Entering the property of Chateau Margui was like being teleported to fairy-tale-land where you might expect Shrek or Donkey to jump out at you with a cheesy smile. Except this was Chateauvert in the Var department of Provence, France. There was an autumn chill in the air, the bright orange and red coloured leaves from grand chestnuts and planes filled the grounds. Olive trees were heavy with their fruit turning a deep purple but not yet ready for the press.
Susan Huet, an American expat in France who works for the owner of Chateau Margui, warmly welcomed me with a comforting chat about how she loves it here. And just looking around the place I had no doubt that was true. Her boss, Marie Guillanton, is the passionate force of nature who runs the famous winery. Marie was a striking figure dressed plainly in white and had the most beautiful skin, all-natural with no make-up. She excused herself as she changed her pretty footwear to tall garden boots so she could show me around the grands jardins of the property.
We walked from the wine shop through the fruit groves – there were figs, apples, pears and pomegranates, Marie picked some ripe figs for me to try. They were perfectly sugar-sweet and melted in my mouth, I couldn’t stop at one. Marie mentioned that they were lucky not to have the pest that ate the fruits, particularly the olives, that neighbouring Chateau Miravale (the one that Hollywood couple Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt bought) had to fight one year. When I asked why, she wasn’t sure, but it may well have something to do with their disciplined practice in biodynamic agriculture, a strict organic farming method with a twist: it incorporates astrological and spiritual practices that requires rigorous adherence to the rules of the biodynamic institution of which only roughly 400 make up the wine-making members in the world today.
Through another driveway can be found the main house, the original bastide-style chateau, from the late 1700s, which has been improved upon by Marie and her family. They bought it as a ruin 13 years ago. They added a stunning chapel, moved doorways, added natural light with a back wall made entirely of glass, and left everything else uncluttered and simple.
There was little if no art hanging on the walls, the only thing I noticed was one gorgeous wooden framed antique mirror that would need several people or a machine to move it. Marie told me it was left as a present to her by the old owner.
The warm-grey painted kitchen-dining room was made opulent by two impressively large glass chandeliers that were aligned perfectly. They were probably all the room needed for light at night. During the day, the towering square panelled classic windows were all they needed.
There was a fireplace large enough to fit an adult hog on a spit (if they wanted) and a large Aga that served as both a cooking stove and heater in the winter time. They use a lot of wood to heat the place, said Marie. Without the mod-cons of today, nor of sufficient insulation, I could imagine working the fires around the chateau as being a full time job in the punishingly cold months.
All the materials used in Marie’s recreations were from recycled sources, reclaimed stones, and wood from their garden or other houses on the property. The salvaged items make shelving and fireplace mantels; the floor tiles are original terracotta tomette floors tiles, even the windows were not replaced but simply renovated. Marie chose not to use professional architects but only her creative talents and her builder’s knowledge of Provençale building principals to plan the additions. She spent a good deal of time studying the gardens and architecture of Versailles to help her structure her ideas. Add to that several years of studying art and a Master’s degree in Business Administration and you get a balanced background for chateau management. There is no doubt Marie has an innate talent to accomplish the work she is not only proud of, but clearly adores.
The most spectacular, jaw dropping moment of my visit was by far, stepping into the airy chapel with the high vaulted ceilings and three gigantic arched windows that looked over the restanques (Provencal style dry stone walls), onto the perfectly circular vegetable garden and over the horizon at the majestic Mount Ste Victoire. Every direction you looked from this chateau was like an impressionist painting. It was tasteful, natural, and classic all at the same time. But there are still unfinished projects, like the old bergerie (sheep shed) and storage houses that Marie will continue to recreate with her magical skills.
With five children, a husband, three cats, and several rabbits and chickens, she certainly doesn’t need to shop for vegetables as everything is grown on site. I could see her basket full of cherry tomatoes both red and yellow (I got to try these too and they were juicy sweet) and an abundant harvest of pumpkins and squash. Quality is all that really matters, said Marie.
It is no surprise then, that Chateau Margui has been featured on documentaries by television stations like Arte, France 3, France 2, and in world-class publications like Coté Sud, Art & Decoration, the NY Times and the Sunday Times. There is no limit to the number neither of breathtakingly beautiful photos to take here, architectural gems to admire, nor of good wine to consume.
In the past few years their biodynamic rosé, whites, and red wine have won a myriad of awards from Paris wine competitions, Etoilé Guide Hachette, Maçon, Wine Spectator, and Vinalies Internationales. I particularly liked their white wine, the L’Or des Pierres 2012, that had an oaky finish, a well-rounded dry wine that went down a treat especially after a bite of just-picked fig.
When I left Chateau Margui, I felt as though my brain had just been given a shot of dopamine; I must have been smiling the rest of the day. Chateau Margui is worth a detour for all visitors to this part of Provence.
Find out more about the Chateau Margui wines, on site shop, cookery courses and visits see the website: Chateau Margui
Susana Iwase Hanson lives in Cotignac, she teaches Sushi, looks after holiday homes and is the founder and president of Provence Living.