Saint Emilion: The Town that Sits on Top of the French Wine Trade


The early settlers of Saint Emilion managed to carve a church out of stone. That is one of the amazing discoveries this little place has in store for its visitors. With a history that can be traced back as far as the ancient Roman times, Saint Emilion is a destination that always appeals to anyone’s curiosity.

A French commune that sits on top of a hill, Saint Emilion is an easy tourist drawer. Accessible from Bordeaux, a beautiful scene unfolds at every road stretch and you find yourself actually wishing for a longer travel time (it usually takes less than an hour) just so you can satiate your senses even further.

A Heritage of Wine

Saint Emilion is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and owns the distinction of being the first vineyard to be recognized as such. It was named after a monk, Emilion, whose followers proved instrumental to what has become the commune’s viticulture today. Winemaking during his time pretty much depended on the Christians, who fortunately had religious celebrations that circled around wine.

In the Middle Ages, the wine effort produced small and somewhat isolated vineyards, as vintners experimented with grape varieties. It wasn’t until the 1800s when the locals began applying more contemporary methods in winemaking. They segregated wines according to quality and taste using the “Cru” system, which was prevalent in the surrounding areas at that time.

In the 19th century, disaster struck when Saint Emilion’s vineyards were plagued with phylloxera, killing off many of the vines. The locals knew the quality of their tipple and weren’t going to let disaster dash their dreams of establishing a powerhouse wine industry. They gained ground in the 20th century, streamlining their winemaking methods as well as the Cru system. Saint Emilion wound up with a large selection of renowned wines, and they continue to produce to this day much to the delight of wine aficionados around the world.

A Tour of Saint Emilion’s Vineyards

Any visitor who wishes to sample the wines of this renowned place may take the Boucle des Petites Histoires, a 6-kilometer stretch that passes along known vineyards.

For those who want to start safe, check out La Maison du Vin. They sell wines and other wine-related items. They carry the products of around 250 wineries and would be the best one-stop-shop for a tourist who might be in a hurry. It also features a wine school that attracts more than 1,000 students annually.

Saint Emilion’s vineyards cover more than 5,500 hectares of land that collectively produce 2.5 million cases each year. Cabernet Franc and Merlot are still the varieties most used across the commune.

The variety of wineries to choose from in Saint Emilion makes it impossible not to be overwhelmed. This article mentions just a few options that any curious traveller can try. Numerous trips are absolutely necessary if you really want to try out everything.

The Hills are Alive with these Notable Wineries

Chateau Trotte de Vieille – With an origin that dates as far back as 1453, this is one of the oldest estates in Saint Emilion. It has vines that have been around for as long as 150 years. Mostly harvesting Merlot, its vineyards also grow Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. The place’s most interesting product is the “Les Vieilles Vignes du Chateau Trotte Vieille”. Only 135 hand-etched bottles are produced per year! Currently the rarest wine in Bordeaux, this is produced by the chateau’s oldest vines in new French oak barrels.

Chateau Canon  – An intriguing history precedes this winery. First developed by Jacques Kanon, a known pirate (but politely referred to as a privateer), the vineyards were eventually purchased by the Fontemoing family, who then named the Chateau after an existing property in Frontsac (also called Chateau Canon). Chateau Canon’s Bordeaux rewards patience. Expected to taste best after 10 to 15 years, each sip is a symphony of dark berries, liquorice and spice.

Chateau Fleur Cardinale – The winery was newly acquired by Dominique and Florence Decoster in 2001, a couple who has built their fortune from the porcelain and fine China industry. This winery continues the organic and sustainable wine making process that it has traditionally adhered to over the years. Chateau Fleur Cardinale has a reputation of consistent quality as a result of its laborious wine making traditions.

Chateau Haut Brisson – Starting with 8 hectares when owner Peter Kwok acquired the property, Haut Brisson now cultivates 12.94 hectares of vineyard. A believer in microvinification, Haut Brisson wines are fermented in small batches, a practice they first started just in 2012. Their Haute Brisson La Grave was also certified organic in 2010. Now managed by the original owner’s daughter, Elaine Kwok, this winery promises to be a force to contend with in the Saint Emilion wine trade.

The people in Saint Emilion know and love their wine. The Spring Wine Festival or the Jurade de Saint-Emilion in June embodies the commune’s love affair with its viticulture and speaks of its deep friendship with the English people. This features a parade down the street, highlighted by the gathering of its Grand Council to blind-test wines. A bunch of grapes (black balloons really), are released into the air to cap the activities to symbolize future harvest. Ban des Vandages or the Vintage Festival, on the other hand, celebrates the autumn grape harvest in September.

From past to present, the story of this little town on top of the hill has centred around its wine, and as it appears, the rest of the world wants a piece of Saint Emilion tipple. Wine lovers can do so either by heading to the storied town or flying to Singapore to check out its much celebrated wine cellar in Singapore Wine Vault. In any case, the wines are built to charm the taste buds and evoke extreme emotions of joy.