jefferson, who called it “the very best Bourdeaux wine. It is of the vineyard of Obrion, one of the four established as the very best.”

Even with a few lulls and ownership shuffles, Haut-Brion maintained its top quality and price.  But we’re too sick to try it today (and Haut-Brion doesn’t do tours).

Aaron Haut-Brion

Waiting for my glass…may take a while.

So we bus back to Bordeaux, cross the Garonne River, and go to their botanical gardens.  Of course didactic garden paths wrap past islands that feature vine-related stratigraphy:


Kids love chalk!

Sick, but undeterred, we walk three miles back into town and visit Bordeaux’s History museum.


Not fun in the rain!

Past the reconstructed huts and Gaulish weapons, we find 2,000 year old grape vines and seeds:


Julius Caesar stopped by while these were growing.

I told you Romans had vines in Haut Brion.  Then upstairs we find massive wine equipment from Bordeaux’s 1850s, pre-phyloxera hey day:

Completely oversaturated, we grab dinner and head home.  Then something fantastic happens…

Next Monday we head south to Toulouse, value red wines, and later on to Andorra.


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4 Responses to Suburban Vineyard: Finding Haut-Brion in Bordeaux’s Pessac-Léognan

  1. sand110 says:

    All of the videos, reaching production level of new Cosmos, but for the infinite Bordeaux. SO,Chateau Haut Brion doesn’t offer tastings? Local restaurants must have their wines with a special menu?

  2. Sally says:

    I love all the history. Must do this tour one day

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