What do wine critics and wine lovers usually say when are talking about wine? They talk about the vineyards, the climate, the soil, the agronomic practices, the winemaking process, the history of the producer, the label, the wine reviews… Everything but the winery itself.
This is because most wineries are quite similar everywhere in the world: more or less beautiful, functional, typical of the place, traditional or modern, it doesn’t matter what size. However, there are some wineries, scattered in a few countries, which deserve a visit for themselves.
Here in Italy there are interesting examples of innovative architecture in wineries, and in this article I’m going to recommend three of them in particular. Furthermore, they all produce very good wines. So after satisfying the aesthete inside yourself, you can simply sit down and enjoy the wine.
Our tour starts in Trentino, in the Alto Adige region. There in Terlano, a small village between Bolzano and Merano, the local cooperative is well integrated into the village. On the outside, the recent addition has a facing of natural red porphyry, the stone that gives the wines in the area their typical character. The roof is planted with vines so that it blends in completely with the surrounding countryside, and the pavilion for wine tasting has beautiful terraces overlooking the vineyards. The most interesting part, though, is underground: a real temple for wine aging.
This cooperative is renowned for being one of the most modern and innovative in the region (and in Italy), yet they have a real cult following for their aged wines. While the impressive aging room is entirely hollowed out of the local, dark red stone, the
Wine Library is in the oldest rooms which look like small treasures caves, in an atmosphere that seems somehow sacred: the lights are dim, the noises muted. The wines have rest in perfect quiet. If you love aged white wines, Terlan Kellerei is the best place to find them, because they have kept bottles of all the vintages of their white wines since 1955! And don’t forget to taste at least a few vintages of their amazing Sauvignon Blanc “Quarz”.
The second winery that is worth a visit is in the nearby Veneto region, in Valpolicella. Coming from Trentino Alto Adige, you will travel to the village of San Pietro in Cariano, in Valpolicella. There, alongside the main road towards Verona you’ll see a sign for the Zymè winery which is owned by Celestino Gaspari. The winery’s name means “yeast” in Greek, and it is symbolic of the owner’s approach to wine: natural and dynamic at the same time. The winery visit starts in the aging cellar: an ancient, yellow sandstone quarry dating back to the 15th century. This room is completely covered by sheets of stone cut during the excavation phase and arranged in the same pattern you will see on the cellar complex’s exterior walls.
While walking, a familiar noise accompanies you: it seems water is flowing somewhere. During excavations for the building of this cellar, a limestone cavern was discovered that gathers both rainwater and underground water, so this sound is now the original soundtrack for the wines silently resting in their barriques and oak barrel. You can actually see the water falling down, somewhere in the cellar. Moving on, while the noise of the water is getting stronger the path continues to descend: the area of the semi-finished wines and bottle storage is completely underground. Here, details large and small make the visit more and more exciting, like a treasure hunt, because in Zymè nothing occurs by chance. The choice of each color, shape or material is meaningful, and each visitor becomes involved in the discovery of an approach to Valpolicella and its wines that is both respectful and experimental. If you have never tried the wines, don’t miss the Amarone della Valpolicella Classico and the wine called “From Black to White” IGP Veneto Bianco.
And now let’s move on toward the center of Italy, where in Tuscany we meet a renowned and noble family of wine producers: Marchesi Antinori. Their new winery was built in Chianti Classico, not far from Florence. It has been called “the cut” because seen from a distance it looks like a cut in the middle of a hill. But from the road it’s entirely different: it reminds you of a mouth with brown lips. The winery was officially opened just a few years ago and it is currently the Marchesi Antinori’s headquarters. Here they produce wines such as the Marchese Antinori Chianti Classico Riserva and the fresh Chianti Classico Pèppoli, which are available for tasting. They also bottle Tignanello and other wines here. But above all they welcome visitors and wine lovers from all over the world. This winery is a kind of shrine to wine-tourism, open throughout the year, even during the busy days of the harvest. It took seven years of design and construction to create this “invisible palace.” Most of it in fact is totally underground, and covered by vineyards. When you arrive, the first thing you see is an impressive spiral staircase that twists into the sky. It is 100 meters long, weighs 105 tons, and is only supported by two bearings.
The cellar is many meters below, and it’s an area ruled by soft lighting, colors and materials, both innovative and traditional, such as terracotta and weathered steels. Small tasting rooms appear to be suspended above the barriques in the aging room, so you can imagine how wonderful it is to taste wines here. The winery is attractive for many other reasons as well, especially if you love Italian wine and lifestyle; the building also hosts modern artworks, a small library and a wine shop. The best conclusion to your visit? In their restaurant, of course: Rinuccio 1180 ( named in honor of an Antinori ancestor), where you can enjoying typical foods of the Tuscan region, immersed in an atmosphere of elegance, while continuing to admire the vineyards in front of you.