Wine and Architecture

 Image via  Lewis Harrison-Pinder  for Wild Wine Club

Image via Lewis Harrison-Pinder for Wild Wine Club

Back in my marketing days I had a boss who used to talk about something he called the 'car park'. It was the metal place where you'd stick a pin in all those ideas, thoughts, projects which weren't immediately relevant or achievable. So under the influence, I kind of have a mental car park ingrained now - and visiting Cornwall and Debbie (the wonderfully titled Wild Wine Woman), added a hulla load of points to the list. Principle among them is how much I love thinking about wine in a more academic way. 

So wine and architecture. It was the theme of the Wild Wine Club's event this past weekend and I really enjoyed exploring the topic for my Instagram takeover.  As is my wordy want, I essentially wrote an essay over several insta-captions, so here is a collation of my thoughts in a more readable format! Do check out the Wild Wine Club's Instagram too though - they've just announced their next event and it's well worth booking. Seriously, the photo above is just a snapshot of the general gorgeousness you'll encounter (I'm very proud that I collected a fair portion of the quartz pictured with me'own bare hands!).

The Art of Wine and Architecture

When you think about wine – do you think of it as an agricultural product? Has it ever occupied the same brain space as potatoes, spinach, carrots? My guess is not.

Wine has long been imbued with romanticism; with an ability to evoke experiences far beyond the simple consumption of fermented grape juice. BUT – wineries have traditionally been functional, industrial spaces. Grapes are a crop; so why don’t we recognise that beyond the (superficial) pretension of vintage classification?

At its best, winery architecture celebrates – even fetishises – the process of winemaking.

By their nature, wineries encompass monumental structures and spaces, further propagating the mythology of the winemaking process. Acres of cool, dark cellars; vaulted fermentation rooms; the still, muffled silence packed between ageing barrels. For even the most disinterested visitor, these spaces resound with the hallowed hush of religious temples.

Fermentation is an alchemic-seeming process – be it transforming cabbage into sauerkraut, mulling tea into kombucha, creating wine from grapes. The mystery surrounding such a process lies at the heart of modern winery design.

Wine tourism is the legacy of late 1970s California – though unlike mood rings and shag pile, this is one trend which is here to stay. It’s effect? The rise of the tourist friendly winery and tasting room: the locus of the winery’s dual purpose as both functional space and marketing tool. Wineries have suddenly become the ‘face’ of wine.

Like farmers’ markets and farm shops, tasting rooms give winemakers a viable means of connecting with and selling to their customers directly. And let’s not be squeamish about the fact that wineries, like any other business, must market themselves and, y’know, sell stuff to stay in business.

But then – some take it to extremes… Castello di Amorosa is both bonkers and wonderful. A 13th century-esque Italian fortress in the middle of Napa Valley? Sure. At least it guarantees that people know what sort of wine they’re going to be tasting inside! I think that’s the beauty of it, the way that architecture can be harnessed in this way to speak to wine lovers visually in a way that a bottle of wine just can’t.

It’s extraordinary the ways that architects manage to incorporate functionality into beautiful buildings – to the extent that the buildings themselves actually impact on the quality and production of wine.

Digging buildings into the earth to help regulate cellar temperatures; using colour to alternately deflect, trap and moderate elusive heat. But the most extraordinary of all has to be harnessing the power of gravity.

I have been obsessed with gravity-fed wineries since I visited Bordeaux a couple of years ago and was lucky enough to have a tour of a private, stepped model winery. Gravity is far gentler on grapes than machines, not to mention its energy saving capabilities. And also – here’s where I give you permission to roll your eyes – it plays into the alchemic nature of winemaking in a deeply satisfying way. Almost as much as auto-fermenters.

Winos bang on so much about terroir it seems natural that winery architecture should also reflect the locality.

Sustainable architecture is the new trend du jour – the next step for enthusiastic biodynamic and organic winemakers. The fact is that sustainable viticulture encompasses more than just sensitive treatment of the land. Energy consumption, water use, waste emissions – these are just some of the negative outputs that forward-thinking winemakers are looking to combat.

What are your thoughts about the interplay of architecture and wine? Can you recommend any examples of winery architecture which sensitively describes their style of wine?