Photo: Harald Gottschalk

The Little Prince has touched millions of lives the world over with its universal tale of love and friendship, which asks us to open up our hearts and embrace the essential while reflecting on the absurdities of human nature. And as the much beloved masterpiece celebrates 80 years since its first publication in 1943, French vintner Gérard Bertrand — recently voted ‘Master Winemaker of the Year 2023‘ by The Drinks Business, an influential European drinks trade magazine — is devoting a major exhibition to this literary phenomenon.

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Antoine de Saint Exupéry (1900–1944), The Pig’s Menu, Algiers, January 1944, ink and watercolour on 6 sheets of cardboard, 22.8 x 30.3 cm. (Photo: Saint Exupéry–d’Agay Estate Collection)

“It is important to remember that the emblematic character of the Little Prince can reside everywhere,” Bertrand says. “As Antoine de Saint Exupéry taught us, the Little Prince is above all an idea, a symbol of innocence, curiosity, and the search for meaning that resides in each of us.

The Little Prince and the Aviator exhibition runs until September 25, 2023 at Chateau L’Hospitalet in Narbonne, by the southern French coast. It is just one of 17 estates owned by Bertrand, who’s credited with elevating the quality and reputation of wines from Languedoc, a region once spurned for making mass-market products.

Nighttime projections of drawings by Antoine de Saint Exupéry at Chateau L’Hospitalet. (Photo: Harald Gottschalk)

Deeply attached to the terroir, the entrepreneur has made it his mission to champion wine from the south of France, aiming to raise it to the same rank as that of bordeaux or burgundy in people’s minds. Today, Bertrand’s wines are sold in 180 countries.

As the Languedoc’s biggest winegrower, his 980 ha of vineyards converted to biodynamic standards have earned him the title of the second-largest Demeter-certified wine grower in the world today and the first in the West, while his award-winning Clos du Temple — priced at approximately 200 euros (S$293) per bottle — has won the label of best rosé on the globe.

“I intended to demonstrate that rosé can be an exceptional wine, on the same level as a great white or red wine, as long as it’s elaborated with great precision and comes from a remarkable terroir,” he explains.

A crossing of artistic minds

1934 Nord 1000 airplane painted by Cyril Kongo with the titles of various books written by Antoine de Saint Exupéry. (Photo: Harald Gottschalk)

This summer, Chateau L’Hospitalet is presenting Saint Exupéry’s drawings, manuscripts, and personal effects from the Foundation’s collections, while three French artists — Cyril Kongo, Jean-Marc de Pas, and Cédric Fernandez (all admirers of Saint Exupéry) — pay homage to The Little Prince.

The first, by Cyril Kongo, exhibits recent canvases and sculptures dripping in colour. One of them is a vintage Nord 1000 airplane that once competed against the Caudron Simoun aircraft with which Saint Exupéry participated in the Paris-Saigon and New York-Terre de Feu air races in the 1930s. He has painted this with the titles of various novels written by Saint Exupéry.

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Sculpture by Jean-Marc de Pas of the lamplighter character in The Little Prince written by Antoine de Saint Exupéry. (Photo: Harald Gottschalk)

Exploring the relations between man and nature, Jean-Marc de Pas’ series of bronze sculptures, inspired by Saint Exupéry’s original watercolours of asteroids, bring to life characters from The Little Prince in an evocation of the beauty and poetry of childhood. The sculptures sit alongside nymphs referencing the seasons, water sources, and the four elements dotted across the gardens.

Cédric Fernandez’s illustration of Antoine de Saint Exupéry’s arrival in New York on a transatlantic ocean liner after the surrender of France in 1940. (Photo: Harald Gottschalk)

Finally, there are the large-scale prints of drawings by Cédric Fernandez, illustrator of a trilogy of graphic novels published by Editions Glénat retracing the fascinating life of Saint Exupéry, that line a dusty path amidst the vineyards.

Because of its natural connections with craft, creativity, and pleasure, wine has long been intimately aligned with art, and collectors are accustomed to forking out good money to appreciate both.

“I find a very interesting parallel with my approach to wine,” notes Bertrand. “There is an element of creation in the blending that is similar to artistic creation. And above all, I have always viewed Chateau L’Hospitalet as a meeting point for all forms of art: wine, music, painting, sculpture, photography, and the culinary arts.”

Bertrand tells me that the chateau’s Jazz Fridays, the Jazz Festival at L’Hospitalet, the artists’ workshops, and the art space are all opportunities for encounters and emotions.

Experiential art scene at the Gérard Bertrand estate

Chateau L’Hospitalet is situated in La Clape nature reserve overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, complete with a winery, tasting cellar, five-star hotel, spa, fine dining restaurant, and beach club, and is a must-visit stop on France’s oenotourism trail. The space is part of the Languedoc art of living that promotes a successful tourism, culture, and arts programme.

Every summer for the past 20 years, it has hosted a jazz festival, attracting stars such as Norah Jones, Jamie Cullum, Diana Krall, Dee Dee Bridgewater, and Maceo Parker.

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Gérard Bertrand’s flagship wine estate, Chateau L’Hospitalet, in Narbonne. (Photo: Soufiane Zaidi)

A destination offering a wide range of experiences, it now aims to be recognised as much for the calibre of contemporary art on display as its wines, much like Chateau La Coste in Provence, The Donum Estate in California, Foundry Vineyards in Washington, Castello di Ama in Tuscany, or Pt. Leo Estate on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula in Australia. 

These are places where art forms an integral part of the landscape just as the vines do, and they have embraced art as a serious draw for tourists and connoisseurs in addition to their wines.

At Chateau L’Hospitalet, artist-in-residence ateliers and a number of shows held within its walls since Bertrand acquired it in 2002 show the estate’s commitment to the visual arts. Still, it’s only since 2011 that art exhibitions have become a regular fixture.

That year, Chateau L’Hospitalet presented works by Rodin, Jean-Marie Périer, Jean-Pierre Rives, and Hubert Garnier, followed by the inauguration of an art gallery within its premises in 2013, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this year.

Bertrand’s focus on art has accelerated in recent years with shows by Nikos Aliagas, Yann Arthus-Bertrand, Stéphane de Bourgies, and Claude Guénard, before a blockbuster exhibition by Robert Combas in 2022 that took over the chateau’s interiors and exteriors, further solidifying his dedication to art.

View of The Nature of Robert Combas exhibition held last year at Chateau L’Hospitalet. (Photo: Soufiane Zaidi)

Rather than follow a strict curatorial policy or selection process, Bertrand favours natural human encounters and is open to welcoming foreign artists in the future. The ultimate goal is for the public to have a quintessential southern French coastal experience — engaging with a prominent vineyard that’s celebrated by local and international arts and culture.

“My ambition at Chateau L’Hospitalet is to become the most iconic wine resort in the world,” Bertrand adds, “committed to excellence at every level to bring to our visitors the best experience possible in hospitality, wellbeing, wine, food, and the arts”.