Should Starchitecture represent an opportunity to boost wine tourism?

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In a research presented during the AAWE annual conference in Bordeaux, Robin Back has discussed the following question: How does a “starchitecture” servicescape influence cognitive, emotional and behavioral responses of winery visitors and consumers; are such designs congruent with the with history and brand image of historic wineries? As an answer we could say that there are two kinds of architecture: good architecture and the other things. Taking the example of NY, the design standards written during the previous administration effectively excluded classical, traditional, and eclectic architects from city contracts. The Federal General Services Administration, responsible for choosing the architects for all Federal buildings, does the same, usually by using their well-intentioned but ideological Design Excellence standards.

During the time of the Bloomberg administration, New York City strongly and effectively promoted Starchitecture (original genius) and shiny iconic towers as important parts of “dynamic, 21st-century cities.” At the same time, new Design and Construction Excellence policies focused on a specific vision of architecture that in the end excluded traditional and eclectic architects from city work.

Starchitecture in the vineyards was inspired by the the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao and its significant effects on the local economy and tourism. A number of traditional Spanish wineries sought to reproduce such a differentiation strategy by incorporating similar “starchitecture,” i.e., unusual building projects designed by celebrity architects. Marqués de Riscal, one of Spain’s oldest wineries, inaugurated its “City of Wine” in 2006, a project that gained international exposure thanks to the help of Canadian-born American architect Frank Gehry, who created a unique hotel concept using the deconstructivist style that characterizes his architectural landmarks. In addition to the Gehry-designed hotel managed by Starwood as part of their luxury collection. The City of Wine also includes a Michelin-starred restaurant and a wine therapy spa operated by the French firm Caudalie, which bases its treatments on the natural properties of both grapes and wine.

Robin Back highlighted that “Starchitecture” acts as motivator for tourists to visit winery/region and has positive effect on brand perception while poor service acts as negative moderator but incongruence produces mainly positive responses. As a matter of fact, Starchitecture is only a narrow and a particular “avant garde” architectural philosophy that is promoted, leaving out lots of good work. For years, France is also trying hard to make wine a pillar of its tourist economy. Alsace was the first wine region in France to establish a tourist “route des vins”. For more than 60 years, the region has been devising itineraries to help navigate its network of hundreds of producers, large and small. Inspired by such initiatives, government and industry have stepped in to give some structure and professionalism to the process.

For example, tourists usually visit the Savoie for the skiing, not the wine, though some do make a trip to the vineyards and taste local wines such as Chignin, Crépy and Chautagne – in fact, three-quarters of all Savoy wines are consumed in situ. It’s the same story in Corsica, which tourists visit for the landscape and climate. Local winemakers promote their products to visitors and sell to restaurants on the island. In contrast, in the Loire Valley, which has been a Unesco world heritage site since 2000, the region’s wine and food are as much a part of the allure as the historic cities and castles. In Champagne, there are causes for both hope and concern. The region believes it has lived in the shadow of its sparkling wine for too long; people are more inclined to drink champagne than visit the region itself.

Some wine producers have added ventures such as running bed-and-breakfasts and renting out holiday cottages, keeping business in the region and benefiting their neighbours. Bienvenue à la ferme, a network of farms with accommodation, has added Les fermes Bacchus, wine estates that offer winemaking and appreciation courses. Les Sources de Caudalie, in Bordeaux, has set up a network of luxury vineyard hotels. Starchitecture seems not be a focus for the wine regions and associations. In the other hand, Napa itself has become a kind of Las Vegas of wine. Each winery has its own exuberant architectural style. There’s a Greek monastery painted all in white (Sterling Vineyards), a pseudo-Egyptian temple (Clos Pegase), a Chinese garden (Chateau Montelena).

Recently French designer has teamed up with architect Luc Arsène-Henry to create a cellar for Château les Carmes Haut-Brion, designed to look like a “raw metal blade plunged in the terroir” while, not so far from there, the new winery of Château Cheval Blanc, designed by architect Christian de Portzamparc, was inaugurated in 2011. It is designed like a “wine atelier”, a sort of bridge between ancient and modern, an enormous sail in white concrete looking over the vineyards of Saint Emilion. The “file rouge” of these projects are: celebrity architects, terroir and wine making. They are “wine-centric” and there aim is to make wine educating tourists coming from all over the world. It is simple (if not simplistic) but it is also true that the winery has always been the natural place to begin an experience around wine. 

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