Castello di Ama: Italy's castle of love, where art meets wine
It takes time to get to Castello di Ama. The medieval Italian village is perched on a hilltop surrounded by vines and black, at-attention cypress trees. It sits at the end of a long, narrow, sun-dappled road.
The village, which dates back to the 18th century, looks as if it's been here for all of eternity.
These days, it's owned almost entirely by Lorenza Sebasti and Marco Pallanti, the couple behind Castello di Ama, one of Tuscany's most famous wineries.
Castello di Ama -- or "castle of love" as the name rather poetically translates to -- is hugely thought of -- it was Wine Spectator's 6th highest rated wine last year. But Castello di Ama has more than just standout wine.
When you get here, you notice unique flourishes, like odd, brightly-colored paving stones that pop out from ancient flagstones, and a mirrored wall with windows looking out over the sprawling vineyards.
For the past 15 years, Lorenza and Marco have been inviting some of the world's most influential artists to the winery, to create legacy projects. These installations are built on-site -- spread throughout the land and various buildings in the village.
There is an ethereal Anish Kapoor piece, located in a centuries-old chapel -- a bowl cut into the floor that glows a deep red against the gloom.
There is a sculpture by Louise Bourgeois of a kneeling woman with the head of an artichoke. The bizarre work is also a fountain, and to view it, you have to climb down a rickety ladder into one of the older cellars.
Most recently Hiroshi Sugimoto commissioned two huge marble structures. One is suspended from the ceiling while its twin, rises up from the floor. Each are crowned by stainless steel points that almost touch, separated by millimeters.
"We began (commissioning artworks) in the 1990s," says Castello di Ama's Lorenza Sebasti. "It was to make more alive these buildings and give good energy to age our wines, with the help of these artists. (Initially) it was just temporary exhibitions."
In 1999, with the help of Galleria Continua, they contacted Michelangelo Pistoletto, an Italian painter, to commission their first site-specific, permanent installation.
The following year, Pistoletto created "Tree of Life," a split tree trunk with mirrors inserted into its gut, creating refracted images.
"Michelangelo chose (to install his work in) the cellar. He built something that is for us like a totem. When you enter, when you arrive, you see this is like a god to protect our work," says Marco.
It was the start of ongoing collaborations with some of the world's top artists.
Art for the next generation
"We ask artists to do an interpretation of our world," Marco says. "Every artist (that we've worked with) has been invited to Castello di Ama, to be inspired by the history, our passion and the wine."
Today, the property sits transformed, with larger-scale works, like Carlos Garaicoa's "Yo no quiero ver mas a mis vecinos." Garaicoa's miniature reproductions of some of history's most famous walls, such as the Berlin Wall, sprawl across the property.
"It is very important for us, the relationship we have with time, both for the wine and the art," says Lorenza.
"We give time to the artist to really digest this place and have a really authentic voice to offer to this place."
One of the most emotional connections the pair formed was with Chinese artist Chen Zhen. His work, "La lumiere interieur du corps humain (Internal Light of the Human Body)," was created as he battled cancer. It was installed five years after his death in 2000, by his wife and assistant, Xu Min.
Outsiders might see these artistic collaborations as simply a clever art investment. But Lorenza and Marco insist nothing could be further from the truth.
The art, like the vines, Lorenza says, is for the next generation.
"Those vines won't mature for the next 30, 40 years and maybe we will never make for ourselves those wines. So, the art project is very much our contribution for keeping this place for the next generation."
"Essentially the artists themselves understand that making something here at Castello di Ama will make this place important as a destination for art lovers but at the same time make them proud to have a work here. None of this art is on sale, and this gives a lot of freedom to both the artists and ourselves."
Castello di Ama is located in Tuscany, Italy. More info here.