Inside a Monaco Billionaire’s Wine and Hospitality Empire
Featuring a castle filled with luxury suites, a Michelin-starred bistro, and a private spa and cinema, the 2,400-acre property in the heart of Provence sets the gold standard for vinotourism.
The elegant dark-blue Airbus helicopters sporting the name Monacair are the first indication; they arrive bearing well-heeled visitors from Monte Carlo, in for lunch, a wine tasting, or an overnight stay at the historic, extraordinary Château de Berne.
Part of the prestigious Relais & Châteaux association, the 2,400-acre property in the heart of Provence is home to an iconic wine estate with vineyards and organic farmland, a five-star hotel, two swimming pools, award-winning spa, a Michelin-starred restaurant, a bistro, culinary school, and now a castle and private villas that are sure to bring global acclaim.
Only an hour’s drive hour from Saint-Tropez—and a mere 20-minute helicopter ride from Monaco—Château de Berne’s foundations can be traced to the 12th century, while parts of the main buildings in use today date to the 15th century. In the Middle Ages, Cistercian monks settled on the estate and developed a vineyard, which was replanted in the 18th century by the noble Estellon family, and which now produces Berne’s famous wines.
These days it is the domain of a more modern aristocratic type: Mark Dixon, the self-made, British-born billionaire car collector and founder of the International Workplace Group, who lives in Monaco but frequently takes up residence in Château de Berne’s private castle on weekends and holidays.
Acquired by Dixon in 2007, Berne was the first Provencal property in his portfolio, now united under the MDCV (Mark Dixon Châteaux Vignobles) Group marque that he established in 2018; and it remains the gold standard for vinotourism in the area—as well as being one of the very few winemaking estates worldwide to encompass so many exclusive offerings under one roof.
MDCV, which now has four properties in the region following the opening of the more contemporary Ultimate Provence in 2020, nearer to Saint-Tropez and with its own brand of rosé, has as its mission “to produce great wines in exceptional places and express Provence at its most beautiful.”
The MDCV Group is committed to “delivering true experiences connecting nature, wine, and gastronomy,” as the company’s Managing Director Sebastien Pisano puts it, and to “offer a brand of wine tourism that is unique in Provence, with a strong focus on sustainably committed luxury. Each vineyard curates a distinctive style, expressing the terroir in its own way while staying true to authenticity, elegance and respect for the natural environment.”
“Provence first captured my attention as a 20-year-old traveler,” Dixon tells us. “I thought Saint-Tropez was such an exciting place, and I hitchhiked my way around. Continuing and exploring the Provencal countryside created a spark I knew would be my new passion. Château de Berne was a raw diamond to discover, a place where we could offer the most exceptional experiences of food and wine, and moreover share the magic of the beautiful location, with its miles of walking, hiking, and biking trails; and also be a way for me to preserve a piece of nature.”
While his favorite weekend pastime used to be golf, Dixon is now passionate about organic farming—an activity which has paid off, with the Château’s famed Le Jardin de Berne restaurant receiving, in addition to its coveted Michelin star, the new Michelin Green Star distinction for an “eco-conscious approach to fine dining.”
In keeping with Dixon’s never-ceasing efforts to create an unparalleled hospitality experience for MDCV guests, for the very first time, as of this season, visitors to Berne will have the option of renting a collection of newly-constructed luxury villas made of local limestone, featuring their own swimming pools; or best of all, the estate’s incredible private castle residence, restored and updated to five-star standard, surrounded by vineyards, olive groves and lavender fields.
The 3,200-sq.-ft. dwelling, which has seven suites with private baths, an elevator, private heated pool, original wood-burning fireplaces, a bar, an enormous kitchen, terraces and cloisters, and a private cinema, is decorated in a gentlemanly country house style, with wood, stone and leather being the dominant design elements.
