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April 21, 2010

Nestled into the Tuscan landscape, in the municipality of Gavorrano in the heart of Maremma, sits a modern winery called Rocca di Frassinello. Designed by Renzo Piano, the brilliant red structure can be seen for miles, and overlooks the Medieval hamlet of Giuncarico. Piano, who grew up a family vineyard in the Ovada hills, was tempted to accept the project after revisiting the area by helicopter. His conception, a modern interpretation of a traditional Tuscan wine-making operation, opened in 2007 and is largely underground, featuring a cavernous amphitheater that holds 2,500 oak barrels holding a "super-Tuscan" blend of Sangiovese, Merlot and Chianti.

Renzo Piano's Rocca di Frassinello winery is situated on 2,000 acres of hilly land visible from the Aurelia, the wending road built by the Romans that runs through the Tuscan hillside and connects the surrounding mountaintop villages.
Renzo Piano's Rocca di Frassinello winery is situated on 2,000 acres of hilly land visible from the Aurelia, the wending road built by the Romans that runs through the Tuscan hillside and connects the surrounding mountaintop villages.
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The architect's initial sketch for the structure, which he drew when touring the site from helicopter.
The architect's initial sketch for the structure, which he drew when touring the site from helicopter.
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Atop the main piazza, the central glass-and-steel entrance is topped by a huge red spire with three circular mirrors that direct beams of light underground to the wine cellar.
Atop the main piazza, the central glass-and-steel entrance is topped by a huge red spire with three circular mirrors that direct beams of light underground to the wine cellar.
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A colorful array of stacked chairs, each hue representing one of the wines created at Rocca di Frassinello.
A colorful array of stacked chairs, each hue representing one of the wines created at Rocca di Frassinello.
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Upon entering the main pavilion, 360-degree views of the surrounding hillside are captured through floor-to-ceiling walls of glass."You have to be careful not to over-do it," says Piano. "It's fashionable to make things too showy—there's a kind of excessi
Upon entering the main pavilion, 360-degree views of the surrounding hillside are captured through floor-to-ceiling walls of glass."You have to be careful not to over-do it," says Piano. "It's fashionable to make things too showy—there's a kind of excessiveness in wineries...you need a bit of mystery."
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The bright-green hue of this wall, seen just inside the entrance, was used as a complementary color throughout the property.
The bright-green hue of this wall, seen just inside the entrance, was used as a complementary color throughout the property.
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A side view of the pavilion, and the terracotta piazza that surrounds it. The stainless-steel mesh eaves will eventually be covered in vines.
A side view of the pavilion, and the terracotta piazza that surrounds it. The stainless-steel mesh eaves will eventually be covered in vines.
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The sunlight, which burns bright and then disappears quickly behind the clouds, sends an ever-changing array of shadows onto the piazza.
The sunlight, which burns bright and then disappears quickly behind the clouds, sends an ever-changing array of shadows onto the piazza.
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Here, vines are beginning to climb through one of the eaves. A portion of the vineyard is just below.
Here, vines are beginning to climb through one of the eaves. A portion of the vineyard is just below.
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Massive sun shades designed by Piano are set up on the piazza; when it's time to process the grapes, they protect the fruit from the intense sunlight. At left, on the ground, is a narrow channel that opens to receive the grapes, which travel down a chute
Massive sun shades designed by Piano are set up on the piazza; when it's time to process the grapes, they protect the fruit from the intense sunlight. At left, on the ground, is a narrow channel that opens to receive the grapes, which travel down a chute to the vats below.
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Another shot of the sun shades gives a sense of their massive size.
Another shot of the sun shades gives a sense of their massive size.
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The glass-topped channel runs the entire perimeter of the piazza.
The glass-topped channel runs the entire perimeter of the piazza.
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Inside the structure, Massimo Casagrande, the chief wine maker at Rocca di Frassinello, opens the double-height doors that lead down into the wine cellar, which is situated directly beneath the piazza.
Inside the structure, Massimo Casagrande, the chief wine maker at Rocca di Frassinello, opens the double-height doors that lead down into the wine cellar, which is situated directly beneath the piazza.
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A collection of 2,500 barrels are inside the "Barriquerie", each holding wine that will age for up to 20 months. Piano calls this space the winery's "secret soul." At center in the ceiling is the skylight that directs a central beam to the middle of the f
A collection of 2,500 barrels are inside the "Barriquerie", each holding wine that will age for up to 20 months. Piano calls this space the winery's "secret soul." At center in the ceiling is the skylight that directs a central beam to the middle of the floor. In the background are windows to the surrounding chamber that holds the steel vats that process the grapes.
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Courtesy of 
Bret Robins
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Each barrel is constructed of aged oak from France.
Each barrel is constructed of aged oak from France.
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"The magic [of the space] comes from these 2,500 barrels that watch you like huge eyes," says Renzo Piano.
"The magic [of the space] comes from these 2,500 barrels that watch you like huge eyes," says Renzo Piano.
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When the skylight at center is open, the mirrors send a ray of light that hits the middle at a perpendicular angle. The barrels are moved in and out of the space by huge machines with telescopic arms.
When the skylight at center is open, the mirrors send a ray of light that hits the middle at a perpendicular angle. The barrels are moved in and out of the space by huge machines with telescopic arms.
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A line of steel vats are housed on the other side of the cellar. The grapes fall gently through trap doors on the floor of the piazza, rather than being pressure pumped, and ferment inside the drums.
A line of steel vats are housed on the other side of the cellar. The grapes fall gently through trap doors on the floor of the piazza, rather than being pressure pumped, and ferment inside the drums.
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We exit the cellar the same way we came in, through the double-height green doors, and ascend to the tasting room.
We exit the cellar the same way we came in, through the double-height green doors, and ascend to the tasting room.
Photo by 
Courtesy of 
Bret Robins
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A pair of glass doors open to the tasting room, also designed by Renzo Piano.
A pair of glass doors open to the tasting room, also designed by Renzo Piano.
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At night, folding green shutters enclose the floor-to-ceiling panels of glass that surround the tasting room.
At night, folding green shutters enclose the floor-to-ceiling panels of glass that surround the tasting room.
Photo by 
Courtesy of 
Bret Robins
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Massimo pours the first of several wines created on-site. Among the wines we tasted were Poggio alla Guardia, le Sughere di Rocca di Frassinello, and Rocca di Frassinello, the very first label produced.
Massimo pours the first of several wines created on-site. Among the wines we tasted were Poggio alla Guardia, le Sughere di Rocca di Frassinello, and Rocca di Frassinello, the very first label produced.
Photo by 
Courtesy of 
Bret Robins
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The table that runs the length of the tasting room was created in one night by a master furniture maker from the area. It is illuminated from within.
The table that runs the length of the tasting room was created in one night by a master furniture maker from the area. It is illuminated from within.
Photo by 
Courtesy of 
Bret Robins
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After the tasting, we descended the stair back to the parking lot.
After the tasting, we descended the stair back to the parking lot.
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On our drive out, the clouds parted and we were awarded one last spectacular glimpse of the surrounding hillside.
On our drive out, the clouds parted and we were awarded one last spectacular glimpse of the surrounding hillside.
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Renzo Piano's Rocca di Frassinello winery is situated on 2,000 acres of hilly land visible from the Aurelia, the wending road built by the Romans that runs through the Tuscan hillside and connects the surrounding mountaintop villages.
Renzo Piano's Rocca di Frassinello winery is situated on 2,000 acres of hilly land visible from the Aurelia, the wending road built by the Romans that runs through the Tuscan hillside and connects the surrounding mountaintop villages.
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