Building An Image

  • Wednesday 17 November 2004

More and more wine lovers are taking trips to visit the wineries of favourite producers.
And as PETER RICHARDS discovers, it’s not just the wines that are making an impression.

Of the many wineries I have visited, one visit was particularly memorable, for the following reason: the winery was invisible.

There I was, driving carefree through the rolling green hills of California’s wine country, when I encountered my own personal Bermuda Wine Triangle. I knew where the hilltop winery was located; the map was adamant. I just couldn’t see it.

Wineries on hilltops aren’t usually that hard to miss. So on I went. And then I came back. Little did I know I had just driven past the winery twice.

My problem, as I later discovered, was not one of geography, but of architecture. A clever collaboration between Spanish and American architects, the Artesa winery is not so much underground as undetectable. To build it, a hill was levelled like the top of a boiled egg, the winery built, then an all-too-convincing cover of grass and gardens added. The result? ‘A harmonious blend with the surrounding terrain,’ in the winery’s words. Or, in my terms, a bloody difficult winery to find.

Bold and intriguing architectural statements are no rarity in the world of wine. True, they sometimes take a bit of finding, but these are wineries that bring wine to life in some of the most spectacular surroundings imaginable. Old, new, underground, overblown, humble or touched by architectural genius (think Frank Gehry, Santiago Calatrava, Gustave Eiffel), these are places that put wine onto a plane we can all enjoy and admire.

So where are these wineries, what do they look like and what does architecture have to do with wine anyway?

This is what I set out to discover in writing Wineries with Style, the first book to focus on the architecture of wineries around the world. I found that great architecture, like great wine, is about creating a sense of delight, transforming the practical into the poetic. It is exactly that vision, realised in glorious diversity, which can be found in the world’s most stylish wineries.

Of course, wine is about more than romance – it’s about practicality and commercial viability. Yet a functional winery is just a starting point, and in an industry where image and desirability counts for a lot, to associate iconic architecture with your wine can prove very advantageous (think Bordeaux châteaux). What’s more, architecture, like wine, is a great social hub, a gatherer of people. Put the two together, and it’s a heady – and potentially lucrative – combination.

But is it all about commercial image, high-flown emotions and architects with unpronounceable names? Not really. More than anything, discovering the world of wineries is about appreciating wine in a different light, bringing the subject to life in a new and exciting way. It’s a fascinating glimpse behind the scenes, a fresh take on a well-documented subject, and above all an open invitation to travel and experience this vibrant world for yourself. It’s about putting wine where it belongs: in the mainstream of our culture.

So whether you have or you haven’t visited a winery before, now is the time to take an interest. It’s an exhilarating, uplifting experience. With this kind of architecture on show, it would be a shame (as I nearly did) to miss it.

Peter Richards is author of Wineries with Style (Mitchell Beazley, £30). The book features 80 wineries in 17 countries.

Disznoko (Tokaj, Hungary)

‘Probably the prettiest tractor shed in the world.’ That’s what they call the machine house at the Disznókö winery, and I am inclined to agree, despite a lack of expertise in the tractor shed field. The shed is just one piece of architect Dezsö Ekler’s wonderful creation at Disznókö, which embraces both old and new and moulds them into an exuberant and original spectacle. It’s a celebration of Hungary and Tokaj’s emergence from the Communist doldrums, built after the estate was taken over by French group AXA. It’s a winery that confounds stereotypes and puts wine on the fine pedestal it deserves.

Visits daily, call ahead. www.disznoko.hu

Tel: +36 47 369138

Ysios (Rioja, Spain)

If you watched the Athens Olympics or have flown into Bilbao airport, you will be familiar with Santiago Calatrava’s dramatic architecture.

The man is, for my money, one of the most exhilarating architects around, and his design for Ysios is one of my all-time winery favourites. With its fiercely undulating, aluminium-clad roof and wavy wooden facade, it seems impossible for such an arresting structure to sit in harmony with a rural environment.

But that is exactly what Ysios achieves, beautifully capturing and echoing the grey Cantabrian crags and the warm gold of Rioja’s wheat fields. It’s just as much of a revelation inside, too, where the swirling roof comes to life and the jutting central window frames the medieval village of Laguardia in the distance. It’s a spectacular confluence of the old and the new. Breathtaking.

