Nothing whets an architect’s whistle quite like a new type of architecture. Over the last few years winery design has boomed, and it has captured the imaginations of A-list architects around the world.
Of course wineries are not a new thing. The traditional image of a winery was always of an old, rustic chateau in the French countryside. But in the last couple of decades the new world has begun to challenge the Europeans’ stronghold over the industry, and countries such as the US, Chile, Argentina and Australia have begun to produce wines of an increasing quality.
The two main factors contributing to the sudden interest in the winery architecture phenomenon are tourism and branding. Just as many retail companies are identifiable by a well-designed flagship store, so too are vineyards seizing the opportunity to create an image for the company, while simultaneously attracting more tourists to visit their new bodega.
In recent years some truly inspiring architecture has emerged, such as Dominus Winery in Napa Valley, California, by Herzog and Demeuron who were responsible for the Tate Modern in London. Bodegas Ysios in northern Spain is frequently cited as the best of its kind, with tourists making the trip there to see the building alone.
Argentina is not without its own world-class bodegas, and I visited two new winery buildings in the Mendoza region of Argentina – Catena Zapata in Lujan de Cuyo, and O. Fournier in Valle de Uco – which make an interesting contrast in terms of the aspirations behind the design. While the owner of O. Fournier has commissioned a building whose architecture is 100% designed to enable and improve the production of the wine, Nicolás Catena Zapata’s building is purely symbolic.
The owner of O. Fournier, José Manuel Ortega, described his aspirations as achieving ‘a balance between modernity, connection with the mountains, technology and aesthetic pleasure’.
The bodega lies 100km to the south of Mendoza at the foot of the Cordillera with its snow-capped mountains, where the land is dry and arid. As you approach and the winery begins to come into view, you are instantly intrigued by the first glimpse of this building rising up from the land. With four wide columns supporting a flat, square roof which covers the entire main building, the building resembles a futuristic petrol station.
Everything at O.Fournier is designed for a functional purpose. There is one floor for each stage of the process, and after each stage, the wine flows down to the next floor through pipes. The owner wanted the wine to flow down only using gravity as this means there is no air used to pump the air through and therefore the wine is not contaminated with air and will be of a higher quality.
On the top floor the grapes are fermented and turned into wine, then on the second floor it is blended in barrels. The bottom floor is the cellar where the wine is aged in barrels. As you walk down a short corridor to the cellar, floor lights switch on lighting the way to the doors at the end which slowly, and dramatically, open automatically to reveal a vast cellar of oak barrels. Natural light flows down from the roof light in the ceiling marking an enormous ‘X’ shape across the barrels in the centre of the cellar. With the cross of light shining down from above into the cool, dark open space, and with paintings hung on the wall, this space has a dramatic, almost religious feel to it.
As with every part of the bodega at O. Fournier, everything is designed for a functional purpose. It is so wonderfully logical and functional that you cannot help but be inspired by this building. The success of the design of the bodega in my point of view is that although aesthetics are of secondary importance the building is no less aesthetically pleasing than Catena Zapata’s temple.
Nicolás Catena Zapata took a different approach to the design of his bodega. Catena Zapata was already an established brand of wine by the time he decided to commission the new building. In fact some credit him as being the man who gave Argentine wine the good reputation it has today.
As Argentine wine was becoming a wine to be reckoned with, Nicolás wanted to create an impressive building which would be a statement to the rest of the winemaking world. He wanted to use something native American, so he chose the Mayan temples, specifically Tikal in Guatemala, as his inspiration.
Constructed entirely using materials from Argentina, and fitted out with furniture from the country, this building is a celebration of all things Argentine – the stone flooring and walls, and even an impressive rosewood table around 20m long made from one single tree in the Missiones region.
This building is also designed with three floors in mind, however it is only the bottom floor that plays a role in the production of the wine. This basement houses some artistically arranged barrels in a dramatic semi-circular room, at the centre of which is a tasting room surrounded by glass looking out into the floodlit cellar.
Aside from the big boss’ office and a couple of tasting rooms, the two floors above function only for the purposes of the visiting tourist. This building provides an inspiring space for tourists to come and enjoy the views of their vineyards and the mountain ranges in the distance, before tasting some of their award winning vintages. The wine production takes place in a modest factory building located behind the temple.
While it is certainly an impressive and ambitious design, you can’t help feeling a little disillusioned that the building is not the centre of the wine production. It in fact feels more like a corporate office building than a winery, which of course it is.
However both these bodegas are successful in terms of setting out what they intended to do, both make exceptionally good wine, and both give the tourist an unforgettable experience. The two bodegas embody the success of the Mendoza wine industry today. With their technology and scientific research, optimal environment for growing the malbec grape and drip irrigation from the mountains, these two exciting new buildings are attracting the duly deserved attention of the world to this wine region.