Jane Anson finds out what's been changing at Château Siaurac on the Bordeaux right bank...
The small team of smartly dressed Parisians from Christie’s auction house, with their measuring tapes and notepads, are buzzing from room to room in Château Siaurac. It couldn’t be better scripted to signpost the ‘significant, but still a minority shareholding’ investment by François Pinault’s Artemis Group in March 2014. Christie’s is, of course, the auction house that has sat within Pinault’s sprawling business empire for almost 30 years.
This modest corner of a modest appellation barely makes a ripple in Pinault’s US$40 billion business empire, that spans Gucci and Stella McCartney to the Theatre Marigny in Paris and the Palazzo Grassi in Venice. But that doesn’t mean that the investment didn’t get plenty of column inches in Bordeaux. The vineyard holdings within Artemis have to date been highly selective. Besides the Pauillac flagship of Château Latour are Domaine d’Eugenie in Vosne-Romanée, Château Grillet in the northern Rhône and Araujo Estate in Napa. Even the most charitable observer would have to say that Château Siaurac doesn’t quite fit this pattern. At 46 hectares, it’s the largest estate in Lalande de Pomerol – but not one that had set hearts on fire any time recently.
Two years later, and on one level it’s business as usual over here. This has long been one of the most vibrantly tourist-friendly properties on the right bank and it continues to be so. From April 2016, La Table de Siaurac will offer a restaurant service – advance bookings only – and when I was there, a family was just being set up on a table to eat outside in the spring sunshine, overlooking the park and 19th century formal gardens. The outside spaces here have been recently designated a Jardin Remarquable, one of only eight in the Gironde region, and the house itself was awarded the Monument Historique label at the end of 2015. Both of these developments were being lobbied for several years, and would have happened without the arrival of Pinault. It’s certainly a far cry from the gatehouse guard that watches over Latour.
Behind the scenes also, still-majority-owner Paul Goldschmidt remains at the helm and the commercial distribution of Siaurac and his other two properties Vray Croix de Gay in Pomerol and the classified Le Prieuré in St-Émilion, which continues through Bordeaux merchants in the en primeur system. But he is happy to admit that, below the surface, the influence of the Artemis money and expertise has given him room to breathe – and perhaps to enjoy the three estates – for the first time in years.
Goldschmidt made no secret of the fact that he sought an outside partner to relieve financial pressure. The vineyards had been in his ex-wife’s family since 1832, and they bought the shares held by other family members in 2007.
Although financial details of the investment were not made public, we can assume that things are different now, and for any of us interested in the influence of money on terroir (and let’s not pretend one doesn’t help the other), Siaurac is going to make a fascinating case study over the next few years.
‘The arrival of François Pinault and Artemis has meant we can now take a different approach to risk,’ says Goldschmidt. ‘So where we might previously have not taken chances with ripening of the grapes if there was rain forecast, we are able to push things by a few more days. And where we might not have cut yields, or been so drastic in the selection after harvest, we can now do so.’
For a start, Penelope Godefroy – an agronomist who worked previously at Latour as well as Pinault’s Rhône and Burgundy estates – has gamely moved over to the right bank, and is in charge of the technical direction of the three châteaux. Godefroy is part of a strong team of women that Artemis has in place making technical decisions – Hélène Mingot in Napa, Hélène Génin at Latour, Sophie Mage at Château Grillet and Jaeok Chu at Domaine d’Eugenie.
The first thing she did here was introduce the house philosophy into the vines, changing all farming at Vray Croix de Gay and Le Prieuré over to biodynamics in one fell swoop. These are relatively small properties – 3.67 hectares spread over two gravel plots in Pomerol and 6.24 hectares on the limestone plateau of St-Émilion – and certainly prestigious terroirs, so clearly merited the change.
And where Latour has Eric Boissenot as a consultant, Siaurac is now one of the few estates on the right bank to have secured the services of the iconic Jean-Claude Berrouet, ex Pétrus (the chateaux lie less than half a mile apart, and in the past Siaurac was distributed by Moueix, so Berrouet has known the wines for over 40 years). Berrouet tells me that the call came from Latour’s CEO Frédéric Engerer just after the investment was finalised and that his role is simply to ‘offer my experience to Penelope on how the right bank soils behave’. Berrouet’s Irouleguy estate, Herri Mina, has been farmed biodynamically for the past seven years, and there is surely nobody better suited as an advisor and guide.
Horses are already roaming in Le Prieuré, but things are going to take longer at Siaurac. All pesticides and herbicides have now been stopped, but it will take time for the soils to recover, and they have set themselves a five-year time frame to slowly move over to 100% organic farming. A new orchard was planted last year, while beehives give a small production of honey, and a sharply-tanged marmalade comes from the line of orange trees in a particularly sunny spot.
All this means that for today, Siaurac remains the distant third in the triumvirate. But Lalande de Pomerol has a buzz around it, with increasing recognition for wines such as Château Angélus’ La Fleur de Boüard, Château de Chambrun, Benoit Trocard’s L’Ambrosie and above all Denis Durantou’s Les Cruzelles. There’s no doubt that the Latour name has added a serious amount of weight to the idea of Lalande de Pomerol being the next big thing in Bordeaux – the modest appellation where the smart money goes.
Updated 12:00pm 08/04/2016 to clarify that Silvio Denz no longer owns Château de Chambrun.