You’d think that the vineyards of the south of France would be beautiful enough as they are. All that rolling lush greenness, the stunning landscape, the seemingly endless summer sun. But it turns out that a whole host of vignerons spotted an aesthetic gap in between the rows of vines, because contemporary art just keeps popping up among the grapes.
Multiple winemakers in the south of France, and further afield, have taken to using their land over the past few years as an excuse for al fresco sculptural installations. Visitors can now combine sculpture walks with their wine tastings in a combination of art appreciation and enology that few can resist.
The Commanderie de Peyrassol near Brignoles in the Var is an enormous 850 hectare property, producing over 500,000 bottles of wine a year. And dotted among its vines, you’ll find sculptures by major modern and contemporary artists including Joana Vasconcelos, Arman, Antoni Tapies, Richard Long, Jean Tinguely and Niki de Saint Phalle. There’s a Phillippe Berry hippopotamus approaching a pool of water, an enormous Gavin Turk door to nowhere, and a series of signature Bernar Venet curved steel sculptures. The project is the brainchild of vineyard owner Philippe Austruy, created in collaboration with the gallerist Valerie Bach, who treats the space as his own outdoor museum: he ‘dreamed of turning Peyrassol into a venue dedicated to contemporary art where individual works, in symbiosis with the outstanding setting, could express themselves to the full.’
A short drive to the east, at Chateau Sainte Roseline in Les Arcs sur Argens, you’ll find a chapel which is home to the desiccated remains of a local nun. But there are far less gory visual treats on offer too, including a Marc Chagall mural and sculptures by Alberto Giacometti. The vineyard itself also regularly hosts selling exhibitions of contemporary sculpture. Unlike Peyrassol, which is essentially an open air private museum, the approach at Sainte Roseline is far more like a traditional gallery, with outdoor shows or work by artists like Arik Levy and Jim Dine.
But the real jewel in the southern French vineyard art crown is the incredible Chateau La Coste near Aix en Provence. Owner Paddy McKillen has gone to huge lengths to make his vineyard a serious art destination. Artists including Liam Gillick, Richard Long and Andy Goldsworthy were invited to create works directly on site, making for an art walk unlike any other. The winery buildings are by Jean Nouvel and Tadao Ando, there are sculptures by Louise Bourgeois and Alexander Clader dotted around the place, and McKillen has even bought a handful of previous Serpentine Pavillions to place on his grounds. That’s before you even enter the temporary exhibition spaces, which have hosted work by the likes of Yoshitomo Nara, Conrad Shawcross and Tracey Emin.
These ultra-ambitious, beautiful vineyard projects in the south of France are in fact just the tip of the oenological-cultural hybrid iceberg. Major wine brands like Pommery and Ruinart invest heavily in art, and vineyards around Italy, Spain and the rest of France have been getting in on the act too.
All of these projects help to give a cultural edge to the business of winemaking. These vignerons have used art as a way of standing out from the rest of the wine crowd, and as a way to get visitors through the door. And as long as it means that there’s more art to see in the world, who could complain?
Written by: Eddy Frankel, author of ARTE Generali
Frank O. Gehry, Pavillon de Musique (Intérieur), 2008 © Gehry Partners et Château La Coste 2016. Photograph © Andrew Pattman 2016
Château La Coste - Tadao Ando, Art Center, 2011, © Tadao Ando 2015
Tadao Ando. Gate © Chateau la Coste. Photographe Andrew Pattman 2017