The incredible new architecture of wine: a publishing phenomenon.

When I wrote about the new breed of wineries for the launch issue of The World of Fine Wine in 2004, this was still a relatively undocumented phenomenon. I was happily learning as I went along, discovering places and wines I didn’t know existed, from South Africa to Chile, California to Spain. Clearly a lot of other people were thinking along the same lines, and it seems they were all writing books on the subject. The result? Suddenly there is an outpouring of impressive volumes all about the new architecture of wine. I have five beside me as I write. Five! Seldom has a single building type received so much attention all at once.

Why should this be? Why should five separate publishers in three countries want to produce books called variously: Adventurous Wine Architecture; Wineries with Style; Wine by Design; Wineries – architecture and design; and Caves – architectures du vin? In the past, books on wine architecture (including travelogues) have tended to confine themselves to historic areas, especially the glories to be found in Bordeaux. A fine recent example of this genre is “Bordeaux Chateaux”, one of those lavishly-photographed coffee-table books recording the buildings of the 61 Grands Crus Classes created by Napoleon III in 1855: therefore an 150th anniversary publication exalting the hegemony of fine claret, and the buildings and processes associated with it. This is all very well and good, but no reader of this magazine needs telling that there is more to good and great wine than Bordeaux. These days, the Bordelais do not have the monopoly on good architecture, either.

Wine publishing is a broad church, and it is getting broader all the time. Ask Amazon to hunt out books which involve wine in one way or another, and you get a daunting 23,701 references. The less prolix British Library catalogue throws up 3,565. Even if you discount all the cookbooks (why should you?) and red-herring novels such as “Last of the Summer Wine”, that is still a lot of books. A truer test, perhaps, is the word “wineries” – somewhat specialised, you might think – which elicits a healthy 165 responses from Amazon. That’s nothing compared to the bibliography at the back of the French book in our crop, which ferrets out hundreds of references under ten subject headings (including the one of “literature, poetry and arts”). You would need a reader’s ticket to the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris to be able to test the authors on all those. Tellingly, none of the relatively few examples specifically to do with the renaissance of wine architecture are of earlier date than 1988.

Before the rush of new arrivals, the categories were pretty much as you’d expect. We have the familiar guides to regions and vintages and wine types. We also have the equivalents of bibles and prayer books (Johnson’s World Atlas of Wine and his annual pocket wine book, say, and of course Robert Parker with his scoring system, and so on down to the many lesser copycat buyers’ guides). There are technical manuals telling you how to set up and operate a winery. There are arcane books on the chemistry of wine and its economics. There are the parochial accounts of regional wine trails and tasting rooms that tend to occupy a dusty corner of the oenophile’s library next to the hanging anorak. If you find yourself in Oregon, or the Shawangunk mountains of upstate New York, you will find a guide to the vineyards and wineries there, and this is surely true of every wine-producing region in the world. Wine tourism is big business, and where there is tourism there will be publications catering for the tourist. But this latest wave of wine architecture books is something different again. It is a whole new publishing niche.

This is crossover stuff: in some cases the writing is hardly about wine at all, or even the process of wine-making. They are mostly (with one interesting exception, wine writer Peter Richards’ Wineries with Style,) written from the point of view of the architecture buff. And nothing gets an architecture buff more excited than the emergence of what looks like a new kind of building. To many, of course, the very idea of this will be preposterous. What could be more ancient than a winery? Have they not been in existence for as long as civilisation itself? Indeed so, and in the traditional European vineyards they have also seen the application or adoption of some fancy architecture, particularly in Bordeaux – where the residence, the farm and the factory all came together in one complex honoured with the name chateau, even if the building in question was not in truth very grand. Pedants will note that “chateau” can be a virtual rather than an actual concept, as at Chateau Duhart-Millon Rothschild in Pauillac, where there is no physical chateau at all. In this context, “chateau” is just a way of identifying a particular wine estate. In other contexts, it is not even that, rather a mere branding device: plenty of cheap generic claret, not to mention wine from elsewhere, comes with a phantom chateau on the label. But what is all this telling us? Only that in a region where terroir is all-important, it is seen as essential for the wine to be clearly identified with a particular place. Elsewhere in France, let alone the rest of Europe and the rest of the world, different systems of wine-making and identification apply. Where wines are blended from a wide area, for instance, there would seem to be no point in making a big deal out of any particular building.

