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Rioja Estate Hires Top Architect to Redesign Winery

Ryan Isaac
Posted: November 1, 1999

Spanish winery Marques de Riscal -- a well-known family-owned producer in the Rioja region -- has hired architect Frank Gehry to redesign its estate with the hope that the modernized facility will support growing tourism in northern Spain.

Marques de Riscal, founded in the 19th century, makes Rioja reds, including a Reserva and Gran Reserva; Baron de Chirel, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and the native Tempranillo grape; and a Sauvignon Blanc from the Rueda region. The winery has been making efforts to improve its quality and last year enlisted the help of Chateau Margaux winemaker Paul Pontallier as a consultant for its red wines.

Since 1997, when Gehry's Guggenheim museum opened its doors in Bilbao, Spain, about two hours from Rioja, the number of annual visitors to the region has ballooned. "Everyone realizes the genius of the new architecture," said Jose Luis Muguiro, export manager of Marques de Riscal and one of the younger generation of the Riscal family.

According to Muguiro, the Riscal family has wanted to renovate for a while, and following the Guggenheim's success, the winery asked Gehry to design a new structure for the estate. Initially, Gehry turned down the project; however, he accepted an invitation to visit Riscal.

It was then that Muguiro and the Canadian-born architect developed a relationship -- aided in part by Muguiro's generous offering of Marques de Riscal 1929, from Gehry's birth year -- and before long, a partnership was forged.

Gehry's task is to design a structure that will be integrated into the original 19th century estate, a collection of low stone buildings set on a hillside in the small town of Elciego. The new building will contain a tasting room, a museum of Riscal wines, a book collection, a gift shop, a 120-seat restaurant to be headed by a top Basque chef and 14 guest suites. Muguiro views Riscal as the area's tourism ambassador and expects that the upgrades will attract travelers who are coming primarily to see the Guggenheim.

Currently, Riscal and Gehry are choosing between two models for the new building and expect to have a final model ready in February. They are also deciding between a stone and copper exterior or a metal one. "We are discussing both options," reported Muguiro, "but we believe we are going to take the stone and copper."

Regardless of the decision, Muguiro seems thrilled to have Gehry spearheading the project, which he estimated will cost more than $10 million. "I've never seen a man with so much power of movement in Europe," he said about the architect, who now lives in Los Angeles as a U.S. citizen. "He's so modest, you cannot imagine. Everyone loves him."

Check recent ratings of Marques de Riscal wines.

For past news on Marques de Riscal:

  • June 26, 1998
    Pontallier Adds Rioja Winery to His Consultations

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