Château Smith Haut Lafitte is no stranger to contemporary art; the owner, Florence Cathiard, shares her collection with visitors as they wander through the vines and the château – one of the leaders of wine tourism in Bordeaux. She has been systematically adding a piece a year to her collection over the last twenty-six years since they purchased this classified growth of the Graves.
It is no surprise then that the Chateau has taken a step further into the world of art, opening a new ‘Land Art’ installation – The Forest of the Five senses. This new venture is hidden away in eight hectares of woods between Château Smith Haut Lafitte and neighbouring Château Le Thil, which was acquired by the family in 2012 and is now a ‘guest lodge’ for clients of Les Sources de Caudalie.
I stumbled upon the project a couple of weeks before it opened when visiting their ‘stealth cellar’ built in these woods, with Wine Maker Yann Laudeho. This completely carbon neutral winemaking and ageing facility was created for their second wine, Les Hauts de Smith, for the 2013 vintage. With its vegetal roof and hidden in an old gravel quarry, it is completely integrated into the natural environment.
I asked what the new raised pathways being built were for. “All will be revealed” he said and it was; a couple of weeks later, they opened their new natural sculpture walk.
It is designed as a walk through the woods, accompanied by local artists whose pieces are installed here. It takes about two hours to wander through, especially if you pay attention to all the surprises. The park of Château Le Thil, with its classified collection of old trees, can be seen at the end of one alley, a contrast to the contemporary pieces.
These include ‘The Vortex’ by Durante and Segond; a giant spider web of stainless steel hanging between two trees and the creations of José Le Piez on the singing island, which uses your sense of hearing as well as sight (and balance to get across on the little ferry). He has also created an ear trumpet installed above one of the little streams that amplifies the sounds of bubbling water.
Its not all new art. Tucked away are old vestiges:a witches seat from an old tree, the old drainage channels, what looks like the remains of a chapel above a spring.
There is also a ‘palombiere’, the traditional hide built by hunters to catch the seasonal doves. They are too eco friendly here for hunting but it shows the old skills using wood and bracken to create a dwelling that is perfectly hidden away.
And they have nothing if not a sense of humour; Gulliver’s Skis by Cyrille Menei is a nod towards the past career of M & Mme Cathiard as ski champions and talking of giants there’s an enormous footprint created by the gardeners. With the goats, lamas and chickens in the farmyard and the majestic working horses used to plough the vines, there is something for all ages, guaranteed to bring out the wonder of nature and the child in us all.
There is a nod to wine of course, as well as being a showcase for young artists, it is also a shop window for the Cathiard’s respect for the for biodiversity in their vineyard. Towards the end of the walk, there is a cottage ‘The Tisanerie’, where the herbs and wild plants, used in biodynamic preparations for the vines, are dried and stored. Close by is an aromatic garden planted with herbs and flowers that represent the different aromas found in their red and white wines as well as some of the ingredients used in the creation of the Caudalie cosmetics.
It is altogether a peaceful antidote to the rush of everyday life and a welcome change of pace from more classic cellar tours and chateau visits. Follow the path on your next wine tour of Bordeaux.