L’élegant Desmirail, dont la trame serrée
Laisse échapper le feu d’une liqueur ambrée
What elegant and amber wine so inspired the poet Pierre Biarnez (1798 – 1874) to write of its fire? The obvious (well, he does declare his hand in the first line) answer is Château Desmirail, although the modern face of this property – all cellars and no château – is not one so elegant that you might think it would inspire such prose.
The cellars, behemothic in their proportions, dirty and somewhat unkempt, capped with wild vegetation, sit at the heart of the village of Cantenac, looming menacingly over the road below. A huge temple to work and industry, it always struck me that these cellars, with their tall and oppressive presence, would not look out of place in some grim Orwellian novel. Look more closely, though, and beauty is revealed; in some parts they are ornately detailed, and these parts are in truth very appealing to the eye. In the course of this examination we can also see that these cellars belong to Château Desmirail, the name painted onto the grimy stone.
These roadside cellars (pictured above) hide a complex story though, a clue to this strange tale coming in the inevitably fruitless hunt for the château that should surely accompany these cellars. It is nowhere to be seen. In this profile I recount the story of Château Desmirail, its lost château, its 20th-century demise and its modern-day revival.