AIX-EN-PROVENCE — Here, the vineyard traces the pathways of art. It usually is the other way around, whereby a well-known vineyard expands its activities (rooms for rent, a restaurant, exhibitions) to attract more wine buyers. But at Château La Coste, 15 kilometers from Aix-en-Provence in southeastern France, the cultural offer is so rich that people sometimes come just for that. The good news is that the wines are are often still extraordinary.
At La Coste, visitors can spend two hours, four hours, or even a whole day; you can lunch and dine outdoors, have some tea, lie on the grass under the stars and watch a Woody Allen or Coen Brothers' movie; attend a concert or a lecture; buy books; wander in the vegetable garden or explore the wine cellar; see buildings designed by famous architects and numerous works of art. As of last December, you can even spend the night in sumptuous villas. Hang around, the place encourages it. Château La Coste is a magnificent site that enjoys 300 days of sunshine a year.
At the center of the property is a long, stripped-down building designed by the Japanese architect Tadao Ando. It is surrounded by an artificial lake, with a three-meter wide spider that seems to be dancing before your eyes: it was sculpted by the legendary Louise Bourgeois. There is also a black, yellow and red mobile by Alexander Calder.
The vineyard occupies about half of the 123-hectare Château La Coste estate. Most of the art and architecture promenade takes place on a hill covered in downy oak. The cost for visitors is 15 euros, and picnicking is strictly forbidden. "The artists don't like it," says one member of the Château staff.
Attracted by all that is perfect.
Starting with the bridge built by Larry Neufeld, cross over a large void, then sink into a dark lair, enter strange buildings, discover imposing sculptures, come upon golden wolves, retrace your steps when you take a wrong turn. You need to accept getting lost to see the works of world-renowned artists such as Bourgeois and Calder, as well as Richard Serra, Hiroshi Sugimoto, Sean Scully, Lee Ufan, Jean-Michel Othoniel, Tracey Emin and others. Not all of them are represented by major sculptures, but their works fit in well with the landscape.
Finally, art is also in the wine. Though Château La Coste is a recent project, wine has been produced here since 200 BC, first by the Greeks, then the Romans, then monks and Provençal counts. The site is now owned by a discreet Irish businessman, Patrick McKillen, who bought it in 2004 after making a fortune in real estate. McKillen, a friend of U2 singer Bono, also co-owns some London hotels like Claridge's, The Connaught and The Berkeley.
Mathieu Cosse, who was recruited in 2006 to make state-of-the-art wine at La Coste, says McKillen "is attracted by everything that's perfect," to explain his multiple investments. "Art and wine elevate one another," says Cosse. "We don't do tourism first or wine first or art first. It's a project that embraces it all. And it's unique in France."