Visits daily at 11 and 1. Call to confirm.

www.byb.es Tel: +34 945 600640

Clos Pegase (Napa Valley, USA)

You’ll either love it or hate it. But whatever you think, Clos Pegase is more than just a winery: it marked the start of a new age of winery design.

In 1984, businessman and art collector Jan Shrem announced an architectural competition to design a new winery. One condition was that the architect had to work with an artist on the design, because the winery was to house an art gallery.

It was to be named after Pegasus, the title of an Odilon Redon painting in Shrem’s collection. The competition provided an impetus for ambitious winery projects all over the world. While Michael Graves ended up winning, unsuccessful applicants went on to do great things with other wineries. It put the architecture of wine on a global stage and laid down a challenge that would be met in style.

The art gallery was never built so the art lies dotted around the winery itself. It’s a spectacular interaction of art, architecture and wine.

Open doors 10:30-5pm. www.clospegase.com

Tel: +1 707 942 4981

Haras de Pirque (Maipo, Chile)

It’s not often that a horse stud and a winery come together, but they have at Haras de Pirque, and in some style.

Splendid thoroughbred stallions parade around the Matte family property in the foothills of the Andes Mountains, near Santiago. These beasts are rented out for belt-clenchingly large sums of money to sire heirs – perhaps it was this kind of thoroughbred reputation the Mattes were after when they decided to design their winery in the shape of a horseshoe.

The winery is situated on a hillside above the estate, as are most of the vineyards, and the wines are already looking very impressive. The structure itself is a fine mixture of simple process and grand design, rising above the valley floor like an Andean temple to wine.

Visits by appointment. www.harasdepirque.com Tel: +562 854 7910

Villa di Maser (Veneto, Italy)

One from the old school, Villa di Maser is a virtually unknown architectural treasure of a wine estate, located north of Venice. The estate house was built in the 1550s by Andrea Palladio, one of the most celebrated figures in architectural history. That his genius has enlightened the world of wine is something to be feted.

Palladio was big on the classical style of architecture, with harmony and proportion paramount. His influence was enormous, and the term Palladian is still used to describe architecture in this measured, classical style – Bordeaux’s Château Margaux, for example, happily bears this appellation.

But no matter how many photos you see of Villa di Maser, nothing can compare to being there in person. It’s breathtaking. The impression on site is of utter serenity. Visitors are even made to don over-shoe slippers to scoot around silently (actually to prevent wear and tear, so precious is the building).

Open weekend afternoons – call to confirm. www.villadimaser.it. Tel: +39 423 923004

Chateau Lafite-Rothschild (Bordeaux, France)

From the old school we go underground. Palladio would be pleased – his recommendation was that wine cellars should be ‘underground, enclosed, and far away from commotion, humidity and smell’.

In reality, however, Lafite supremo Eric de Rothschild was more interested in rolling out the barrels than in Renaissance architects. He wanted to build a new barrel cellar, but had calculated that the usual rectangular layout was inefficient and that with a different design he could save nearly 300 kilometres (186 miles) of barrel rolling every year. How? By using a circle.

He turned to Catalan architect Ricardo Bofill, who designed the stunning octagonal, colonnaded cellar, which was finished in 1987. Being underground, the cellar is naturally insulated and provides ideal conditions for wine maturation. Its striking, innovative personality goes to show that even the Bordeaux elite can move with the times.

By appointment only, minimum 2 weeks advance notice. www.lafite.com Tel: +33 556 592683

Summerhill

(British Columbia, Canada)

It may be the last thing you expect, but overlooking the placid scenery of Lake Okanagan in Canada there sits a pyramid. Inside, there are no mummies, just plenty of maturing wine.

Why? Because wines matured in a pyramid taste better. At least, that is the assertion of Stephen Cipes, the genial owner of Summerhill and clearly a man who likes to push boundaries – a new range of wines comes complete with a shaman’s blessing.

The pyramid is a scale replica of the Great Pyramid of Cheops, the largest and oldest of the pyramids at Giza in Egypt. Pyramids, Cipes argues, attract a unique confluence of forces that tends to ‘clarify’ liquids – either highlighting flaws or exaggerating qualities. Even people can feel energised inside such ‘sacred geometry’.

Taste tests have consistently proved to Cipes that people prefer the wines matured in the pyramid to those from a normal cellar. The wines, I can attest, are excellent. So am I a believer? Not yet, but I am a devotee.

Visits daily, open doors.

www.summerhill.bc.ca Tel: +1 250 764 8000

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