Architect Ignacio Quemada is responsible for what he calls “the excessive winery”. It is a fitting description for Campo Viejo’s huge winery in Rioja, which has been literally buried under a vine-covered plateau in the outskirts of Logroño.
Quemada never pretended to mask these large spaces; he sought to create a pleasant scenery for visitors. In his words, racks designed to stack barrels up to five or more levels are a “fiendish invention”. Instead, he designed a visitor walkway, which is leveled with the top layer of barrels, commanding a horizontal view over a sea of oak barrels.
Campo Viejo’s walkway is the perfect example of an itinerary or promenade —21st century wineries are not just functional, industrial spaces, but also a destination for wine lovers and tourists.
This topic was discussed during the workshop Challenges of Winery Architecture. Culture and Perception, hosted by ceramic wall and floor tiling company Matimex. The event, which took place at the Mae showroom area in Castellón (Eastern Spain), included speakers from various disciplines such as architects, interior designers, winery owners and managers and sommeliers.
Over the past two decades, many leading architects have left their imprint in Spain’s wine: Foster (Portia), Mazières (Viña Real), Gehry (Riscal), Rogers (Protos), Moneo (Arínzano) or Hadid (Viña Tondonia). Additionally, real estate investors developed a penchant for grand, sometimes lavish constructions.
Sarajevo-born Relja Ferusic, a young architect trained and based in Barcelona, criticized the 5-star hotel designed by Gehry for Riscal in Elciego —in his view, it overshadows the village’s bell tower, altering the local scenery. “Can you imagine if we had such buildings in every single village in this part of Rioja?”, he questioned.
For Ferusic, whose winery designs include the award-winning La Gravera in Costers del Segre or Mas Rodó in Penedès (both of them are Catalan appellations in Spain’s northeast), wine and architecture are culture. “We try to design industrial buildings that do not have a negative impact in the environment”, he said. “Wine, workers and visitors are our users. Architecture is like a set of scales where we weight different elements; it is the answer to various needs and should not be seen in a forced manner”.
Alfredo Arribas is both an architect and the producer behind Portal del Priorat, Vins Nus and Trossos in the Priorat and Montsant appellations in Catalonia. He talked about a classification of wineries, from the sumptuous châteaux to industrial plants and other buildings which blend in with its surroundings. The latter is what he is trying to achieve at his modest Clos del Portal estate in rugged Priorat. Wines and spaces are still being designed so Arribes defines his unfinished building as an “itinerant winery”. “The estate is a canvas to which we add lines and colours”, he says.
For Arribas, “the challenge is to work on a human scale and at the same time building an anomalous structure in a place where it was never expected”. His colleague Josep Vendrell, who designed Gramona in Catalonia, highlighted the fact that “nowadays wineries have to combine working spaces with the fact that these spaces will receive visitors”.
Speakers agreed on the fact that wine tourism and architecture add value to wine. Producers like Abadía Retuerta, boasting a beautifully restored abbey which has been converted into a five-star hotel, or Bernabeleva in San Martín de Valdeiglesias (Gredos, Madrid) supported such idea with their own experiences.
During the workshop there was some talk about the places where people enjoy wine. “A good atmosphere is crucial to enjoy wine —that includes proper illumination and acoustics, as well as a pleasant conversation and company”, said Isabel López Vilalta, a renowned interior designer.
Yet she acknowledged that she was seldom asked to work on specific spaces for wine when designing restaurants. A welcome exception was the three-star restaurant El Celler de Can Roca in Girona (Catalonia) whose cellar was built according to sommelier Pitu Roca’s detailed indications.
Roca’s homage to his most precious wines and regions is in stark contrast to Wine Fandango in Logroño (La Rioja). This hip venue marks the first foray into the hospitality business of Vintae, a family wine group that has shaken Spain’s wine market with easy-drinking wines and eye-catching labels. Owner and manager Ricardo Arambarri visited New York’s trendiest wine bars in search of inspiration: “For us design is crucial so we encourage architects and interior designers to work together”, he says.
UK-based sommelier Bruno Murciano, who used to work at London’s Ritz, now runs his own Spanish wine import company. He knows well how difficult it can be for a sommelier to work properly if he lacks storage spaces or is affected by poor design.
Things may seem much easier at Barcelona’s Monvínic, which is regarded as one of the best wine bars worldwide, but sommelier César Cánovas openly shared the problems they had to face with the original design of the spaces and how they managed to solve them. “Professionals from different areas need to work under a coordinated strategy”, he said. “If designs are unsuitable for the work of sommeliers, clients will suffer the problems”.
Cánovas talked about great chefs like Heston Blumenthal, who requested the advice of a psychologist to improve his clients’ experience. “Perhaps waiters should start working with psychologists or anthropologists to be able to offer clients a global experience”, he suggested.