Observations: Architecture finally hits the bottle

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The Independent Culture

In Greek, protos means new. But in Penafiel, north-western Spain, it means three million bottles of wine a year – four million when the new Bodegas Protos production plant, designed by Rogers Stirk Harbour, starts production this month.

Big league architects are changing the face of wine-making, especially in Penafiel, where the tempranillo grape has produced vintages for decades. It is no longer enough to make wines, it's about turning wineries into destinations.

Seen from the slopes just below the 14th-century castle, the new architecture looks like five barrel-vaulted farm sheds pushed together in a roughly triangular plan. The ensemble, textured and coloured by the rise and fall of their terracotta roof tiles, hints at brandysnaps.

The challenge for 21st-century architecture was to deliver a million more bottles a year without erasing the winery's historic gravitas Protos has produced wine at Penafiel since 1926, and much of its tempranillo is grown and harvested in the same archaic manner as Cistercian monks.

In committing £15m to the project, it's amusing to discover that Protos considered Lord Rogers a bit of a risk. Managing director, Teotimo San Jose, bemoaned Rogers' "lack of experience in winery design" and only chose Rogers because Rafael Moneo and Santiago Calatrava were busy with other wineries. The new winery is in part a response to Lord Foster designing a mega-winery nearby, and recognition that smaller local wineries are upping the ante with distinctive new buildings, which not only increase efficiency, but are valuable marketing bolt-ons.