Located in northern Spain, about five hours from Madrid, the Rioja countryside has become one of the world’s leading laboratories for two seemingly unrelated creative pursuits: architecture and winemaking. But like most great growing areas, it’s also a place where tradition infuses everything, which makes it an odd spot for a high-stakes game of modern architecture one-upmanship. And yet that’s just what happened; vintners competed to commission bodegas by today’s brightest architects. The results are now as good a reason to visit La Rioja as the wine produced in some of the world’s most innovative wineries. Each of these five bold and ambitious structures expresses a different idea of how modern architecture should coexist with medieval castles and monasteries. The architectural arms race has succeeded in bringing the attention of the world’s design aficionados to northern Spain. And all the while, La Rioja’s historic charm remains defiantly intact.
Hotel Marqués de Riscal (Photo: Courtesy of Hotel Marqués de Riscal and Starwood Hotels & Resorts.)
Frank Gehry’s eye-popping new Hotel Marqués de Riscal stands out in the surrounding countryside, otherwise filled with Romanesque churches. Clad in pink, silver and gold rumpled titanium and steel panels that evoke the foil on the top of a wine bottle, the 43-suite hotel overlooking the small medieval town of Elciego is part of a historic winery. Featuring a cooking school, a Caudalie Vinothérapie Spa and a Michelin-starred restaurant, it was one of the first luxury properties in the area.
Bodegas Ysios (Photo: Courtesy of Chancha S. Ulloa.)
Down the road in Laguardia, about 10 minutes by car, another exciting contemporary landmark is the Bodegas Ysios. Designed by Valencia-born architect Santiago Calatrava, this long, low structure, with its undulating pleated aluminum roof, seems to nestle right into the Sierra de Cantabria mountain range.
Bodega Viña Real (Photo: Courtesy of Bodega Viña Real.)
French architect Philippe Mazières revisited Bodega Viña Real, near Logroño, by creating clean, modern lines for its new pavilion. Made out of concrete, stainless steel and Canadian red cedar and built into the side of a mountain, this state-of-the-art winery resembles a massive oak vat. The concept is rugged simplicity taken to the extreme, but somehow it manages to take on an unexpected elegance.
Bodegas Baigorri (Photo: Courtesy of Bodegas Baigorri.)
Further north, in the town of Samaniego, Basque native Iñaki Aspiazu Iza has created a form that looks like it was sculpted by the same natural forces that shaped the surrounding hills. Bodegas Baigorri was built almost entirely underground in order to maximize the use of gravity in the winemaking process. Its only prominent above-ground feature is a temple-like glass-encased reception space that presides over acres of vines.
R. López de Heredia Viña Tondonia (Photo: Courtesy of Viña Tondonia.)
Even one of the most traditional wineries of the region, R. López de Heredia Viña Tondonia, has been getting in on the action by hiring Zaha Hadid to create its tasting room. Her clever matte gold and stainless steel space looks like a decanter from Sharper Image.