This eye-catching £7.5m winery was developed by Bodegas y Bebidas, recently acquired by the British corporation Allied Domecq, in a bid to promote itself as the most distinctive bodega in Spain with a range of top-quality millennium wines and production influenced by modern Californian methods. Its name, "Ysios", is derived from the Egyptian mother goddess, Isis, who claimed magic and wine-making as her special inventions.
The flamboyant rolling form of the building responds to a spectacular landscape. The cedar-boarded walls blend with the ochre soil of the surrounding vineyards, while the stepped eaves of the aluminium roof echo the white limestone crags of the Sierra de Cantabria that tower in the distance.
Despite its curvaceous external envelope, the 8000 m2 two-storey building is based on a simple, practical elongated plan 196 m long and 26 m wide, which encompasses the full linear production line of winemaking. This process begins at one end with the mashing and fermentation of the grapes in large stainless-steel vats and tanks, continues through the maturing of wine in oak casks in a great central hall, and ends with bottling, storage and despatching from the opposite end.
The linear production line is partly interrupted at its mid-point by more elaborate elliptical chambers on two floors, which project from the south facade. These serve for social events – wine-tasting and buying on the ground floor and a lounge/dining room on the upper floor.
Constant temperature and humidity are essential to wine production. Consequently, the enclosing walls are constructed in windowless reinforced concrete that stays cool in summer. They are clad in horizontal cedar boarding, giving the impression of a row of giant barrels. Servicing is from below, by means of a walk-through services tunnel that runs the full length of the building.
It is the roof that is the pièce de résistance, however. It is supported on hefty beams in untreated Scandinavian fir, which span up to 42 m in length. The sinuous vaults on front and rear elevations are staggered, creating the effect that the beams dance up and down like modern fan vaulting, and echoing the oak barrels stored below. The rolling roof is clad in aluminium sheeting, and each roof beam forms a distinct step that is articulated in front and rear eaves like a modern inversion of crow-step gabling. The dynamic rollercoaster form of the roof is accentuated by sunlight and reflections playing on the shiny aluminium eaves.
The roof culminates in a higher and steeper vault that spans the central lounge-dining room, which is lit by a large expanse of glazing below like a cathedral window. With its parabalic form and gothic overtones, the glazed vault pays a fitting tribute to Calatrava's hero, Antonio Gaudí.
Qualified in civil engineering as well as architecture and urban design, Calatrava is most famous for his series of daring lightweight bridges at the cutting edge of structural design, including the cable-stayed crescent-shaped Trinity footbridge in Manchester. In contrast, the solid concrete walls and simply-supported timber roof of the Ysios winery offer very limited scope for such engineering acrobatics. Yet out of this unpromising brief, Calatrava has conjured a fabulous architectural sculpture. It is inspired by both the building's spectacular setting and by its traditional wine-making, while at the same time conforming to engineering principles by using the most structurally efficient parabolic forms for the roof. With such achievements, Ysios can be taken as one of the Spanish architect's masterpieces.