Over 117.000 hectares, near to 6 million hectoliters of wine, 63 appellations… needless to say that Bordeaux is the largest AOC region in France. Several of its wines are among the world’s most renowned. The wine region is located in the Gironde department, south-west of the country.
Médoc and Haut-Médoc on the left bank of the Gironde estuary are the most famous areas. The estuary is formed from the meeting of the Dordogne and Garonne rivers, hence the name Entre-deux-Mers ("between two seas").
History of the Region
We have to go back in time to the first century AD, when the Romans founded the first vineyards in their “Burdigala” settlement (nowadays called Bordeaux). Still today, Saint-Émilion has several remains of Roman vineyards. For sure, the port of Marseille had a very important role, as around 600 BC ancient Greek sailors introduced the vines in France. In the Middle Age, Bordeaux had a monopoly in wine production and a privileged export setting towards Great Britain. This ended abruptly near Gascony on 17 July 1453; the Battle of Castillon marked the end of the Hundred Years’ War with a decisive victory over England. Afterwards, trade links with England were never restored to the glorious situation they enjoyed so far.
And then the Dutch came… famous traders as they are, they set out to sort the stony and marshy moor out and increase agricultural productivity in the area. This was around the turn of the century (1600). The following years, more merchants settled in Bordeaux, coming from all over Europe (Ireland, Flanders, Germany…).
In the 19th century, many new “Châteaus” - large houses with, often, neo-Renaissance fantasy towers - were build. At the same time, the 584 km railway connection with Paris was inaugurated (1853) and more wine transport was organized towards the French capital and the rest of Europe. The 1855 Classification started the wine structuration in France, and it is still today an ongoing process. For example, Pomerol (granted AOC in 1936) was not included in the 1855 list and it remains unclassified to this time.
Some regions like Médoc, Sauternes, Graves or Saint-Émillion have their own internal classification system.
Bordeaux became a structured region in the 20th century. The national legislation on the origin of wines was established in 1911, to avoid frauds and, at the same time, the wines from Bordeaux were officially limited to the Gironde department.
This was followed 25 years later with the foundation of the INAO to outline the conditions per A.O.C. (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée), which official decree dates from 14 November 1936. The CIVB (Comité Interprofessionnel des Vins de Bordeaux) was set up in 1948 to reunite viticulture, trade and brokerage and they now have 3 missions, Marketing & Communication and Economic and Technical issues.
In the meanwhile, the export of Bordeaux wines to the United States, greatly reduced by the Second World War, boomed again towards the end of the ‘40s. Nowadays, Bordeaux has over 400 wine merchants active and export is still increasing. More than 4 million tourists visit the area and numerous routes cover the entire Bordeaux area. Libourne, Médoc, Entre-Deux-Mers, Graves, Sauternes,… are all on the very popular wine-tourism-list.
More recently, on 31 May 2016, the French President Hollande opened the “Cité du Vin” wine museum and since 2017 Paris is only 2 hours away from Bordeaux thanks to the TGV (the French version of the high-speed-train).