Well, that used to be the case, but not any more. Wine tourism and branding go hand in hand. Just as the fashion chain Prada transformed its image through its adoption of world-famous “signature” architects for its stores such as Rem Koolhaas and Herzog and de Meuron, so wine brands wanting to differentiate themselves from the common herd started to do exactly the same. There is clearly nothing new in this idea: West London’s Art Deco Hoover factory, placed for maximum visibility to passing motorists exalted vacuum cleaners in just the same way in the 1930s. The architecture lent a well-regarded product a touch of class.

Combine this simple marketing proposition with the global spread of ambitious wine-making, the revival of some neglected regions, and the rediscovery of the part-pragmatic, part-mystical properties of terroir, and you have fertile ground for the new architectures of wine to sprout.

The new wine-architecture books obviously differ from each other, cover different projects in different ways, have preconceptions dependent to some extent on the home countries of their authors or publishers, but there are certain key recent buildings that tend to crop up in more than one, and often in several. So if you cast your net across all five books, and extract the top ten buildings that keep appearing, you could conclude that the following examples are, architecturally speaking the best, or most original, or at any rate the most eye-catching in the world in recent times. In date order of completion, these are:

  • Clos Pegase, Napa Valley, USA, by Michael Graves, 1987: the post-modern citadel of wine that frightened the horses in Bordeaux and began the whole process of ambitious new wine architecture we see today.
    Bodegas Marco Real, Navarra, Spain, by Francisco Jose Mangado Beloqui – 1991. Crisp, low-lying, stone-clad – a foretaste of the astonishing changes about to hit Northern Spain.
  • Vergelegen, Stellenbosch, South Africa, by Dillon and de Gastines, 1992, architects who had started Bordeaux’s fight-back by extending Chateau Pichon-Longeueville Baron shortly before, here gave an ancient estate a new twist.
  • Domaine Disznoko, Tokaj, Hungary, by Dezso Ekler, 1995. Hungary’s unique nationalist “organic” architecture found an appropriate outlet.
  • Dominus winery, Napa Valley, California, by architects Herzog and de Meuron – 1998. Minimalist, rectilinear, clad in rubble-filled wire cages known as “gabions” to regulate the heat.
  • Bodegas Julian Chivite, Navarra, Spain, by Rafael Moneo, 2001. Relatively modest additions to new vineyards in an old farming village, but architecturally aristocratic.
  • Bodegas Ysios, Rioja, Spain, by Santiago Calatrava, 2001. Bravura curves both vertically and horizontally. A marketing masterstroke.
  • Caves Les Aurelles, Nizas, France, by Gilles Perraudin, 2001. Simple, almost primitive, blocks of pale solid stone keep the interior cathedral-cool.
  • Perez Cruz winery, Maipo, Chile, by José Cruz Ovalle, 2002. A virtuoso exercise in sensually curved all-timber construction.
  • Cantina Petra, Livorno, Italy, by Mario Botta, 2003. At typical piece of mystical symmetry from Botta, its central chamfered-ovoid hall is reminiscent of many of his houses, churches and museums.

Most of the authors also mention the trademark billowing metalwork of Frank Gehry’s as-yet unfinished Le Clos Jordanne in Ontario, Canada, and his nearly-complete Marques de Riscal visitor centre and hotel in northern Spain. Some even mention the two wineries coming up by British architects: Richard Rogers’ Bodegas Protos, a triangular barrel-vaulted composition in Spain’s Ribero del Duero – due to open in 2006 – and Norman Foster’s rival Faustino winery, also in Ribero del Duero, shaped a bit like a giant three-bladed ship’s propeller and scheduled for 2007.

In truth there are several others that would easily expand the Top Ten above to 20 or more. The two differently Mayan-inspired wineries of Chile’s Bodegas Septima (a favourite of mine, by architects Eliana Bormida and Mario Yanzon) and Argentina’s Catena Zapata (Pablo Sanchez Elia) are hot contenders for instance, as is American architect Stephen Holl’s Loisium wine visitor centre of 2003 in Langenlois, Austria – a deconstructed metal box. Australia’s rusted-industrial-chic Shadowfax in Victoria by Roger Wood and Randal Marsh, and New Zealand’s post-modern vernacular Craggy Range at Hawke’s Bay, by architect John Blair, have their adherents.

