Châteaux in the legendary Médoc wine-growing area are not renowned for their accessibility, but one establishment which is seeking to re...

Visiting Château d’Agassac: wining, dining, plenty of history and lots of pigeonholes

Châteaux in the legendary Médoc wine-growing area are not renowned for their accessibility, but one establishment which is seeking to reverse that trend is Château d’Agassac in Ludon-Médoc. As well as being arguably one of the prettiest châteaux on the Médoc circuit, it is also capitalising on its rich history to draw in visitors… and has recently opened a restaurant which provides a good excuse to stay that little bit longer.

Historically, the château’s roots date back to the 13th century. At the time a wooden fortress stood here, erected by local dignitary Gaillard de Gassac to protect the city of Bordeaux from the enemy (i.e. the French, as the area was under British rule at the time). It is said that the fortress was destroyed and rebuilt as a stone castle, and that the land was given to Gaillard de Gassac as a reward for his efforts, his title becoming Seigneur d’Agassac (agasse being the Gascon word for magpie; Médoc lords were frequently given the names of birds).

The lineage of the original Seigneur d’Agassac died out after a second generation, and the château and its lands were sold on to the d’Albret family, and in the late 16th century to the Pommiers (or Pomies) family. The subsequent period proved pivotal, with the addition of an upper level to the castle, completing the transformation of the fortified castle into a mansion house. A bridge over the 3-metre-deep moat was also added, substantially improving the building’s accessibility! And, importantly, the surrounding marshland was dried out and vines were planted.

The upper level linking up two towers.
After three centuries of relative stability, in 1841 the château was taken over by the agronomist Marcel Richier, who introduced techniques such as the use of trellis wires for the cultivation of vines, which went on to become commonplace around the world. Under Richier’s ownership, the château’s wines flourished and still today the period is regarded as a golden age for the establishment.

In the 1960s, the property was acquired by the Capbern-Gasqueton family, who continued to utilise the château as a residential property until 1996, by which time the cost of its upkeep became too much to bear. The mansion and its grounds were sold on to the insurance company Groupama, who over the ensuing years conducted major renovation work on the existing buildings as well as adding new structures to the property. One of the most prominent rewards for the work carried out was the 2012 award of “Monument Historique” status.

All of which brings us back to the present, and a château which has opted to open its doors to the general public seven days a week, which in itself makes it a rarity in the region. As well as conventional guided tours conducted by staff, the château has developed iPad tours featuring interactive activities and videos, with a kids’ version available for younger visitors.

Remnants of the fortified castle and (below) signs of differing construction techniques from different eras.

And there is plenty to see: the château alone deserves careful study with the narrow windows and turrets of its four towers, and the spots where building techniques from different periods meet. The visitor circuit starts out from an unusual 15th-century “pigeonnier”, the inner walls of which are dotted with 600 pigeon holes, which represented the château’s 600 hectares of land at the time (today the figure is closer to 100 hectares, i.e. 250 acres, of which a little under a half is planted with vines). Of course, visits also finish up there with the inevitable exercise in wine-tasting!

Outside and inside views of the pigeonnier!

Heading into the vineyards, the soil itself is noteworthy as there are three different types of “terroir”. Close to the château the ground is a mix of gravel, sand and clay, while elsewhere clay or sand are more prominent. Of course, this all adds differing qualities to the vines and their fruit, of which three “cépages” are produced: 50% Merlot, 47% Cabernet Sauvignon and 3% Cabernet Franc.
Gravelly ground near the château, also planted with barley for added azote.
The physical guided tour also takes in the wine production and storage facilities which have been installed in a converted sheepfold. Seeing inside does feel special, taking in sights including no less than 23 stainless steel 150-hectolitre ager tanks, and row upon row of oak wood barrels where the wine is matured on average for 15 months. The château has added a nice touch for visitors with presentation cases showing the three types of “terroir”, the resulting wine appellations and the aromas that the end-product incorporates.

The former sheepfold where wine is now produced.

The château itself is now a meeting and seminar facility that is rented out to corporate clients, but since June of this year much of the ground floor has been converted into a restaurant, La Table d'Agassac, which is already proving popular with locals and tourists alike. I hope this doesn’t read too much like an advertorial, but the restaurant has rolled out an interesting concept: lunchtime meals can be enjoyed for a distinctly affordable 16 or 25 euros, with slightly more expensive formulas on offer every evening. 

A peek behind the scenes in the restaurant kitchen.
The menu varies from day to day, dreamt up according to the available ingredients by the two young in-house chefs Jacopo Bracchi and Maria Anedda. The day I was there, delicacies included seafood risotto and guinea foul on a bed of lentils with grapes, washed down with hand-picked wines from D’Agassac and beyond. And yes, it was all rather delicious. 

Leaving the château, you can’t help thinking that D’Agassac has struck the right balance between history, wine, gastronomy and making the place as welcoming and accessible as possible to the general public. And now they can celebrate the ultimate accolade: the Invisible Bordeaux seal of approval.

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