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Château La Coste: a passion for wine, art and architecture

With a winemaking heritage stretching back to Roman times, enriched by a bastide built in 1682 by the Bishop of Aix, Château La Coste in Provence is today a 3,000-acre community of wine, art and architecture, thanks to the efforts of its current owner Irish entrepreneur Paddy McKillen.

Based in Le-Puy-Sainte-Réparade, McKillen’s vision was to build a sustainable wine estate in the Provence that works both aesthetically and functionally in harmony with the wild landscape and peaceful surroundings, producing wines using the best technology and respecting the soil, vines and biodiversity for sustainable growth.

In 2006, McKillen appointed Matthieu Cosse, who came with a reputation established in Cahors at Domaine Cosse Maisonneuve as its oenology engineer, to transform the vineyards and upgrade its winemaking practices. A detailed soil analysis was performed to ensure best matching of variety to soil type. Château La Coste has been organically certified (French AB) since 2009 and having followed biodynamic principles for a while, the team is now set to engage in the biodynamic conversion process.

With ‘carte blanche’ to do whatever he felt necessary to achieve the high standards set by McKillen, Matthieu has made significant improvements to the quality of the wines, especially at the high end cuvées: Bellugue, Les Pentes Douces, Grand Vin and Grande Cuvée. Average yields are kept low, with 35 hl/ha for reds, 40hl/ha for whites and 50 hl/ha for rosés. The Grande Cuvée red is made from 50% old vine Syrah and 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, produced at very low yields, seeing 18 months in a mixture of new, one and two year oak barrels. This is a relatively new cuvée by Matthieu, limited to about 1,000 bottle production at the moment. The Grand Vin white is an IGP wine, as it has incorporated 10% Chardonnay and 30% Sauvignon Blanc, to lend aromatic familiarity and fleshy body to crisp Vermentino (60%), still retaining sound minerality and remarkable freshness from a land that basks in glorious Provencal sun. While excessive dryness is not an issue today, the challenge to nurture young vines to reach their potential remains.

Inaugurated in 2008, the state-of-the-art gravity-fed cuverie, designed by Jean Nouvel, allows the winemaking process to follow the estate’s philosophy of nurturing this natural expression of terroirs. The two giant cuverie buildings, made of corrugated aluminium with insulation, measure 10 metres high and 17 metres deep below ground to house the vats. Although renewable energy is not a reality yet at La Coste, McKillen and the team have already installed a water purification plant and are studying waste recycling to further reduce carbon footprint.

Visiting the Château any day, one will see visitors and families enjoying a day out at the estate, which boasts a collection of modern artworks and creations of architecture by artists and architects from around the world, dotted over the premises. One needs to take a tour to visit all of them – two hours are recommended for this walk. The Tadao Ando Centre, laid out on a V-shaped plan, conceived by the eponymous architect is the art centre of the estate, housing the reception area, bookshop and cafe. The Japanese master’s signature elements, especially the interplay of exterior and interior spaces, are incorporated into this structure to create an experience of light and space in nature.

The centre overlooks an infinity pool that hides the underground carpark. On a recent visit, dbHK experienced the Oak Room by Andy Goldsworthy: a hemisphere-shaped cavern dug inside the sides of the hill, with the walls lined with continuous oak tree branches. One needed to adjust the eyes with help from the natural light coming in through the narrow opening, to be able to admire this artistic wonder in stunned silence.

One could not miss the giant Crouching Spider by Louise Bourgeois in the infinity pool, Frank O. Gehry’s Pavilion de Musique across the field, the hilltop small chapel by Tadao Ando, or Sean Scully’s Wall of Light Cubed, and many more. The art and architecture project at La Coste has developed in an organic way over the last 10 years. Each artist or architect was invited to La Coste by McKillen to experience the beauty of the landscape and was encouraged to find his/her own unique spot on the premises, and to design a piece of work that would best express the location and the experience. One can say the landscape of La Coste is an evolving one, with each visiting artist or architect adding a distinct and unique feature to the estate.

Local organic and seasonal fresh produce is integral to the design of the Provençal and Mediterranean-themed menus at both dining outlets at La Coste (the more casual outdoor La Terrasse and the more urbane Tadao Ando Café). dbHK was delighted to see La Tarte Tropézienne on the menu too, for that extra Mediterranean touch.

McKillen has already embarked on the next project which will see his hospitality expertise applied to La Coste, through the development of Villa La Coste consisting of 28 individual villas, with a gourmet restaurant, club house and spa, on a hillside site overseeing the vineyards. dbHK was told La Coste should welcome its first resident visitors as early as Easter 2016.

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