It's not so long ago that Argentina’s wineries were all made of traditional adobe walls (mud and straw) in oblong constructions. But in the past decade, the architectural firm Bormida & Yanzón has introduced "localized" style concepts and created some of the most visually appealing wineries in the country.
Deeply functional and contemporary, the designs focus on incorporating the landscape of the main wine region, Mendoza.
Prior to the 1990s, Argentine wineries used the Pampas (fertile lowlands) as their stylistic icon and largely ignored the rugged Andes mountains that served as Mendoza's backdrop. However, since the arrival of ample foreign investment in the region and the launching of new projects to create showcase wineries, a lot of innovative thinking has gone into winery architecture.
“We relate our projects so intimately with the landscape because winemakers always remark to us the importance of enhancing the perception of the qualities of our vineyard landscape,” explains Eliana Bormida, who spearheads winery design in the firm.
Bormida & Yanzón, headed by Bormida, Mario Yanzón and their daughter Luisa Yanzón, was founded in 1972, and for many years its work on wineries focused on refurbishing and reworking old ones.
Its first completely new winery, Salentein in 2000, remains a landmark achievement. This commission was an open invitation to come up with entirely new winery style ideas.
“There was nothing on site,” says Bormida. "They just had some vines already in production and we had to select the site to place the winery. So we decided to start the project with the selection of the background we wanted. The winery faces out from the spectacular Andes backdrop and the whole touristic circuit is channeled with the direction of the mountain view in mind."
Tourists calling in at Salentein first encounter the visitors' center, restaurant and art gallery. Named Killka, which means "gate" in the native Quechua language, the building appears as a beam supported by two wide pillars to give the impression of a portal. The glass-walled center guides visitors' eyes towards a path on the other side; in turn, it leads through a small vineyard in the middle of desert surroundings that heralds the winery and marks Mendoza’s transformation into a wine region.
The winery itself is earth-colored brick with a slanted green-hued roof – echoing the jagged mountain setting – and the surrounding reserve of native desert vegetation respects its natural landscape.
Andean views and the use of native materials are prominent in all of the new wineries that Bormida & Yanzón have designed. Septima, constructed in 2001, presented a dilemma because of its location in full sun exposure on the side of an access road. The quandary was overcome by using large rocks from the nearby foothills which are slow to absorb heat.
The winery was positioned and designed so that the north-facing side (which bears the brunt of the peak sunlight) has double walls for insulation and no windows. By contrast, the south-facing side has large ventilation windows which receive no direct sunlight but benefit from the cooling southern wind.
The layout is practical – with the reception area at one end and the bottling plant at the other – but also attractive, offering panoramic views of the vineyards and mountains from the restaurant and the numerous terraces that are oriented towards the sunset.
This functionality and process flow is reflected in another milestone winery of Bormida & Yanzón's design: O. Fournier. Harvested grapes are brought up two ramps to an elevated reception area, where they are poured into four holes in the floor that function as wine tanks and the central support pillars for the construction. The cylinders lead down to the underground barrel room and support a steel-and-glass bridge, which holds the laboratory, micro-vinification area and winemaker’s office overlooking the entire vineyard.
While O. Fournier is purely functional, it is also the most extroverted of the architects’ wineries. At the Spanish owner’s request, this avant-garde facility was intentionally novel and nonconformist, representative of a New World design outside of European convention.
The most notable architectural feature is the giant black flat umbrella formation on top, which provides shade and temperature control but also creates a statement: the flamboyant structure appears from a distance like a swooping bird, evocative of Mendoza’s symbolic condor.
Bormida explains that with O. Fournier being one of the wineries furthest away from the mountains, her firm did not need to design it as a subordinate structure to the Andes. “When the mountains are so expressive and close, you have to make your building subordinated to them [like at Salentein]. In the case of O. Fournier, we had the chance to fly – to give more freedom to our form.”
While respect for the landscape is one of Bormida & Yanzón's key characteristics, the architects often use local natural resources, such are cement, gravel and rocks, taken from the actual excavation site. Bormida explains: “It’s important for those enormous buildings to keep costs as low as possible, and the gravel and stones are there already. So you reduce the cost of buying material and transporting them. Another important thing is that they can be easily built by non-specialized workers. We have plenty of manual labor in Mendoza who work very well in traditional techniques, so it’s good to use them.”
Wineries such as Atamisque have a more pastoral image than the blunt appearance of, for example, O Fournier, and the use of slate and pebbles on the roofs and walls creates an attractive façade and also helps to control the temperature.
Solemnity is also an essential ingredient in Bormida & Yanzón wineries. When Salentein’s owner commissioned a chapel of gratitude as an addition to the site, the architects used tapia, a historical rammed-earth technique from the Andean region, to show respect for the local culture.
As well, the massive, thermally efficient mud-and-gravel walls create a sacred, dark and still atmosphere inside the chapel. It is lit only by natural light coming through windows that create portraits of the scenery outside, and by natural light appearing behind the Crucifix at the altar.
This stillness is repeated in the barrel room, dubbed the "wine cathedral", which the architects designed based on a concept often found in Renaissance churches – a Greek cross with four arms of equal length. Sunlight comes from a central pillar which lights the "rosa de los vientos" (rose of the winds) floor mural, made of colored rocks from the Cuyo region. The austerity is quite striking in the isolated wilderness of the winery's Uco Valley location.
This emotional connection is a feature of many of Bormida & Yanzón's winery cellars, and its latest creation, DiamAndes, is a fine example. On the outside, the stones and gravel taken from the excavation site create an attractive pink tint, but inside, in the cellar room, the cylindrical concrete pillars and a concrete floor painted in blue epoxy are lit by a central shaft of light which infiltrates through the icon of the winery – an abstraction from a diamond sculpture created by twisted stainless-steel bars.
Although functionality lies central to the firm's architectural ethos, especially in more minimalist projects like Pulenta Estate and Dante Robino, its progressive creation of a unique style can be seen throughout its wineries and has created a particular following. Last year, a map was launched to point visitors to all of the Bormida & Yanzón wineries in Mendoza.
The firm is now working on a project in Uruguay, and its followers are waiting to see how its devotion to reflecting the local environment and culture will be expressed differently in the humid and rocky landscape of that low-lying country.
As for the wineries in Mendoza at the foothills of the Andes, the rugged, functional appeal of Bormida & Yanzón's architecture continues to win it awards and a cult following around the globe.
Wines from the above-mentioned wineries: