Renzo Piano may be best known for his groundbreaking urban designs like the Shard and Centre Georges Pompidou, but the Pritzker Prize-winning architect is also the author of one very special winery in his native Italy.
Close to Tuscany’s rocky Maremma coast sits the Rocca di Frassinello estate which produces Baffonero, one of Italy’s finest Super Tuscan wines. The beating heart of the property is Piano’s striking brick-red winery surrounded by verdant vines and idyllic rolling hills.
The owner of this slice of Tuscan paradise is Dr Paolo Panerai who is popularly known as ‘the Bloomberg of Italy’. He formerly served as editor of Panorama, Il Mondo and Capital magazines and today owns the powerful financial publishing house Class Editori Spa.
Rocca di Frassinello was born of a collaboration between Panerai, who owns the highly successful Castellare di Castellina in Chianti Classico, and Baron Eric de Rothschild of the revered Domaines Barons de Rothschild-Lafite.
From the outset, the aim was to found a world-class winery crafting bottles that would rival Super Tuscan legends like Masseto. To make that dream a reality, Panerai needed a building that would both inspire and facilitate the creation of genuinely exceptional wines. Piano’s thought-provoking and disruptive modernist designs seemed a worthy fit for a newcomer wine brand determined to shake up the global fine wine scene.
The architect began the design process by letting the land make the first move. “I have never created anything without having first visited the place,” Piano commented. “I believe that, not to do so, is bordering on the immoral. Upon arriving in the Maremma with my wife and our youngest child, it was immediately apparent that the top of the hill was the right place.”
Piano’s iconic design draws on both traditional Tuscan architecture and a chic industrial aesthetic which acts as a constant reminder of the building’s practical purpose. The slender tower wistfully reminds of the ancient watchtowers which dot the Maremma coastline, yet every detail has been finely tuned to facilitate the goal of producing the very finest wines possible. Overhangs provide shade on the vast terraces for workers and visitors, while the tower which uses heliostats or angled mirrors to reflect natural light deep into the interior of the building.
The unity between utility and aesthetics extends to the winemaking processes themselves. During harvest time the grapes are brought to a wide open area Piano named the sagrato or ‘churchyard’ where they are carefully sorted. The winery then uses the environmentally friendly force of gravity to transfer the grapes to fermentation tanks through openings in the floor.
Piano’s disruptive modernist designs seemed a worthy fit for a newcomer wine
Once inside, the focal point of Piano’s design is the cavernous wine cellar, which sits directly below the sagrato. Imagined as an inverted-pyramid, this 40 sq m underground chamber is built from cement and entirely unsupported by columns.
The space is vast, big enough to house the estate’s 2,500 barrels and host the occasional dinner or concert, yet still somehow understated.
“It’s fashionable to make flashy things,” explained Piano. “There’s a sort of excessiveness in cellars for wine. Mystery is what’s needed.”
The same is true of Rocca di Frassinello’s top wine, Baffonero, which was conceived as a rival to the legendary Masseto and is crafted from 100% merlot. Piano’s iconic building is surrounded by some 500 hectares of rolling Tuscan hills planted with a blend of Italian and French grape varieties. Only the finest grapes are selected for Baffonero each year from a single vineyard just below the winery which was the first planted on the estate.
Just as with Piano’s masterful building, with Baffonero mystery triumphs over ostentatiousness. The label design is humble and understated, and even the three-figure price tag is a steal compared to its closest rival, Masseto. This is a true connoisseur’s wine which will richly reward any collector ready to invest in this future superstar.
For more information on Rocca di Frassinello and Baffonero, please contact oenogroup.com