Thursday 30 October 2014

Days of wine and roses roll around in Paddy McKillen's French chateau

The property tycoon's lush vineyard in the south of France is something the Irish taxpayer should think about, writes Nick Webb

Published 26/05/2013 | 05:00

The Frank Gehry-designed glass-topped music pavilion at Chateau la Coste, the French vineyard owned by Paddy McKillen
The Frank Gehry-designed glass-topped music pavilion at Chateau la Coste, the French vineyard owned by Paddy McKillen
The Chateau la Coste
The Chateau la Coste
Paddy McKillen
Paddy McKillen

Property tycoon Paddy McKillen currently owes around €800m to Irish banks.

Having developed the Jervis Street shopping centre in Dublin, McKillen ploughed money into retail, hotels and other property interests. His stake in the Claridge's hotel group has been subject to a ding-dong legal battle with the immensely powerful Barclay brothers, British media and retail barons.

McKillen also owns or has owned a stack of interesting assets ranging from a stud farm in Kazakhstan to Japanese lifestyle retailer Muji and even Captain America's burger joint. The Northern Irish investor also owns properties in places ranging from Malibu to Doncaster and Cap Ferrat.

The low-profile 58-year-old businessman is also involved in the jaw-dropping Chateau la Coste vineyard near the village of Le Puy-Sainte-Reparade, close to sunkissed Aix en Provence on the Cote d'Azur.

If Chateau la Coste were a pop singer, it'd be Lady Gaga. The wines are enjoyed by McKillen's celebrity friends. Recently McKillen donated wines from his vineyard to a rooftop gala dinner for artist Sean Scully held in New York's Tribeca. Even Bono was there.

So what does McKillen's wine taste like? Is it any good? Given that McKillen was the largest borrower in Anglo when his personal and joint venture borrowings are combined, the taxpayer has a real interest in the continued health of McKillen's empire. And in whether the wine business will be able to continue to make a return.

The Chateau la Coste website doesn't deliver to Ireland and the wine isn't available in off licences. While two of McKillen's wines are available in the Clarence Hotel Tea Rooms, the full selection can be tried in Wagamama restaurant on Dublin's South King Street.

With three other diners, including wine writer Myles McWeeney, we went off to investigate last week.

Wagamama is located in a basement of the St Stephen's Green Shopping centre. It's a long L-shaped room with rows of tables and benches running alongside the open plan kitchen. The clientele are primarily twentysomething hipsters and early bird theatre goers.

Wagamama was hopping and we got a table down the back and ordered some jolly good prawns and squid. The gyoza was a little less amazing. Having taken on some soakage, we got to work on the wines.

The mains were a spicy ramen, a yummy chicken teriyaki, the Pad Thai special and a curry. These were followed by a chocolate pud with a wasabi kicker. All delivered with a flourish and a €196 bill. With the fortitude of a Berroca-fuelled worker bee, we managed to drink our way carefully through the wine list. There were two reds by the glass, two whites by the glass and a smashing rose by the glass. McKillen's big hitters were only sold by the bottle.

The vineyard and winery can be seen on Google Earth. It's remarkable stuff. The aluminium-clad winery was built by French architect Jean Nouvel. It was likened by the New York Times to a "spaceship, touched down in Cezanne country".

But wine is only part of the wow factor of McKillen's Xanadu complex. McKillen has spent the best part of a decade putting together an extraordinary art collection.

REM frontman Michael Stipe has contributed bronze fox sculptures to the Chateau la Coste complex. The rock link doesn't end there. Bono's pal Guggi, a former member of the Virgin Prunes, has also created a giant bowl sculpture. There's a giant crouching spider sitting in a reflecting pool, by sculptor Louise Bourgeois, plus a glass-topped music pavilion designed by starchitect Frank Gehry – the man behind the iconic Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao.

Renzo Piano, designer of London's Shard skyscraper, has been commissioned to create an "eco-friendly building" with a grass roof.

Last year fashion genius John Rocha spent months in Aix-en-Provence designing a 400sq ft glass chapel for the Chateau la Coste sculpture park, comprising 28,000 pieces of Waterford Crystal.

Truly McKillen has created something marvellous down in Provence – and the wines aren't bad either. The sight of a major property investor – albeit one fully servicing his loans – running such an incredible vanity project in the South of France, is one that will anger taxpayers as austerity continues to bite. But there's not a lot that the taxpayer can do about it.

'The sight of a developer with such a huge vanity project is bound to irk Irish taxpayers'

Though McKillen is one of the former Anglo's biggest clients, he's not facing a financial squeeze – so he doesn't need to sell trophy assets to pay back his loans to the state.

The taxpayer should instead hound McKillen for not maximising the vast earning potential of his splendid vineyard by selling his wine by the caseload here.

Irish Independent

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