Most enticing of all, the residence, though privately sited, is a short distance from the hotel’s luxe amenities, including the spa and the restaurant, where castle guests can always be assured of a table, as well as the estate’s renowned wine cellars. Available for weekly stays with rates beginning at about $80,000 per week, the castle as well as the private villas come complete with a private chef and domestic staff, as well as exclusive access to Berne’s beautiful organic gardens, where chef Louis Rameau of Le Jardin de Berne sources most of the fresh produce for his acclaimed menus, set off by the estate’s world-class wines.
Two prominent wines comprise most of the property’s production: Château de Berne, the estate’s flagship vintage, and Terres de Berne, both bearing the Côtes de Provence appellation, as well as its exported Romance and Inspiration bottlings. Though rosé is of course its best known offering, red and white wines are also made at the estate, which produces around four million bottles of wine a year, making it one of the largest producers in Provence—an especially lucrative prospect when you consider how exponentially sales of Provencal rosé have increased in recent years.
Château de Berne’s terroir is characterized by limestone hills and shallow valleys, and its grape varieties, including Grenache, Syrah, Cabernet- Sauvignon, Mourvèdre, Carignan, Ugni Blanc, Sémillon and Viognier, yield delicate, elegant wines. “The estate combines the best of two worlds in terms of geology and altitude,” MDCV notes.
“The heart of Berne’s vineyard, where 80% of its vines are rooted, is located on a chalky plateau, at an altitude of 980 ft. Cool nights, combined with a broad daytime temperature range, allow the grapes to mature at a slower pace, thus enhancing the wine’s freshness and delicate aromas.”
The man in charge of this impressive operation, and those of the MDCV Group’s other three estates, is Alexis Cornu, who has been overseeing winemaking on the property since 2016.
Winner of 15 gold medals from the industry and with seven 90-plus-point rosé wines to his credit, Cornu, a native of Bordeaux, holds the title of Head Winemaker for the MDCV Group, and is currently responsible for no less than ten vintages across its portfolio. He and Rameau work closely together to “develop creative wine and food pairings that express the Provence terroir in all its glory and authenticity.”
With four winemaking properties under his care, Cornu’s schedule is busy to say the least. Luckily on our recent visit he found time for a meal at Ultimate Provence (UP), a property which both contrasts and complements Château de Berne’s historic charm. Featuring a chic, contemporary, beautifully landscaped boutique hotel surrounded by vineyards, with a picturesque swimming pool and a soon-to-be-opened spa that is sure to attract the Saint-Tropez crowd, UP is designed to “awaken the senses and jostle the codes of this terroir’s ancestral traditions.”
Rapidly gaining a reputation for expertise, chef Romain Franceschi has been given free rein to express his creativity with UP’s colorful cuisine at the property’s gorgeous indoor-outdoor restaurant, providing “a true sensorial experience in perfect harmony with the estate’s wines.” UP is “a place of epicurean and aesthetic delights,” as MDCV puts it.
“Be it waking up in a stylish and cozy room with breathtaking views of the Notre-Dame-des-Anges mountain range, learning about the art of wine tasting with an expert sommelier, or relaxing by the luxurious pool, UP offers a veritable oasis of charm or those seeking to chill out and enjoy life”—not to mention plenty of its signature rosé wine, in its distinctive fluted, engraved bottle, which recently received a 93-point score from Wine & Spirits magazine.
“There is no typical day in the life of a cellar master,” Cornu says. “The key to creating the best wines possible is listening and adapting to the rhythms of nature. By observing, feeling, and reacting…” Elevating the art of rosé is one of his key objectives, and with the MDCV Group’s considerable resources at his disposal, he is doing just that, especially with the signature Chateau de Berne La Grande Cuvée, which is aged in new French oak for two months.
“The wood shouldn’t weigh down the wine, it should give it volume and aromatic complexity,” he notes. “Between the overly woody wines of the ’90s and today’s obsession with fruitiness, we believe there is an elegant way to create a truly gastronomic rosé.”