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April 15, 2024

The impact of architecture on wine making at the Antinori nel Chianti Classico winery

Arushi Sakhuja
Ronak Hingarh, founder of Ronak Hingarh Design Studio recently visited the exquisite Antinori nel Chianti Classico winery in Tuscany on a holiday. An architect by profession, he viewed the winery with a unique lens, analyzing the intricate relationship between architectural design and the utilization of materials for controlling light and temperature within the winery. We spoke to Hingarh to know more about the architectural marvel and the impact of architecture on winemaking.
Ronak Hingarh, Architect + Design _ (1)
Ronak Hingarh
Tell us about the impact of architecture on the winemaking process.
Winemaking is a confluence of art and science that requires careful balancing of several tangible and intangible variables. So is architecture. As they say, “Behind every wine is a wine cellar that influences the personality of each bottle it produces”. The place where the grapes are collected, processed and bottled is as much a part of the wine as the recipe to make it. The architecture of the winery not only lends the technical infrastructure to the wine but also a personality and character. This differs from winery to winery. 
Antinori nel Chianti Classico
Photo Courtesy: Antinori nel Chianti Classico
Antinori nel Chianti Classico
Photo Courtesy: Antinori nel Chianti Classico
Right from selecting the perfect location for the winery (macro climate, light, temperature, humidity, accessibility to vineyards) which impacts the quality of the product, to designing the winery in order to control the microclimate and these factors by means of architecture; (sequencing of programs and layout of spaces, sizes and orientation of the rooms, the right blend of old and new materials that not only provides robust and eco-friendly infrastructure but lends a distinct character and enhances these various processes of winemaking,) the impact of architecture on winemaking is immeasurable. Throughout history, people have searched for the best locations for making wine, both above and below the ground. The perfect location that has enough space, just the right light, is the ideal size (volume), and is also beautiful- because why not?! Erecting a beautiful building out of nothing, winemaking can be an art—creating, inspiring, and evoking all sensations. 
Wine represents repose; the stillness of those who wait patiently for it to emerge into the world to be enjoyed; for it to be born and to mature. And it’s not just the ‘what’ that matters in that process, but the ‘how’ and the ‘where’— the method and the place. It’s about the containers and materials used; the walls that protect them; the stone, steel, cement, and glass constructions that shelter them into maturity inside steel tanks, large earthenware jars, wooden barrels or, of course, wine bottles. 
Architecture and wine go hand in hand especially when wine producers and architects collaborate and create a winery that also represents what is inside it. Some notable ones include The Codorniu Winery located near Barcelona and designed by Gaudi-contemporary architect Puig I Cadafalch to new age winery to Martin’s Lane Winery in Kelowna in Canada (by Olson Kundig Architects) that uses the pull of gravity to help produce its signature pinot noir, to San Vicente winery, a new winery designed by Canadian architect Frank O. Gehry, which contains a luxury hotel, a spa, 2 restaurants, and a meeting, conference, and banquet centre! Wineries become more exciting places to visit once we start celebrating the process of winemaking through their architecture and opening it to visitors so that they can have more meaningful engagements. 
Describe your recent visit to the exquisite Antinori nel Chianti Classico winery in Tuscany and your learnings.
I happened to be in Milan for the design week and post that I decided to visit Florence. A visit to one of the most exquisite wineries in the world which is only about 45 mins drive from Florence was a must for me. The drive is truly spectacular and takes you through the beautiful mountains and wineries of the Tuscan region setting the mood for the visit. Upon arrival, to be quite honest I was stunned by the architecture of the place. It is very easy to miss as from afar you can’t really see an imposing structure as one would expect. That is because the entire facility is embedded in the ground- it’s subterranean! It is perfectly integrated into the surrounding hillside. It was designed to unify state-of-the-art production facilities and free-flowing fluid aesthetics through a contemplative relationship with the natural beauty of the surrounding landscape. The shape and forms of the roofs are articulated as large strokes and extensions of the contours and terrain itself. 
Antinori nel Chianti Classico
Photo Courtesy: Antinori nel Chianti Classico
Antinori nel Chianti Classico
Photo Courtesy: Antinori nel Chianti Classico
Juxtaposed against the lush green landscape, the entire structure is clad in corten steel sheets that like wine age over time! As you drive through the meandering entrance the structure gradually reveals itself through fluid strokes. From the car park, there is a stunning cantilever and suspended spiral staircase that takes you to the main entrance patio level. It is designed to impress, giving you 360 panoramic views of the integrated relationship between the facility and the landscape. These almost 40-metre cantilevered roofs are completed steel fabrication and are used to grow grapes above while shading the large expansive entrance patio below. 
The focal point for me is the underground cellar area. The structure is embedded in the ground to control the precise amount of natural light, temperature and humidity which are integral to the process of wine-making. The deeper you go the temperature drops but the humidity also increases. Hence it’s a very tricky balance to achieve. Inspired by ancient roman vaulted structures, the cellar area is housed between a series of vaults made from Steel fabrication but clad in terracotta tiles! The flooring is also terracotta tiles. The right amount of indirect lighting and controlled skylights not only make it technically appropriate but aesthetically it is stunning. You are instantly teleported to another world. 
The processing and bottling facility are sequenced behind and above the cellar. There are 5 main stages: Harvesting, Crushing + pressing, Fermentation, Clarification, ageing + bottling. The facility’s layout follows this sequence from outside to inside in relation to the terrain.
How did it help you further in your career?
Creativity is not inbuilt. It is inspired. And travelling has been a great source of inspiration for me and my work. Through travelling I encounter various diverse cultures, traditions, architecture and the story behind such gems. It inspires me to relook at forms, shapes and patterns from our rich culture and tradition and application of materials in a variety of ways to better suit modern lifestyle. This winery is no expectation. It inspires me to look at the symbiotic relationship between nature and architecture (which is my practice’s fundamental principle). Buildings don’t need to exist in isolation but be integrated with nature. Also, the sophistication with which structure, spaces, design concept, light, and program (winemaking) come together here is truly spectacular. The architectural details and engineering are cutting-edge and definitely a great example of how to design and build spaces for the future while staying rooted in culture, history, tradition and nature. 
Antinori nel Chianti Classico
Photo Courtesy: Antinori nel Chianti Classico
Apart from this visiting such places helps me relook at and develop my own sense of design aesthetics. I am able to understand the relationship between climate, programme, geography and building materials and how these factors can manifest in a built environment. For example, certain traditional materials like terracotta are great insulators and microclimate regulators. Additionally, it adds great warmth and earthy character to a space. It makes sense to bottle and age wine in such an environment. Not only does terracotta perform as a functional material but adds the required warm and upscale aesthetic. It is locally made so it is also easily and readily available in such large quantities. 
My work is a culmination of such learnings and findings from travels. It helps me zoom out and assess my own process of designing too. It helps me understand the way of thinking of this group of producers and designers and reinforces my idea about the power of Storytelling. At the end of the day as an architect I am a storyteller where I develop and conceptualise a vision on behalf of my clients at Ronak Hingarh Design Studio, weave a narrative / a story and manifest it through architecture/ spaces. I find a strong common thread here; in the process of conceptualising, designing and building this winery and that is very reassuring and inspiring as a creator. 
You may also like: 
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Arushi Sakhuja

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