What is mimetic architecture? A look at Barolo's new style
- Written by Gabriele Pieroni
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Greener, better, and more beautiful. The wineries of the Langhe have transformed over time, abandoning their old facades to embrace newer, bolder forms that fold into the surrounding countryside. Here are the newest houses of wine that follow the sinuous tracks of the hills and round off the sharp angles of ancient farmhouses once held by estate owners of another era.
Instead of breaking out of the landscape, these wineries bury themselves in the earth and, often, depart from the grandiosity of the towering 19th century homesteads in favor of a chameleon look, ready to surprise you with their discreet blending with the environment. This last part is dictated not just by modern architectural tendencies, but also by the fact that its territory will soon be protected by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.
Barolo and its hills, rich in history, make up an area that is the best example of integrated architecture for understanding this transformation of wineries. The king of wines and his precious countryside have asked architects to create modern solutions both from the ground up and for reconstructing wineries that already had a productive structure. Discover the cantine that best know how to integrate themselves with the environment, and dive into the architectural heart of one of the best kept secrets of the wine world.
A green mushroom, a sudden abyss in the earth, a crash-landed UFO? What, exactly, is Farmhouse Adelaide? The most particular and eccentric of Barolo wineries has grown from the bastions of earth that support Falletti Castle and adjacent churches along the Aie Sottane road under Barolo. But it's the shade of the earth more than the high castle walls that jealously preserve this futuristic winery buried 5 meters (16 feet) deep, housed by the very hills that it imitates so well as to escape notice completely. Designed by Archicura in 2004, this winery is perhaps the best example of mimetic architecture. Silent and essential, it's completely covered by a grassy mantle from which emerge its steel and glass structures.
Terre da Vino Winery
On the road that guides the traveler to the mythical hills of Cannubi, just as it starts to climb, the winery of Terre da Vino Consortium deserves an obligatory visit. The first impression is notable: one is struck by the great, modern space and its entrance. But the more you explore this winery, the more you understand how its dialogue with the earth and territory has been a constant in its construction. The winery, designed by Gianni Arnaudo, expands towards the hills ever more imperceptibly before disappearing under the green grass. The interior is spectacular: a long, suspended boardwalk directs the visitor towards the different buildings of the complex, revealing the various phases of wine production. The walk proceeds in an almost harrowing suspension over the barrel room that, upon its completion, will hold over three thousand barrels. An interesting fact: during autumn, the palazzo's part that houses the offices is covered with corn cobs, following the farmers' tradition of hanging them on walls for drying. "It has a practical and aesthetic function," explains Gianni Arnaudo. "It creates a ventilated wall in a natural way, as the air circulates between the walls in a convection cell; and the natural color of dried corn changes as it dries, creating a beautiful range of colors."
Renato Ratti Winery
Not far from Barolo, along the road that crosses the community Annunziata and continues to La Morra, is another winery that deserves a stop: that of Renato Ratti, a celebrated producer of Barolo. This winery also mimics the Langhe countryside almost perfectly. Observed from afar, it continues the line of terrain upon which rests the Annunziata Abbey, covered with grass on its higher point that is modeled after the soft curve of the hill. The winery is excavated 22 meters (72 feet) underground with just a small part rising above. "We wanted a cantina that wasn't so obvious, but discreet: a place to discover and know about rather than be a publicity sign," says the architect Marco Sitia, who designed it in 2001. "Even the exterior space and its edges don't shout their presence, but are interrupted by natural elements like grass and vines." The highest area of the winery is the circular tasting room, its glass walls providing a beautiful view of Castiglione Falletto.
Cordero di Montezemolo Winery
Again just outside of La Morra in the community Annunziata, on the hill of Monfalletto is the winery Cordero di Montezemolo. The complex is overshadowed by the famous Cedar of Lebanon, one of the fine, few specimens seen in the Langhe. The centerpiece of the entire estate, it's built in the middle of the property. The new winery, whose construction began in the late 1970s, is a marvelous nave centered on two plans with revealed wooden trusses. Although the interior gives the impression of great size, from outside it is nearly non-existent. "We wanted to construct a warehouse and instead we were very attentive to the landscape," says Giovanni Cordero of Montezemolo. The southern face of the winery is submerged in the hill, while the vineyards almost touch the roof. At this point, after the final reconstruction, the Corderos opened a glass-covered area awash in light, the bright green of the interior rendered even more brilliant by the tall, mast-like structures in wrought iron climbing with jasmine.
Between Novello and Barolo, on the crest of the Ravera hill is an excellent example of a winery integrated with the countryside: that of Elvio Cogno. Its construction began as a farmhouse from the 18th century surrounded by 11 hectares (27 acres) of property. The winery of Elvio Cogno, which won the UNESCO award La Fabbrica nel Paesaggio in 2012, is a model of reconstruction and innovation in the philological respect of ancient structures. After reconstructing the war-ravaged facade from the 18th century, beginning in the 1990s Nadia Cogno and Valter Fissore -- following the design of Ivana Boglietti -- operated a "critical restoration" using the old elements of the farmstead: the brick pavement, the double vaults that arch over the granary, and the Piedmontese yellow tone found on an old section of wall and re-utilized for the entire external facade. Even the southern part of the winery, after its recent reconstruction, is in such perfect symphony with the ancient part that it is indistinguishable. A visit to the Cogno Winery can't overlook a descent to the infernot: under the pool on the crest of Novello, a cellar was excavated directly in the earth. This is the "temple" of the winery where the most precious and prestigious labels are guarded.