I love drinking wine but I will be the first to admit that I don’t have the patience to memorize the fine details of fermentation nor the sophistication to identify subtle notes. What I do know that wine making is like art making-radical, traditional and beautiful, so it makes sense that there are wineries invested in art. But for me the best ones are those with contemporary art.
Over the years, I’ve noticed that I love driving around to wineries that have some kind of a collections and Tuscany seems to have the highest concentration of art in its vineyards. Known for its sundrenched vineyards, Medici villas and Michelangelo, Tuscany is also home to innovative wineries that curate captivating collections of modern and contemporary art. Here are three to explore.
Probably the biggest and the most badass of wineries with art is Antinori in Chianti Classico. I know what you’re thinking: Why not one of the many small producers? Because none of them have an art program like Antinori Art Project, and none of them have a winery with the cool vibe of a contemporary art museum.
First, take a look at Antinori, if you can find it in the hills. Architect Marco Casamonti designed 50,000-square-metre winery to be invisible, essentially merging into the hillside. And then Alessia Antinori, of the Antinori sister triumvirate brought in contemporary art.
“Tuscany and especially the surroundings of Florence have always been the culla (cradle) of culture and arts,” says Antinori, creative force behind Antinori Art Project, a program that brings artists to Chianti Classico to investigate themes like history, time and nature and then create pieces for installation throughout the winery.
Visitors spiral up Rosa Barba’s Sunclock, an enormous heliostat, atop Antinori’s rooftop level, walk among Tomas Saraceno’s Biospheres, and step across the most recent project – Elisabetta Benassi’s La Fanciulla del West, a room-sized carpet recreating a telegram once sent to Marquis Piero Antinori from composer Giacomo Puccini. Other site specific works include pieces by Yona Friedman, Jean-Baptiste Decavèle, Giorgio Andreotta Calò,Nicolas Party, Jorge Peris, Stefano Arienti and Sam Falls.
If you are looking for something more niche, you’ll want to head to Castellina in Chianti, quite possible Chianti’s prettiest area. In 1549, Michelangelo Buonarotti took a pitstop here on the way home from working on the Sistine Chapel and purchased acres of land. Flashforward to 1981 to Fattoria Nittardi, a tiny 40-acre vineyard that captivated gallery owner Peter Femfert and art historian Stefania Canali.
The idea was to combine art and wine. Pulling in the strength of their personal art background and network, Femfert and Canali started to bring artists to Nittardi to hang out and casually draw. And not just any artist, but some of the most creative minds like Dario Fo, Karl Otto Götz, Günter Grass, Friedensreich Hundertwasser, Yoko Ono, Mimmo Paladino, Fabrizio Plessi, and Mikis Theodorakis
Sketches and paintings made their way on to wine bottles, and now, after 40 years of winemaking, each vintage has its own artist designed label, which Nittardi showcases (along with the original work) on the ground floor of the storied farmhouse. Femfert and Canali also brought artists to create sculpture, creating a veritable art park in the farmhouse grounds, with more than 45 sculptures.
If you want exclusive, there is nowhere else to go than Ornellaia, the DOC Bolghieri bottle that has been on everyone’s bucket list since the radical wine debuted in 1985. First and foremost, Ornellaia is worth a visit just for the landscape. Bolgheri is by far the most beautiful part of Tuscany- just a few kilometres from the coast and forested with monumental cypress trees.
In 2008, Ornellaia CEO Giovanni Geddes da Filicaia and president Fernando Frescobaldi launched Vendemmia dell’Artista, a hush hush project brining artists to Tuscany. Each year, Ornellaia estate director Axel Heinz meanders the vineyards to divine a single word that encapsulates that year’s wine-making experience. The word is kept a secret, shared only with a curator-selected artist who live on the property making a series of projects – limited edition labels for 111 bottles and a larger piece that becomes part of the winery’s collection.
Effectively, Ornellaia is one of Italy’s most exclusive art parks. Walking around the property and you’ll stumble across Ernesto Neto’s hanging Gaia Tree, Ghada Amer’s Happily Ever After, a circle of rose bushes and jasmine flowers spelling out the notorious final three words of fairy tales’ ending, Luigi Ontani’s Dionysic fountains, and more works by Michelangelo Pistoletto, Nathalie Djurberg & Hans Berg, Tomas Saraceno, Shirin Neshat, William Kentridge, Zhang Huan and Rebecca Horn. But you can’t just book a visit, you have to ask.
A version of this article appeared in Forbes.