In Italy producing good wine is not enough

Italian vineyards long ago turned their dank cellars into germ-free high tech vaults, but to compete on the wine tasting circuit they are now hiring world renowned architects to design avant-garde wineries.

by: Reuters: Nicola Scevola | 23 Apr 2007

"Nowadays producing good wine is not enough", says Lea Fiorentini, an oenologist with Tuscany's Rocca di Frassinello, which is one of largest wineries in Europe.

Rocca di Frassinello will unveil new premises in June designed by architect Renzo Piano, one of the creators of the Pompidou Centre in Paris. It was commissioned by French winemaker Baron de Rothschild and Italian media tycoon Paolo Panerai.

"We hope the new complex that includes an inverted open pyramid for aging the wine, a restaurant and an auditorium for public events, will be a strong communication and marketing move," said Fiorentini.

The building, completed in 2003, consists of a cylinder of stone cut across by an inclined plane parallel to the hillside. The architectural complex fits into the landscape like a big flower blooming on the hill.

But its avant-garde design is also functional to the final product. The huge cylinder, rising on cultivated land, contains steel tanks in which grapes and must are moved only by gravity.

This high "vinification tower" eliminates the need for pumps and other mechanical methods, preserving the grape skins.

The ground floor and underground level house spaces for oak barrels and areas for aging the wine.

"One of the objectives of the new winemaking facility was to vinify grapes in the most natural way, yet use state-of-the-art equipment and computer technology," says Maggi. "Another goal was to stimulate tourism in the area."

In the last two years, Petra attracted more than 4000 visitors, who came to savour its wine but also to see the peculiar structure in which it is made.

"Around 20 percent of them didn't know anything about wine and came here just to admire the structure's design," explained Maggi.

Other winemakers who have asked distinguished architects to create eye-catching cellars for them include Tuscany's Antinori, which has hired Milanese architect Gae Aulenti, fresh from renovating landmarks around the world including the Paris gallery Musee D'Orsay and San Francisco's Asian Art Museum.

And local architectural team Nathalie Grenon and Piero Sartogo have transformed an abbey into a high tech vineyard that produces one of Italy's best-reviewed Chianti Classicos.

In the last five years the trend has emerged for the most famous wine producers in the peninsula to transform their cellars into architectural landmarks.

The idea is to blend the efficiency offered by modern oenology with top-shelf designs.

"The architectural design gives value to the land and is functional to the production of wine," said Edoardo Maggi, project coordinator at Petra winery in Tuscany, whose cellars were designed by Swiss architect Mario Botta.

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