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Fine wine gets a makeover by top architects

By Laura Allsop for CNN
  • More and more wineries designed by top architects are opening
  • Exhibition in San Francisco explores relationship between wine and design
  • Wineries opening art galleries; becoming hip visitor destinations

London, England (CNN) -- The drink of choice for creative types through the ages, wine is now making significant inroads into the realms of contemporary culture.

No longer associated with fusty cellars, wines are now being produced in cutting-edge wineries designed by leading architects.

Some even feature art collections of contemporary art in specially built museums and are becoming tourist attractions.

Now a new exhibition at the San Francisco Museum of Modern art is exploring just how intertwined the realms of wine and modern art and design actually are.

"How Wine Became Modern: Design + Wine 1976 to Now" offers a glimpse into the ways artists, designers and architects have got behind wine and made it the object of interest and desire it now is.

It also shows how similar fine wine and fine art are as objects, how they are sought-after, fetishized, and housed in purpose-made spaces by leading architects.

Wine is crafted like art is crafted, it's this crafted endeavor.
--Artist Gordon Huether

Located in San Francisco, not far from Napa Valley, the prime wine-making region of the U.S., the museum is ideally situated for an exhibition exploring this subject.

Henry Urbach is the curator of the exhibition, which has been developed with help from New York-based architectural film Diller Scofidio + Renfro.

He told CNN that the idea for the exhibition emerged "from an observation and curiosity about why there was so much activity around wine in various design fields."

Urbach cited the 1976 Judgment of Paris as a watershed moment for the rebranding of wine as a modern status object with a specifically modern culture surrounding it.

During this famous blind taste test, nine French wine experts pronounced a number of northern California wines superior to esteemed French vintages.

According to Urbach, the judgment "challenged the hegemony of French and old-world wine and inspired the confidence elsewhere in the world, and a new culture of wine is born."

Since then, he continued, wine has become "a kind of fetish object writ large, because it stands for something other, and for a sense of rootedness and authenticity."

These are some of the features, he said, that fine wine shares with fine art.

Exhibits include a counterfeit magnum of a rare and valuable wine created by French artist Nicolas Boulard; and a photomural imagining the Judgment of Paris modeled on "The Last Supper" by Leonardo da Vinci.

Other interactive exhibits include a smell wall, allowing visitors to scrutinize and smell a selection of wines mounted in bottles to a gallery wall.

A major segment of the exhibition takes a look at wineries that have been built in recent years, taking particular interest in the architecture of these spaces.

These include wineries and winery attractions by major architecture firms such as Norman Foster, Zaha Hadid Architects, Gehry Partners, Herzog & de Meuron, Renzo Piano Building Workshop and Alvaro Siza.

Urbach said: "There are probably a score of world famous architects who have done wineries in the last fifteen years and they're not doing dairy farms or orange juice bottling plants."

It's not only architects who are involved in creating and supporting wine brands. Artists are are getting in on the act too.

The Bodega Colome winery in Argentina, owned by Swiss vintner Donald Hess, features its own purpose-built museum housing site-specific work by American light artist James Turrell.

This is in addition to a museum of contemporary art located at the site of Hess's Napa winery.

American artist Gordon Huether, meanwhile, has been an artist-in-residence at the Artesa winery in Napa, California, since 1997.

Though his sculptures are made of numerous materials, he also works with aged vine roots.

"The Raventos family are from Barcelona and that family has been making sparkling wines for 500 years, and they have a long, long, history of innovative, beautiful architecture and art, the whole experience," Huether told CNN.

They were, he said, ahead of their time -- for realizing that art, food and wine make up "the better things in life."

"The cream that rises to the top," he continued. "Wine is crafted like art is crafted, it's this crafted endeavor."