In a radical move to the country, this ancient wine-maker returns to the grape-producing earth of the Tuscan hills
It’s a different kind of architecture, the Antinori winery at Bargino outside Florence. Different not only because it is a very large building complex sunk relatively unobtrusively into a hillside, but also because it represents the first shift out of town for the celebrated Antinori dynasty – Tuscan winemaking aristocracy – which has been based in its eponymous palazzo in central Florence for the past 500 years.
Now complete but for the necessary natural healing of the landscape over and around the building – it is planted with vines and olives, naturally, none of your manicured lawns – the building is something of a manifesto statement not only by the client, but also by the architect, Archea Associates of Florence. For the client, it is a return to the Chianti Classico countryside, its 120-strong administration being located in the same complex as a new working winery, together with restaurant, shop museum and auditorium. For the architect (Marco Casamonti of Archea leading the team) it is proof that a large mixed-use complex can be absorbed into the landscape. The concept was of a building that was no more than two uneven cuts in the landscape, like a Lucio Fontana slashed canvas. The bigger and lower of these two slashes is some 160m long.
It took eight years and some heavy engineering to achieve this building. Earth-sheltered and organised on a staggered section, it required the complete excavation of a 35ha hillside. When digging began in 2005, the ground proved unstable, so the building had to be piled and tethered with ground anchors: engineer Hydea also acted as project manager.
From the road below, you see only a retaining wall in pinkish in-situ concrete (the colour of the soil here) with the Antinori name emblazoned on it. From here the road snakes up the hill and you catch a glimpse of the curving brow of the building in Cor-Ten steel. Then the road disappears beneath the complex, bends again and deposits you at the lowest level beneath the canopy, from where a very considerable 100-tonne helicoidal staircase, more sculptural than functional, rises through the canopy to the terrace above. The canopy is a 21m cantilever at its deepest point, with the added weight of soil on top.
Museum, offices and shop are at the front, looking across the valley. Behind, dug into the temperature-stabilising hillside, are the cellars dedicated to barrels ranging in size from the smallest ‘barriques’ upwards. Perched high at the back behind them is the winery, complete with bottling plant. This level, the second slash in the landscape, is fronted by the restaurant, again enjoying the view.
Archea keeps the palette of materials incredibly simple, mostly in earth tones. There is poured concrete tinted with iron oxide, terracotta bricks of similar hue used in various ways, Cor-Ten steel, rough-sawn timber and curving glass. The whole building, glass excepted, has an industrial feel to it and there are wonderfully Stygian staircase atria between the front and rear halves of the complex. The three rows of cellars are dramatically treated, sinusoidal in form, and lined with terracotta bricks set on a metal armature within what would otherwise have been a single huge rectilinear space. Glass-box tasting rooms project into the cellars. The lower level, though buried beneath a new vineyard, is daylit through a succession of circular apertures of various sizes. The two largest mark courtyards at either end of the building – one for cars, one for trucks.
Antinori is a prestige wine marque – the present Marchese was one of the earliest exponents of the Bordeaux-challenging wines known as ‘Supertuscans’ – and this is plainly intended as a statement building, for all its hunkering-down. It is all about what the French would call ‘terroir’. It is conceptually of the land, as the wines are. Archea Associates, meanwhile, is going places, with studios not only in Florence but also Rome, Milan, Beijing, Dubai and São Paulo. Yet for all this expansionism, this project close to home is clearly hugely important for the company. Wine tourism is important, and growing as an activity. A big-name winery is a destination. Rather than go the flashy route, Archea and Antinori have chosen drama, mystery and power. It works.
Client Marchesi Antinori
Architect Archea Associati
Engineer/project manager Hydea
Structural engineer AEI Progetti
M&E M&E Management and Engineering
Oenological specialist Emex Engineering
General contractor INSO
Steel Secco Sistemi
Precast concrete CSP
In-situ concrete Alpi
Glazing Pilkington Sunglass
Terracotta Sannini Impruneta, Ceipo Ceramiche
Lighting Zumtobel, Martini Illuminazione
Furniture Estel, Castelli, Moroso