My first ever visit to Château Ausone was during the primeurs week, those few hectic days in early April which sees Bordeaux turn from a scene of bucolic viticultural harmony (believe it or not Bordeaux can look this way sometimes) to one more akin to a travelling circus, albeit one in which everybody is travelling in different directions. After several days visiting the leading lights of the Médoc communes, taking in the premier cru classé grandeur of Château Latour, Château Margaux, and Château Haut-Brion, Château Ausone provides a very different first-growth experience.
Approaching St Emilion from the south, on the D122, the château sits on the edge of the limestone plateau, looking down on you as you approach the town. It is reached by turning just before the road climbs through St Emilion itself; miss the turn and you will soon be lost in its granite-cobbled streets and perhaps – and this is an even worse fate – you may become embroiled in the town’s one-way system, the aim of which seems to be to deliver unsuspecting visitors to the gates of Château Angélus. The road up to Château Ausone ascends quite steeply and is very narrow, with one or two very tight turns. To your left there is nothing more than a low stone wall and, although there is only a short drop to the vines below, with the necessary manoeuvres around these tight bends it can feel as though you are on the edge of a precipice. But hold steady, and continue on, because before you know it you will be at the entrance to the château.
The property sits in a proud and elevated position, St Emilion’s version of the Potala Palace. Well, perhaps that’s overplaying it just a little. Nevertheless the elevated position of the estate does afford visitors a superb view across a vista of vines, the land falling away from Château Ausone, and rising again in the distance. Cutting through the vines is the aforementioned D122, the road by which you arrived in St Emilion. It is – unless you are here very early in the morning – usually filled with parked cars, left there by tourists who then walk the rest of the way up to the town. Beyond that the land rises again, up to a crest on top of which sits Château Troplong-Mondot and its not-so-appealing water tower which is just visible above the tree line.