Château La Coste: A Modern Take on Art and Wine
Nestled in the rolling hills north of Aix-en-Provence is one of France’s most artistic and state-of-the-art cuveries—the Château La Coste. Now, the idea of combining art and wine isn’t exactly new. For decades, wineries from all over the world have held their wine tastings in whitewashed art galleries, in a bid to get aesthetes and wine enthusiasts in the same room. Oftentimes, these wineries discover that they’re pitching to one and the same crowd.
Now, what sets Château La Coste apart from its contemporaries is its unique take on the art-wine concept. Far from showcasing art installations in a single viewing/tasting room, much of the 250-hectare estate is used as an art and architecture trail. Thoroughly modern, and sometimes, futuristic sculptures join centuries-old architecture on the gentle slopes of the vast vineyard. This juxtaposition of the modern and the traditional is also a reflection of the château’s approach to winemaking and wine storage.
Singapore Wine Vault takes an in-depth look at Château La Coste and its top offerings. Join us as we explore this charming and delightfully modern wine estate.
Château La Coste Reborn: From Family-Owned Vineyard to Modern Château
Like the vast majority of cuveries in the region, Château La Coste was, for a long time, a family-owned vineyard. The last owners of the winery held on to the property for 70 years, before Irish tycoon, Paddy McKillen, purchased the estate in 2002. The Belfast native is a well-known property magnate with a keen eye for modern art and architecture. Since his acquisition of the domaine, McKillen has set out to transform the vineyard into a glorious haven for wine and art lovers.
Since 2004, McKillen has been commissioning some of the art world’s biggest names to make custom pieces for the property. Pritzker Architecture Prize winners, Renzo Piano and Jean Nouvel, are credited for modernizing the estate’s infrastructures. Renzo Piano was invited to make the winery’s über-stylish exhibition area and wine cellar. While Jean Nouvel, brought a touch of modernity to the château’s 17th century Provençale buildings by adding high-tech, winemaking chai to the estate in 2008.
When Château La Coste finally opened its doors to the public in 2011, the winery immediately generated buzz in the international wine community. Wine connoisseurs found themselves intrigued by the domaine’s distinctive design and exceptional approach to creating wine.
A Contemporary Twist to Traditional Winemaking
The history of wine production in Provence is one that stretches back to the ancient times. In fact, visitors of Château La Coste can still find remnants of the province’s early start in winemaking, with ancient pathways and walls scattered throughout the large estate. Add an ancient chapel at the top of a hill and the property’s original 17th century rose-pink villa, and you may come upon the impression of a traditional vinery.
But one look at Nouvel’s chai, ought to dispel any notions of ancient winemaking practices. These sleek, dome-shaped stainless steel and aluminum structures, which house the estate’s wine and winemaking equipment, speak volumes of the owners’ attitude towards wine production. The facility’s unconventional construction is meant to help reflect the sun’s hot rays, thereby protecting the fermenting tipple from baking. Huge, gleaming, metal barrels are lined up in the winery, amid state-of-the-art machinery. This new winery is complemented by the contemporary pavilions designed by Tadao Ando and Frank Gehry.
Despite the château’s undoubtedly modern stance on wine production, it follows the basic organic and biodynamic principles of vine-growing. The grapes are still cultivated, hand-picked, and observed using the lunar cycle. Its foremost vintner, Matthieu Cosse, also puts primary importance on understanding and respecting the estate’s terroirs.
Our Wine Recommendations
To explore the entirety of Château La Coste—from its winery to its art and architecture trail—you’ll need to spend hours in the estate. However, if you find yourself with just enough time to grab a few bottles and sit for a quick tasting, we recommend indulging in the following tipples.
Rose d’une Nuit. (70% Grenache, 20% Syrah, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon). Provence is known for its abundance of easy-drinking rosés. But what we love about Château La Coste’s Rose d’une Nuit is that it offers a complexity that we find lacking in most of the Provence rosés we’ve sampled before. This wine is a delicate pink in color, and has a mouthwatering white fruit and berry aroma. At first sip, you can immediately detect generous notes of raspberries and strawberries, balanced off by the acidity of freshly cut herbs. The lack of tannins allow for a smooth mouthfeel and a long, refreshing finish.
Grand Cuvée Château La Coste. (50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 50% Syrah). The Grand Cuvée Château La Coste is a rich and complex drink that goes exceptionally well with a myriad of meat dishes. With its large notes of candied and crushed blackberries, black cherries, and blackcurrants, this wine is bold and intense enough for the most discerning of red wine drinkers. Adding to its layers of flavors is a surprisingly pleasant earthiness that will have you smacking your lips as you savor this treat.
Grand Vin White. (60% Vermentino, 30% Sauvignon Blanc, 10% Chardonnay). Crisp and complex, the Grand Vin White is sure to be a wine cellar favorite for white wine lovers. Hints of grilled, candied oranges and lemon zest add both sweetness and zing to this tipple. While subtle notes of minerality help cut through the acidity of its citrus fruit flavors. Though silky smooth in the mouth, this wine has enough weight for a satisfying and fresh finish.
The Must-See Art and Architecture Trail
When McKillen began expanding the winery and adding modern artwork throughout Château La Coste, he was basically enhancing the beauty of an already magnificent estate. Aside from the ancient and contemporary infrastructures dotting the landscape, the domaine is also home to a number of fruit orchards, olive groves, and an outdoor kitchen garden—all of which highlight the bucolic ambiance of the vineyard.
For those feeling a bit peckish, the château has an on-site restaurant that offers simple meals and homemade pastries. The restaurant, called Café Tadao Ando is named after its architect. Ando also happens to be one of the most prolific contributors to the estate’s art collection.
While those keen on exploring the domaine, particularly its chai, can choose to either (a) walk the grounds on their own, or (b) take a guided tour. Since visitors will be paying an entrance fee to the property, the château is offering its guided tours for free. The tour generally takes around two hours, so be sure to wear comfortable walking shoes.
Should you decide to take a leisurely stroll through the grounds sans guide, we recommend thoroughly exploring the art and architecture trail. See, some of the sculptures are so well-integrated into their surroundings, that it’s easy to miss them. Take Michael Stipe’s “Foxes,” for example. Because these seven bronze foxes appear to be a natural part of the estate’s woodland, you might pass them by as you rush to the next artwork. That would be too bad, as the former R.E.M. frontman’s installation is actually pretty clever.
Aside from “Foxes,” other must-see installations include: Tadao Ando’s hypnotic work, “Four Cubes to Contemplate Our Environment;” Tom Shannon’s “Drop,” which reflects a distorted vision of its surroundings; Andy Goldworthy’s breathtaking “Oak Room,” with its woven tree branches and nest-like feel; and Louis Bourgeois’ “Giant Crouching Spider,” which is poised on the property’s infinity pool. Now, those are just some of the many, awe-inspiring installations in the estate. So, don’t just take our word for it. See for yourself!
Recent Reviews for Château La Coste
C’est magnifique! My husband and I visited the chateau thinking it was just another winery in Provence, (we’ve been to a couple beforehand). It really wasn’t! (In a good way, of course!) Lunch at the café was good, but what really made our trip was the wine and the exhibit. I’m trying to convince the hubby to come back next year. 😉
Tweedybird58; San Francisco, California
Good wine. Superb art—especially the spider. We did the English tour, wine tasting + sculpture walk. Took about 4 hrs total. Very beautiful place, wonderful view of the countryside. The staff at the tasting are also v. nice. Definitely worth the visit, so go!
John B; Dublin, Ireland
Château La Coste is open every day from 10am to 7pm. For English tours, visit the estate on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, at 1pm.