Jean Nouvel chai smallChâteau La Coste, near Aix, is a provençal vineyard with a difference: in its wine-making techniques, in the types of wine it produces and in its extraordinary art trail.

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This is a review of the winery tour; click here to read about the art and architecture dotted around the vineyards and surrounding hills.

As elsewhere in Provence, wine has been made in this region for millenia, and remnants of ancient walls and pathways and fragments of Roman amphorae and wine cups have been found on the estate.

Château La Coste had been in the same French wine-making family for 70 years before it was acquired by the Irish property magnate Paddy McKillen in 2002. Things changed very dramatically after the purchase.

To begin with, Jean Nouvel, the leading French architect, was commissioned with designing a new chai, a building to house the wine-making equipment and cellar. He devised two sleek and gleaming, barrel-shaped structures in aluminium and stainless steel, designed to reflect the baking summer sun and keep things cool inside (one of them is pictured top left).

The 17th century villa at Chateau La Coste near Aix en ProvenceWe were rudely reminded a bit of Nissen huts, the prefabs that sprouted in Britain during the two World Wars. But make no mistake, these are very upmarket versions.

Inaugurated at the grape harvest of 2008, Nouvel's chai could hardly stand in sharper contrast to the estate's original 17th century Venetian-style villa in rose-pink stone, pictured, which stands nearby amid a cluster of farm outbuildings with provençal tiled roofs.

The wine-making process, too, mixes tradition and ultra-modernity. All the previous owners' equipment has been replaced by a formidable array of new state-of-the-art machinery.

But Château La Coste also has its back-to-basics side. It follows organic principles (and has an official certificate to prove the fact), and is biodynamic, a holistic approach that involves such practices as observing the lunar cycle when cultivating the vines. The grapes are hand-picked for its top-end wines.

La Coste also, very unusually in Provence, produces a small amount of cacher (kosher) wine, for wholesale only.

The tour starts in the preparation area where the grapes are sorted. From here, visitors take a tunnel and the grape must, propelled by gravity, takes a series of pipes down to a vast wine underground cellar.

The wine cellar at Chateau La Coste near Aix en ProvenceIt's dominated by towering rows of steel barrels, pictured: 76 of them, the larger ones holding 28,400 litres / 7,500 US gallons. 700,000-800,000 litres / 185,000-211,000 US gallons of wine are produced here each year.

Back on ground level, the bottling plant is fun, with lots of shiny, whirring, gurgling machinery.

Older children might like this, but you'll need to keep a close eye on them, as they'll be walking near large open wines vats and weaving through wine-makers busy at work, especially at harvest time. The tour is also unsuitable for people of restricted mobility.

On to the wine tasting (which, let's face it, is the main object of the exercise). If you're looking for a vineyard that makes typical Provence wines, Château La Coste is not that place. Its head vigneron, Matthieu Cosse, was brought into the estate to make ambitious, complex wines which age well, rather than the region's more familiar easy-drinking rosé.

Although rosé overwhelmingly dominates wine production in Provence, it makes up only half the total output at Château La Coste.

Just one of the wines is a traditional Provence-style rosé, Rosé d'une Nuit, so called because the must is left on red grape skins for just one night to give it a delicate colour.

Cosse comes from South-West France, where he still has his own vineyard in the Cahors region, and it shows in his style.

You're able to judge the results for yourself at the end of the tour when half a dozen wines of all three colours are offered for you to try. They, and others from the estate, are also on sale in the shop.

There are two winery tours in French daily and one in English on certain days (additional ones may be available on an informal basis on request). Check the Château La Coste website for timings. It takes between an hour and 80 minutes, including the tasting.

PRACTICAL INFORMATION

Where to eat and where to stay: The most convenient restaurant is Le Café de Tadao Ando. Named after the architect rather than the chef, it offers salads, pasta, simple dishes, home-made pastries and, of course, wine. There's a set menu at lunchtime.

Le Cafe de Tadao Ando at Chateau La CosteThe setting is delightful, though prices are on the high side. In fine weather the more informal outdoor La Terrasse is a cheaper option. And there's plenty of space out in the grounds for you to bring your own picnic.

If you felt like driving a short distance, L'Auberge des Savoyants has been recommended by visitors. It's open for lunch only and you'll need to book.

The Villa La Coste, an exclusive boutique hotel, restaurant and spa has recently opened in the Château grounds (the architects, Tangram, have been involved in many projects in Marseille, including the pedestrianisation of the Old Port and the restoration of the InterContinental Hôtel Dieu).

A small nearby B&B, La Cride, also offers rooms and cottages but you'll need to reserve well ahead in the high season. Book a room at La Cride in Le Puy Sainte Réparade

How to get to Château La Coste: The estate is located 15.5 km / 9.5 miles north of Aix en Provence and 45 km / 28 miles north of Marseille at 2750 route de la Cride, 13610 Le Puy Sainte Réparade. Website for Château La Coste

Note: Château La Coste should not be confused with the village of Lacoste further north in Vaucluse.

By car: From Aix en Provence, take the motorway, leaving at the exit marked Puyricard. From here follow the D14 towards Le Puy Sainte Réparade. Shortly after Puyricard, the road forks: continue on the D14 and the entrance to Château La Coste is on your left at the bottom of a hill.

The Château has a free underground car-park with 90 spaces and an open-air parking lot for overspill.

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By bus: From Aix en Provence bus station, take line 260 to Le Puy Sainte Réparade and get off at bus-stop Coopérative (before you enter Le Puy). This part of the journey takes 35 minutes and you can consult the timetable here (type Le Puy Saint Réparade in the right-hand search box).

From this bus-stop a navette (a shuttle mini-bus, included in the ticket price) will take you right to the Château. The total journey time is one hour.

The only snag is that you do have to order the shuttle bus at least one hour ahead. Telephone 0800 944 040 (a freephone number). The helpful staff at the Château will do this for you if you don't speak French. The Château's telephone number is (+33) 4 42 61 89 98

If you forget, a taxi service is available in Le Puy. Tel (+33) 4 42 50 02 32 Alternatively, you can pre-book a holiday taxi here.

 

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