John Wilson: What does the word chateau mean on a wine label?

How to Drink Better: Proprietors know term adds certain cachet to wine, so there is no shortage of chateaux

Q. What does the word chateau mean on a wine label?

A. Chateau means castle in French but in wine terms it indicates a property or estate, including the buildings, the vineyards and the wine. We are familiar with pictures of the grand chateaux (the plural has an ‘x’ on the end) of Bordeaux, but many are simple modest farmhouses. Property owners know that the term adds a certain cachet to the wine, so there is no shortage of chateaux in Bordeaux and elsewhere.

However, here’s the rub. When we see the word chateau on a label, we may think we are buying a wine made by single proprietor using home-grown grapes. But under French law, a wine made by a co-operative from various plots of vines can also be labelled a chateau.

The term is most associated with Bordeaux, but you will find it all over France and around the wine world. In Burgundy the term domaine is often used instead.


Often you will see the term mis(e) en bouteille au chateau on the label, indicating that the wine has been bottled on the premises. Bottling machines are expensive so this is often done by a mobile bottling line mounted on the back of a lorry.

You will find chateau outside of France, usually without the ‘hat’, in California in particular, but it has no specific meaning. Castle is Castillo in Spanish and Castello in Italian, but again these have no legal standing.