It took seven years to build the new chai of Domaine de La Cavale, near Cucuron in the South Luberon. I watched the 80m long 8 m high dry stone wall grow brick by brick. At times production ground to a halt due to a shortage of the right stone and I began to wonder whether the work would ever be finished.
The doors of the new chai finally opened at the beginning of the summer. Designed by architect Jean-Michelle Wilmotte, the building is a triumph. Imposing, linear, clean, modern, a simple joy to move around in. One wall is an enormous picture window looking out over the vines. In the entrance hall suspended over visitors heads is the container where harvested grapes are deposited. During the vendange (harvest) visitors can watch as the tractor arrives on the roof above their heads and deposits tons of grapes into the destalking machine.
The main tasting rooms has a luxurious feel, there are different wine tasting stations, some for blind tastings, some to teach visitors the different smells associated with different grape varieties, others where you can taste a selection of rare wines from around the world.
It’s all very impressive and as yet it’s all very empty. As La Cavale director Jean Paul Aubert explains, La Cavale is a work in progress. The doors were opened because they had to be opened some time. The business model is still under discussion.
It’s easy to look around the Luberon and draw inspiration from other big budget projects: Domaine de La Fontenille in Lauris for example, which combines oenotourism with a luxury hotel. Guests can take part in the harvest, and tour the chai etc..but what really sets the tills ringing is the room rate and Michelin starred restaurant. Similarly Chateau La Coste has invested heavily in modern art and has traditional lured customers by combining tastings with other offerings such as restaurants, events, and art walks. There is now also a new luxury hotel at Chateau La Coste.
But according to Aubert, La Cavale is a pure oenotourism play. Perhaps Le Chene Blue Extreme Wine Experience is a model they might adopt. Only time will tell. For now visitors can enjoy tastings and tours.