Two years ago on a sunny day, four good friends set off on a road trip to Provence in search of Château La Coste. We didn’t really know much about the place. We did know that there would be some art within a vineyard setting, and it was along the way to our final destination, a holiday in Nice and Alsace. So we took a chance and went in search of it. Boy were we surprised when we found Chateau La Coste.
Located just north of the historic city of Aix en Provence and situated in a small valley considered to be some of the most beautiful land in France, it is huge! Comprised of 130 hectares of grapes vines, olive trees and chestnut trees with another 70 hectares of buildings, art and forest. The old bastid (meaning a farm) is from 1682 and since the 1960s the family Bordonado has made wine there. Later, in 2002 Chateau La Coste was bought by Irish businessman, Patrick McKillen and this is when things started to dramatically change. Shortly after the purchase, McKillen implemented an idea to combine great wine, art, architecture, landscape and the traditional stewarding of the land, home to Chateau La Coste. “Adhering to biodynamic principles, Chateau la Coste strives to preserve the terroir, protecting its fertility, safeguarding the essence of the soil”, is the philosophy of the place. Terroir is a French word used to describe the set of environmental and geographic factors that affect a crop. The basic principles of terroir are how climate, soil type, proximity to other plants and Geomorphology (the effect of bodies of water, mountains and valleys) on plants. It is a revolutionary way of farming yet very old in concept.
The state of the art >cuverie (winery), designed by French architect Jean Nouvel, was inaugurated with the grape harvest of 2008. But since its inception, artists and architects have been invited to visit Le Domaine to discover the beauty of the valley and be inspired. They are given the liberty of adding a piece to the collection.
Many famous artists and architects have pieces here at the winery. Louise Bourgeois’ spider statue perches on the reflecting lake as you walk towards the Art Centre designed by self-taught Architect Tadao Ando. The entire complex was launched in 2011 and comprises a welcoming point, a bookshop, art gallery and indoor-outdoor restaurant. It is an experience of light and space. The simple yet dramatic elements are one with the landscape with a gentleness that makes you think it has always been part of the land. You can even see the clouds passing by through the open circles in the ceiling of the cement ceiling blocks. A series of interior columns repeat off into the distance disappearing into the vineyard again, emphasizing the oneness with nature. His design was perfected with a perfectly hidden modern car park below the centre. No parking lot to spoil the stunning 360° view of la Provence, just the giant crouching metal spider watching you as you pass by. It may seem odd, but on site it’s quite normal, very Zen.
In the complex of Chateau La Coste, Michelin-starred chef Gérald Passédat is running the show at the Pavilion Restaurant. His menu focuses on seasonal produce from their organic vegetable garden designed by Louis Benech. Provençal and Mediterranean dishes are prepared in the kitchen and served throughout the day. There were four of us in our group for a late lunch that was out of this world. We ordered the Salade de légumes et Gambas rôties, vinaigrette au miel (prawn salad with a honey dressing) and the Risotto avec legumes (vegetable risotto) along with the Grand Vin Rosé. Sitting on the terrace with a warm breeze and the sun, what more could you ask? Everything was excellent, the space, ambiance, service, food and drinks.
Our visit was divine but that wasn’t all we experienced while there. As we ate lunch on the terrace, we heard a helicopter getting closer and closer. By the time it became evident that it was landing on the grounds, not one, not two, but six more helicopters appeared over the mountain delivering 40 more guests for lunch. What an entrance! It was spectacular. They went on to sit at one splendidly dressed all-white linen table under the Centre facing the Pavillon de Musique. That is right, they also have an outdoor concert stage hosting musicians and showing movies designed by Architect Frank Gehry.
There is of course a grand tour of all of the art installations, which must be one of the largest collections of outdoor art in Europe. The Promenade Art & Architecture tour is a two-hour walk along a path through a series of artworks and installations from contemporary artists invited to work at the Domaine. Jean Michel Othonel flanks a Chapel by Tadao Ando with a giant red Murano glass cross. “Drop” is another totally awesome piece of work by New York City Artists, Tom Shannon. It is a floating mirrored drop on a hill in a green field. I must admit though, that for several years, I actually thought this piece was by Anish Kapoor, who did Cloud Gate, which sits in Millennium Park, Chicago. But that was my bad. The tour will lead you over fabulous stone arch bridges, past grape vines into a forest, where you’ll find one of my favourite pieces, Four Cubes to Contemplate, again by Tadao Ando. Cubes filled with the words: FUTURE? RUBBISH? CO2? WATER?
The estate produces some of the region’s finest organic wines through their biodynamic practice. They produce about 12 varieties of wine and most of them are affordable. Wine is available in the US, mainly in California, New York and Miami for the moment. It is also available to order internationally online from their website. There is also a hotel called Villa La Coste for those who wish to stay on site, as well as four other restaurants including Francis Mallmann en Provence located at Villa LaCoste.
I think the biggest take away from all of this is that art does not have to stay inside. It can be outside and everywhere. And of course, never forget – Architecture is the mother of all Art.
Vivre ma France!
PS – many of the photos are courtesy of Chateau La Coste by Photographer Andrew Pattman