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Bubbling Up

A Lombardy wine cellar with an immersive artistic experience provides a feast for the senses.

The Cantina at Ca del Bosco (c) Sandro Michahelles

Ca’ del Bosco, located in the heart of Franciacorta in the Italian region of Lombardy, is renowned for creating one of the most critically acclaimed Italian sparkling wines, the Cuvée Prestige, although, “in Italian legislation it is not classified as a spumante, but a wine that happens to have bubbles in it”, I’m told by founder Maurizio Zanella. 

Deep underground in the belly of the Ca’ del Bosco wine cellar is a low-ceilinged and dimly lit corridor, where 11 exquisite black-and-white photographs hang in isolation. The images were taken by the biggest names in photography: Helmut Newton; Alice Springs; Don McCullin; Flavio Bonetti; Franco Fontana; Georg Gerster; Ralph Gibson; Eikoh Hosoe; Mimmo Jodice; William Klein; and Ferdinando Scianna. 

La Sughera by Giuseppe La Spada (c) Ca del Bosco

Zanella commissioned the photographs as part of a privately published book about his winery. Over a period of 11 years, Zanella invited his favourite photographers to document the winery, resulting in a beautiful coffee-table book called 11 Fotografi, 1 Vino, published in 2004. The photographs portray Ca’ del Bosco, the wine and the people who work there.  

However, my reason for being there was to meet Zanella for a personal tour of his new state-of-the-art wine cellar at Ca’ del Bosco, designed by local father-and-son architects, Roberto and Gabriele Falconi. They have worked on the Ca’ del Bosco winery since the 1990s. I was about to experience their latest collaboration, making me one of the first of just a handful of people to see the recently completed wine cellar. 

Some of the best sparkling wines are made in Franciacorta. Chardonnay is the grape of choice in this region, blended with Pinot Noir and Pinot Blanc. The winery has its origins in the 1960s when Zanella’s mother, Annamaria Clementi, bought a small, run-down house (known as Ca’ del Bosc), surrounded by a chestnut forest among the rolling hills of Erbusco in Franciacorta. 

 Il peso del tempo sospeso by Stefano Bombardieri (c) Ca del Bosco

It wasn’t until the late 1960s that the idea of planting a vineyard and producing wine swung into action. Today, Ca’ del Bosco has developed into one of Italy’s most modern and advanced cellars. Ca’ del Bosco covers over 248 hectares and produces around 1.8 million bottles a year. It is considered one of the flagships of the Franciacorta appellation internationally. 

I flew into Milan (Linate Airport) and within 90 minutes I was driving next to the crystal-clear water that makes up Lake Iseo: a long, narrow lake that sits between its more famous and larger neighbours, Lake Como and Lake Garda. 

On arrival at Ca’ del Bosco, a lavish bronze gate depicting the sun slowly opened to allow us access to a winding road leading through vines and onwards to the winery buildings. The gate, another commissioned work of art, is by sculptor and metal craftsman Arnaldo Pomodoro. “From the sun comes the real nourishment of the grape, whose own rays warm and illuminate the gentle Ca’ del Bosco hills,” says Zanella.  

I am welcomed by a pack of large blue wolves: an art installation created by the art group Cracking Art and placed on the roof of the main entrance. Art is important to Zanella, and you can see his chosen pieces dotted throughout the winery; he also considers wine to be a work of art. It’s hard to miss the striking and memorable life-sized rhinoceros by sculptor Stefano Bombardieri dangling high above the cellar entrance, adding a touch of humour and ruggedness to an otherwise pristine and sleek stainless-steel space.  

Blue Guardians by Cracking Art Ph Massimo Listri (c) Ca del Bosco

To experience the winery’s latest addition, visitors must first weave between thousands of wine barrels interspersed with works of art and walk through dimly lit corridors and tunnels 17m below ground, where the temperature drops, the walls are made up of vintage bottles and the dark floor is lit by an occasional spotlight. All the while, heavy red-wine aromas linger in the nostrils. Along a corridor, a video by Sicilian artist Giuseppe La Spada played, projecting his piece Voluptas, about the daughter of Cupid and Psyche. 

Further into the immersive experience, I reached a circular space called the Dome of the Senses, where four alcoves house installations and immersive activities. In the middle of the room is a lowered lenticular vault in which visitors can look down for a sensory overload. In the centre of the room stands Ludoscopio, a well of light reflected in an infinite background by Paolo Scirpa, a master of immaterial art. 

The most immersive creation of all is by the Falconis. The visitor is figuratively immersed in a bottle of sparkling wine: an inverted cone covered entirely with 30,000 empty bottles of one of the winery’s most iconic products, the Cuvée Prestige. A large, vaulted door opened in front of me, then a high-tech mechanism composed of a telescopic walkway dramatically extended towards a circular open platform. The walkway retracted and I was left in the middle of a room resembling the inside of a bottle of sparkling wine. 

Like a glittering scene from a James Bond movie, I was surrounded by golden light coming from the walls of empty wine bottles with lights inside, arranged in the shape of a bottle. A simple enough design, painstaking to make no doubt, but on a grand scale, with 30,000 bottles, this ambitious architectural project is impressive and totally unique. Looking up, the ceiling resembles the inverted base of a bottle. To top it all (and with a bit of imagination), the panoramic open lift descends to the lower floor, giving its passengers the feeling of being a bubble floating around inside a bottle. 

The evening was spent at three-Michelin-star restaurant, Da Vittorio, for an exquisite dinner and fantastic wine pairings from Ca’ del Bosco, all selected by Zanella himself. 

Visitors can explore the new wine cellar at Ca’ del Bosco from March 2023.