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Serene Destinations (December 1, 2011)

Destination wineries, like destination restaurants, merit going the extra mile, rather like the Michelin Guide's "worth a detour" notation. They are a magnet that attracts not only wine lovers but tourists who may never have touched a drop of wine in their lives.

Probably the most famous destination winery in Canada is Mission Hill in British Columbia, a true temple to Dionysus whose bells, cast in France, ring out a welcome across the Okanagan Valley (and elicit some less-than-ecclesiastical comments from near neighbours).

Ontario almost had such a destination winery – if Constellation had gone ahead and built the Frank Gehry confection he had designed to house Le Clos Jordanne (the maquette looked rather like a lemon meringue pie). Alas, when Vincor was sold to the American company, that was not to come to pass. Just imagine what an attraction that would have been for Ontario's wine country, given the number of people who visit the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, the Experience Music Project in Seattle, the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles and the Art Gallery of Ontario – all brilliantly designed by Frank Gehry.

Even more remarkable from a wine geek's perspective is what Gehry did for Marques de Riscal in Elciego, one of the oldest wineries in Spain's Rioja Alavesa region. For the winery's hotel and restaurant, he created huge roof of floating ribbons of titanium coloured in gold, silver and purple that look as if the whole sandstone structure below is about to be gift wrapped by God.

But a destination winery is more than architecture and a solid reputation for its wines. It offers something special in the way of spectacle and entertainment that is unique to that place whether it be concerts, performances, ballooning, cycling, cooking classes or art.

I found two destination wineries on a recent visit to Portugal, and both are owned by the same company – Bacalhôa Vinhos de Portugal. In the underground cellars of Caves Aliança in the town of Aveiro the art-loving president of the company, José Berardo, had put together and extraordinary collection of art. As the brochure states, "Exhibiting seven distinct collections, this museum contemplates areas such archaeology, palaeontology and ceramic tiles covering millions of years of art history." The most remarkable feature is a display of terracotta figures from the ancient Bura-Asinda-Sika culture of Niger that date back 1500 years.

Even more grandiose, at Bacalhôa's Quinta dos Loridos winery in Obidos, about 45 minutes north of Lisbon, José Berardo has created what he calls the Buddha Eden Garden. He was so outraged when the Taliban blew up the great Bamiyan Buddhas of Afghanistan in March 2001 he conceived an 86-acre garden of peace in homage.

The two Buddhas that were dynamited had been hewn out of the sandstone cliffs in the sixth century. To realise his vision, Berardo commissioned over 6000 tons of marble and granite Buddhas, lanterns, terracotta soldiers and various oriental sculptures of all descriptions to be carved and placed among the natural vegetation of the grounds behind the winery. Apart from the huge reclining Buddha that dominates the garden, the most impressive sight is the army of painted terracotta Chinese soldiers and horses standing on a hill overlooking an ornamental koi-filled lake.

This is the same José Berardo who is the co-owner of Colio Estate Wines in Harrow. Just imagine the impact on wine tourism to that part of south-western Ontario if Berardo were to move some of his extensive art collection to Colio. Bacalhôa's head office in Azeitão (a former book depository) has amazing works of art in its vast open spaces. That would make Colio a destination winery par excellence and the human traffic would benefit the entire appellation.




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