Wine tasting is an age-old pastime in France, especially if one lives in a region rich in vineyards like Burgundy or Languedoc. My family and I did just this when we made our way north from the Pays Basque along the Spanish border toward the city of Bordeaux, capital of the region known as Aquitaine. This region is known worldwide for its wines, so along the way my family and I made occasional stops. One stop we absolutely loved was the Château de Pitray about an hour drive east of Bordeaux.
When we arrived at the Domaine (the territories of the chateau), we drove down a long colonnade of oak trees before pulling into an open courtyard that lay before the château. We were greeted by the owner whose family has been in possession of the Domaine for nearly six hundred years. Originally constructed in the fifteenth century, the current château was renovated in 1868 by General Louis de Simard de Pitray, then count of the Domaine during the Second Empire. Redone in the romantic neo-Renaissance style, the castle stands almost four stories high with a high-pitched roof whose acute angle makes for an impressive edifice. To the left of the main building is a conglomeration of various structures which include stables, a pigeon aviary, two large stone warehouses, and a small chapel on the other corner of the open courtyard.
As we descended from the car into the courtyard, the current Count de Boigne greeted us and ushered us in through the entrance door. He apologized for the clutter; however, the rooms were immaculately decorated with antiques and oil painting portraits documenting the ancestry of the noble family. As a family in the antique business, my family was in awe of the treasures that seemed to be at home in this great house. The countess, a woman in her seventies at least, was on the phone with a relative, so we were given free rein to explore the foyer and grand hall. Upon entering the dining room however, we were all floored by an enormous hand carved ship’s bow that formed a heraldic crest with the cross of Saint Andrew dividing the central emblem into four quadrants with leopard heads in each one. Below was a hand carved banner with the motto “Dieu y Pourvoira” or “God will Provide” on it. The Count noticed our curious look of disbelief and promptly explained that this colossal sculpture had once been affixed to the ship’s bow of one of the twelve ships under the command of the Count d’Estaing, admiral of the French fleet sent to North America to blockade the British during the American War of Independence. A solemn moment overcame us as we all realized how far the relationship of our two great countries has gone back.
After reviving our senses from the shock of history’s weight, we proceeded toward the grand balcony at the back of the château giving view onto a very large field with bales of wheat lying haphazardly about.
The Countess had just finished her phone call and met us with a warm greeting. We all sat for a while and talked for we had many questions for her since the property was rightfully hers. Pitray impressed us in every way, and we did finally get to the wine tasting!
The conclusion of our visit was our opportunity to secure a few bottles to put aside for our Christmas dinner this year. Fine memories to go with fine wine.