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Nuclear Charms

Margaux cru bourgeois Château Siran has been in the same family for 150 years. Yet the bluechip owners have been in Asia all that time. BEVERLEY BLANNING MW profiles one of Bordeaux’s more quirky names

Take a sharp turn off the D2 at the southern end of Margaux and you will soon find yourself by the Gironde and the sugar-pink ensemble of the 19th-century Château Siran, a property whose history, ownership anda architecture put it at the more maverick end of its aristocratic surroundings. Yet its heritage is as bluechip as they come. The property has been owned by the Miailhe family since 1859, when it was bought from the Toulouse-Lautrecs, ancestors of the famous painter. This is one of the oldest properties in the Médoc to remain in the same family. But more remarkable than this is that for the past 200 years, the Miailhe family, among the most stellar Bordeaux dynasties, has been based not here, but in Asia. The youngest and fifth-generation Miailhe, the jovial Edouard, took over the mangement of the property from his parents last year. ‘There’s a sickness in my family: we travel all the time,’ he says. He seems delighted at his new role, and plans to stay based at his home in the Philippines, travelling back to Bordeaux several months a year. He is well placed to take advantage of the Asian market. ‘It’s much easier for me to sell there,’ he explains, ‘We have history and links there.’ Not to mention the fact that, ‘Asian people enjoy French wine.’ (See p42.) The family has a long history of involvement in other Bordeaux châteaux: at one time it owned Châteaux Pichon-Lalande, Palmer and Dauzac. Miailhe says: ‘My father bought Dauzac in the 1960s after selling a small plot of land in Manila. You could never imagine that now.’ In 1978, the properties were split between Edouard’s father, William-Alain, and his sisters. He took Siran’s wines – and those of previous family-owned châteaux – are stored in a nuclear bunker (top), built by the father of Edouard Miailhe (below and right) Miailhe, the jovial Edouard, took over Siran’s wines – and those of previous Siran, and his sister, May-Eliane de Lencquesaing, took Pichon-Lalande. His other sister took some shares in Palmer, while Dauzac was sold. The last renovations to Château Siran were done by his father in the late 1970s. Now Miailhe is updating the château, meaning it will be closed to the public for several years. When it finally reopens, the cellar is worth a visit: it is probably the only one in the world housed in a nuclear bunker. Miailhe explains his father’s somewhat individual thought process: ‘In 1979 there was a nuclear scare at Three Mile Island in the US when he was building the cellar, and all the new houses in Switzerland were being built with nuclear bunkers. He thought it was a good idea.’ The cellar is accessed through a hulking, metal, submar ine-type door a foot thick. As we descend into the 30,000- bottle caver n, Miailhe says, not altogether reassuringly, that if there were a leak at the nuclear power plant the other side of Pauillac, we’d all be safe. For most of the time, though, the protection is for vintages of Siran dating back to the beginning of the 1900s and old vintages from other châteaux, notably Pichon-Lalande and Palmer. On top of the property is a ter race (and helipad) overlooking the vineyards. Siran is surrounded by classed-g rowth châteaux: Giscour s, Prieuré-Lichine and Dauzac vines are visible from here. Siran was a cru bourgeois exceptionnel before the classification was abandoned last year. I ask Miailhe if he plans to press for anew classification. ‘We just want to put Siran in the right place,’ he says, ‘but this will take several years.’ He adds: ‘Sociando Mallet doesn’t need a classification, and Pomerol has none. If you do your best, it will be recognised by the market. But please, let’s not touch the 1855 classification, at least.

Written by Beverley Blanning MW

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