Mixing Art and Wine at Chateau La Coste
Can decent wine be produced from a combination of Irish wealth and French grapes?
This vineyard is located just outside of Aix-en-Provence, near the town of Puy-Sainte-Réparade. Paddy McKillen purchased the old bastide and surrounding land in 2002. This is a man who knows about premium quality, he is the majority owner in several high-end hotels including London hotels Claridges and the Connaught.
The domain can be found in the Bouches-du-Rhône between the Durance River and Luberon massif. The terrain is undulating; the clay soil supports the growth of olives, oaks, pines, almonds and of course grapes. In total, the property is 123 hectares in size.
The vision to create a world-class setting for contemporary art and architectural structures along with good wine, started in 2004. Smart, or lucky McKillen, heavily invested in real estate, came through the financial crisis with only a few licks. He has plenty of cash to move forward with the dream at Chateau La Coste.
Jean Nouvel, a French architect, was hired to develop the site master plan for the vineyard. The principal buildings on the site include; an arts centre and chapel (designed by Tadao Ando of Japan), the music pavilion (Gehry Partners of the US) and buildings related to making wine. This group of world renowned architects was challenged to work within the natural surroundings and the existing buildings, including a bastide built in 1682 in the Venetian style.
The buildings are striking, but equally arresting is the collection of contemporary art sculptures found around the site. These sculptures are clearly not suitable for just any urban backyard. The artists were invited on location, to ‘breathe’ in the landscape, and let it inspire their creative juices. The permanent installation includes the likes of grand masters; Calder, Goldsworthy, Matisse, Shannon, Scully and others.
Future plans for the site include a luxury hotel and spa, a wine making (oenology) school and temporary art exhibit space. The vision is enormous, the expense certainly beyond the means of most mortals.
If the balance of the surroundings is not impressive enough, the wine is produced in an iconic curved metal building, shaped like a hanger and designed by Jean Nouvel. Given the enormous capital investment that Mr. McKillen has made on this property, he will need to sell a lot of wine for a long time. But is the wine reasonable?
Bordeaux wine producer, Matthieu Cosse joined the group in 2006. His focus is on wine production that is organic and bio-dynamic. The grape varieties planted at the vineyard are suitable for production of red, white and rosé wines. The grapes include; Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache, Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah and Vermentino. After relatively few years, in the life of wine making, the reviews seem to indicate reasonable success in creating well-balanced wine. We sampled and bought a few!
The site is now open to the public, for a modest fee you can take a self-guided tour of the art installation or a tour of the wine production facility. It is certainly worth a visit to the vineyard, and as the vision continues to become a reality it will only improve and likely so will the wine.
All images © Carolyne Kauser-Abbott