On the Saint-Tropez peninsula, the Château de Chausse vineyard is one of Charles Cohen’s ‘pet projects’. After making his fortune in real estate, these days the American businessman is investing in two quintessentially French passions: cinema and wine. In Provence, he’s bought a residence and a promising vineyard.
Can you tell us a bit about Charles Cohen’s background before he invested in a French vineyard?
Charles Cohen is a big name in US real estate, especially in Manhattan, Miami and Los Angeles, and is passionate about art and design. According to Forbes magazine, he’s America’s 239th wealthiest person. He’s also a great lover of cinema and an advocate of independent movies, art cinema and experimental film: he bought a catalogue of classic films (including Buster Keaton movies) with a view to restoring them. As well as owning a few movie theaters in the United States, he recently purchased La Pagode in Paris, one of France’s oldest cinemas and a designated historic monument. During his childhood, he spent his vacations with his father and grandfather near Saint-Tropez. He’s a real Francophile and a lover of Provence and wine, so it was natural that he’d look for a property on the coast. The Croix Valmer estate is an idyllic site on the Saint- Tropez peninsula. Thirty years earlier, the Schelcher family had established the Château de Chausse estate here, comprising a magnificent country house and a vineyard. Today, we produce over 66,000 bottles a year of AOC Côtes de Provence. We make white, rosé and red wines that are good for ageing, from five grape types: Rolle for white, Cinsault and Grenache for rosé, and Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah for red.
When buying the Château de Chausse estate, did you receive advice, support and/or administrative assistance from local or national organizations?
For the purchase, we were in close contact with SAFER (société d’aménagement foncier et d’établissement rural), which is involved in the management of agricultural land. Our other contact was a Provençal agricultural consultancy with expertise in setting up wine, olive and truffle estates.
What impact does the business have in the region?
There are currently three of us permanently employed on the estate. For pruning, vine maintenance and, of course, handpicking, we use local labor. We work with local companies who supply us with corks, capsules, labels and boxes. We sell our wines in the estate’s own store, via direct sales and to local restaurants.
This is a very popular region for tourists. Are you planning to tap into wine tourism?
Although the Croix Valmer estate is a gorgeous place, it’s a bit hemmed in so it doesn’t get a lot of traffic. At the moment, the cellar is open to visitors. In 2018, we want to create a route that includes a guided tour of the site, the winery, which is really beautiful, and the store, where the wines are barrel-aged, together with a tasting experience. To do all that, we need to fit out the premises and review the overall organization of the site to provide space for vehicles, modernize the entrance and create a reception room. This is a vital investment to attract some of the many tourists who visit the Côte d’Azur and introduce them to the region’s wine culture, our grapes and the selection of wines we produce.