The Cotes de Bordeaux Saint Macaire lie on the right bank of the River Garonne, south of Bordeaux and are named for the medieval town of Saint Macaire. The vineyards cling to the steep rugged hills around the town and the soils are mainly calcareous and sandy clay resting on a limestone base. Saint Macaire produces sweet and semi sweet (Moelleux) white wines that are elegant, fine and aromatic with good balance and freshness. They have delicate notes of musk and aromas of toasted almonds, lemons, oranges, green apples, acacia blossom and vanilla. Today Saint Macaire also produces red wines under the Bordeaux and Bordeaux Superieur AOCS.
Well known for its reds in the past, strangely enough Saint Macaire also has an incredibly rare red grape named after it. This long lost Bordeaux grape may be extinct in its homeland thanks to the Phylloxera epidemic of the late 19th century but a few wines are still being made with the Saint Macaire grape in Australia and California. Presumably the grape found its way to the New World with the colonists who were eager to recreate wines in the new territories.
The town of Saint Macaire itself is built on a rocky promontory overlooking the alluvial plain. In the past the River Garonne lapped at the foot of its southern ramparts but its course changed in the 18th century, moving 250 metres to the south. Originally, Saint Macaire was a Gallo Roman town with the name of Ligéna but it took the name of Saint Macaire in the 4th century after the holy man of Greek origin “Makarios” (meaning Blessed) who was a disciple of Saint Martin of Tours.
Makarios was born into a family of Greek merchants established in Rome and came to evangelize the people of Aquitaine. He settled in Ligéna and died there about 430 and was buried in the chapel of St. Laurent. Between 1027 and 1037, his body was transported with great pomp by William of Aquitaine to be reburied in the Cathedral of Saint Andre de Bordeaux.
Saint Macaire began to expand and thrive in the 11th century thanks to the simultaneous construction of a fortified chateau (now long gone), on the orders of the Duke of Aquitaine, and the establishment of a Benedictine Priory. The vineyards of the Côtes de Bordeaux Saint Macaire developed over the centuries under the influence of the Benedictines and the Garonne provided the main axis of communication and trade route during the Middle Ages.
Under British rule in the 12th century Saint Macaire entered its greatest period of prosperity and was endowed with the coveted wine privileges that exonerated the fees and taxes on the wine produced from their vineyards. The town became a bustling merchant city and built fortified walls – which still stand – were constructed to safeguard it. Some of the 13th century merchants houses are still dotted amongst the old quarter today. If you visit Saint Macaire you will also find the 12th century limestone Church of Saint Sauveur which was constructed on the site of the chapel Saint Laurent built by St Paulinus of Nola and the cloister of the Benedictine Priory, which lies on top of the former monastery and Roman remains.
On the eve of the French Revolution Saint Macaire had become a town of artisans as well as merchants with trade between Bordeaux and the Caribbean profiting the town. It quarried stone which was sold to Bordeaux and the Pont de Pierre there is built with stone from Saint Macaire. However, the stone trade eventually faded, firstly because the quarries dug under the town were too deep and threatened the collapse of several houses, and secondly because monuments – such as the chateau – had fallen foul of the industry and had been dismantled, resulting in the practice being banned. Between the two wars Cooperage became the town’s major industry and nowadays the main emphasis is on promoting their wines to the outside world.