The list is ever-expanding. But there is no question what is the single most-published modern winery in the world, the one that no book or article on the subject could possibly afford to omit. That is Calatrava’s extraordinary, curving and rippling Bodegas Ysios, nestling on the plain beneath the mountains of the Rioja Alavesa. Gehry’s wineries, when they finally arrive, will perhaps be more spectacular in the way now over-familiar to us from his Bilbao Guggenheim and his other buildings: but Calatrava’s will, I believe, be the one that sticks in the mind as the most successful three-dimensional advertisement for its wine – in the jargon of the tourist business, a “destination” in itself. It is an audacious building, openly reflecting the equally audacious architecture of Antoni Gaudi more than a century before. As an architecture critic, I find it just too showy and somewhat crude in the details. But then, so is the Sydney Opera House, and look what that building did for an entire nation and continent.

What do all these buildings – all in their way “high architecture” – portend? The books do not tell us a great deal about the actual business of wine-making. The manufacturing side, apart from the occasional note as to whether the process is pumped or gravity-fed, or whether storage is underground or in climate-controlled sheds, is largely taken for granted. Some- like the Gehry and Botta buildings – fall into a house style and could equally be buildings for other purposes by the same architects. There is no reason related to wine-making why Mario Botta’s Petra winery should have a great flight of steps ascending its roof to nowhere in particular: that is an entirely architectural gesture. As with all architecture, some of these buildings crave classical symmetry like the Palladian farmhouses of the Renaissance Veneto – often with lower wings either side of a central hub. Others adopt the accretive, more Gothic, approach, the seemingly random jumble of buildings generated perhaps by existing site conditions. Many contain restaurants, tasting rooms and shops for customers: no point having all that expensive architecture if nobody is going to come to see it.

There are those who find humbler wineries, with nothing much by way of architectural ambition, more immediately appealing than the great modern cathedrals of wine now being built such as Ysios or Petra. The black barns of many New York state wineries are just agricultural buildings, indistinguishable from the neighbouring buildings producing maple-syrup. It is a giant leap from such down-home producers to the mighty, often conglomerate-financed palaces celebrated by these books. It is a relief to find that Richards, in his book, actually recommends particular wines from each winery he describes. In general his “Wineries with Style”, is more discursive than the others, which tend to adopt the project-by-project structure so often favoured by architecture books. It also has a useful index, which for me is an absolute necessity. Neither Michael Webb’s “Adventurous Wine Architecture” nor “Wineries – architecture and design” by Hans Hartje and Jeaniou Perrier bothers with an index. On the other hand all the books apart from Richards’ include explanatory drawings as well as photographs.

Is any of these a clear favourite? Not really. Three make a convincing case for themselves. If your French is up to it, and if you can track it down, “Caves – architectures du vin 1990-2005” is a good primer and best for drawings and bibliography. If not, and you like to drink the stuff as well as looking at pictures of where it is made, then Richards’ is very accessible. From the purely architectural point of view “Wine by Design” is a concise and informative romp through the genre. The other two are slighter works.

Without doubt there will be more books on the subject, just as without doubt there will be ever more new wineries by “signature” architects marking the sometimes intense competition between brands. Apropos of which, surely Northern Spain holds lessons for us all. The concentration of high-design new wineries there tells us everything we need to know about the revival of the region from both a wine-making and a political standpoint. When the Bordelais, in the mid 1980s, looked West to California and scented competition they must have little thought that they would before long be turning their troubled gaze southwards.

Text © Hugh Pearman. First published in The World of Fine Wine magazine, issue #9. Photo of Santiago Calatrava’s Bodegas Ysios by Erhard Pfeiffer from Adventurous Wine Architecture, by Michael Webb.

The books (guide prices given in pounds sterling except for the French example not available in the UK)

“Caves – architectures du vin 1990-2005”, by Marco Casamonti and Vincenzo Pavan, 280 pages, pub. Actes Sud/Motta, (French market, 65.5 Euros)

“Wineries with Style” by Peter Richards, 192 pages, pub. Mitchell Beazley, £30.

“Wine by Design: the space of wine” by Sean Stanwick and Loraine Fox-Low, 224 pages, pub.Wiley-Academy, £35.

“Adventurous Wine Architecture” by Michael Webb and Erhard Pfeiffer, 204 pages, pub. Images Publishing, £40.

“Wineries: Architecture and Design” by Hans Hartje and Jeaniou Perrier, 216 pages, pub. H. Kliczkowski (Madrid) £20.

“Bordeaux Chateaux: a history of the grands crus classes 1855-2005”, by Franck Ferrand and Jean-Paul Kauffman, 320 pages, pub. Flammarion, £30.

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