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05.28.2011

Wine, Architecture, and Reaching for Grandeur

There has long been an intimate relationship between wine and architecture. It no doubt began with form following function. Because winemaking and the elevage of its product requires a certain modicum of space, and that space must inherently achieve some environmental requirements, the enterprising souls, many of which were monks of one order or another, sought to house their works well, with barrel vaults and thick stone walls, with sculpted caves and cavernous barns.

Later, when wine became the source of riches, or even an accessory to a fortune, those who made, or more correctly: had wine made for them, raised many a palatial form to both house and celebrate their bottled treasure.

Modern winemaking operations at larger volumes require a significant amount of space (and money), that when mixed with either artistic bent or ego providing a ripe opportunity for the employment of some of the world's best architects. Santiago Calatrava, IM Pei, Zaha Hadid, Michael Graves, Frank Gehry and many more have plied their craft at the behest of winery owners who want their facilities to make as big a statement as their wines.

At this point, grand architecture is quite trendy in the wine world and in many circles. It's no wonder then, that wine regions with a little money to spend are thinking about combining the spectacle of architecture with the allure of a rich wine experience.

This, of course, is a fantastic idea, provided that you get two things right: the wine experience has to be good, and the architecture has to be interesting.

I was reminded of these two important criteria when I saw the images for what Bordeaux is billing as "their Guggenheim:" a new wine center that, according to Decanter Magazine, the Bordeaux mayor Alain Juppé, called 'a necessary tool for structuring an entire economy' whatever the hell that means.

bordeaux_building.png

Described as "spectacular," "sensual," and "in harmony" with its riverside surroundings, the building struck me in an altogether different way.

My first thought: whose idea was it to make a building that looks like a colon?

You be the judge:

colon.jpg

Now I'm no architecture critic, but unless this is some sort of bizarre tip of the hat to the slightly more obscure health benefits of wine, I'm not sure what these folks were thinking. Setting aside the intestinal reference, a number of other, equally unpleasant likenesses spring to mind: millipede, worm, even coral snake. None really what I want to be reminded of before stepping inside to have a glass of (expensive) red wine.

Am I wrong?

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Required Reading for Wine Lovers

The Oxford Companion to Wine by Jancis Robinson The Taste of Wine by Emile Peynaud Adventures on the Wine Route by Kermit Lynch Love By the Glass by Dorothy Gaiter & John Brecher Noble Rot by William Echikson The Science of Wine by Jamie Goode The Judgement of Paris by George Taber The Wine Bible by Karen MacNeil The Botanist and the Vintner by Christy Campbell The Emperor of Wine by Elin McCoy The World Atlas of Wine by Hugh Johnson The World's Greatest Wine Estates by Robert M. Parker, Jr.