Standing at the foot of a full-moon shaped fountain that looks toward the entrance of Château de La Chaize—an estate and winery founded in 1676—one sees a quintessential French domain with blue shutters, a cream-colored facade, and perfectly manicured bushes that line a pathway to a door above which an haute-relief of Bacchus welcomes visitors.
What you don’t see, says Didier Repellin, the architect tasked with modernizing and restoring this historic southern Beaujolais property, is the brilliance of its original makers and artisans: The carpenters. The masons. The stonecutters, engineers, and painters. Without them, without looking to the past, it is impossible to plan and appreciate the present, let alone engage with the future.
"We sometimes forget that historical monuments are not only a date or a style of architecture, but a celebration of human genius," says Repellin of Château de La Chaize, which was classified as a historical monument in 1972. "What is not seen is what makes it stand," the architect continues. "Had it not been for the exceptional work of the masons, we would have cracks everywhere, or destruction. When we see where they started from—a medieval castle—and what they managed to rebalance, we must have total humility and respect."
Indeed, Château de La Chaize itself was built on the original foundations of another castle called La Douze, facing Mont Brouilly. In 1670, Jean-François de La Chaize d’Aix, King Louis XIV’s lieutenant, purchased the structure and hired architects Jules Hardouin-Mansart to design a new château using the tenants of the Golden Ratio—a mathematical ratio commonly found in nature that describes a perfect symmetry between two proportions. He also assigned landscape architect André Le Nôtre, gardener to the king who developed the gardens of Versailles, to adopt similar techniques when imagining the château’s green spaces.
It’s no wonder that now, centuries later, the current architect tasked with updating the grounds is more enamored with conservation than total renovation. "If it is good, why would we touch it?" Repellin says. "On the contrary, we must magnify it. This is a true opportunity to allow the monument to continue to live by adapting it to contemporary needs."
So what, exactly, has been magnified? To the untrained eye, not much. (And that, says Repellin, equals success.) But under Christophe Gruy, entrepreneur and chairman of the Lyon-based Maïa Group, who purchased the estate in 2017, the adjustments to Château de La Chaize’s core and spirit are massive. For one, the team has recreated a domain-wide entrance linked to the cellar and constructed solid walkways. A new bottling and storage facility has also been built using a 100 percent gravity-production system to ensure minimal carbon footprint from grape to bottle.
Furthermore, the entire estate is now dedicated to highlighting sustainable efforts, moving toward the use of solar panels for electricity, recycling to achieve "zero waste," geothermal water treatments, and more. When it comes to actual wine production, the goal is to be certified organic in time for the 2022 harvest. While its chai (pronounced "shay")—one of France’s oldest operating aboveground storerooms—remains intact, Repellin and his team enhanced its remarkable wooden framework to highlight the stainless-steel tanks, even adding a VIP lounge behind a glass wall.
The key, he says, is to remember that we are still here to build for humans, by humans. "A monument is a conservatory of old techniques, especially when they are good and still have things to teach," Repellin says. "We have to adapt [the structures] to today’s circumstances, but we must keep the spirit and the reason it was made."
Learn more about Château de La Chaize at chateaudelachaize.fr/en.
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