The Cathedral of Wine

Home of Don Ferranti, El Pinell de Brai

El Pinell de Brai was designed by Cèsar Martinell and built in 1919. This cellar is one of the most impressive wine cathedrals built by Cèsar Martinell.

Martinell desinged not only the building itself but also the spaces to develop the production process, the machinery distribution, the fermentation processes, the design of liquid containers and the isolation systems.

The design of the building takes its inspiration from the traditional construction techniques of Catalonia. Martinell used profusely the Catalan "totxo" (brick) around the windows, columns and ceramics for decoration.

The ceramic designs, made by Xavier Nogués, represent scenes of traditional treatment of grapes and wine production.

Outside - Explaination of the front of the building

The building is composed of three sections, the one on the left is for oil, and it contains the oil mill, decantation and deposits. The one on the right is for the wine and holds the vats, there is also an area at the back of the building which transverses both the frontal sections, which is also for the wine.

The front of the Cellars

The front of the Cellars

The building was designed by the architect Cesar Martinell, who graduated from the school of architects in 1916, he was a disciple of Gaudi and built in the modernist style using materials and colours, which are both rustic and common to this area, (the colours, brown, green and blue signify soil, produce and sky).

There are two crosses on the building, the first states that the cooperative is a wine cellar and oil mill, the second has a date 1917 which is a symbolic date of when the people of El Pinell de Brai decided to build a cooperative.

Cooperatives were a very welcomed English idea, and many sprang up around this time. They were very important to small communities as they enabled the individual farmers to combine their produce and obtain a better price on the open market; the cooperatives also acted as banks, and gave loans based on the produce.

One of the original doors to the Cellar

One of the original doors to the Cellar

The building was actually started in 1918 and finished in 1922, almost 4 years later. The frieze which decorates the whole of the front of the building was painted by Xavier Noges, a famous ceramic painter of that time. The frieze was finished at the same time as the cooperative but not placed on the building until 1950, almost 30 years later. The reason was purely financial, the villagers had run out of money and could not afford to pay for this work until then.

This in itself is one of the reasons why it has survived the attacks of the civil war, and today you can still enjoy the different scenes it portrays. These scenes relate to the sections of the cooperative, the oil section has people collecting the olives and hunters because of the time of year. Whilst the rest shows the grape harvest, the transporting of the grapes, wine barrels and of course drunkards, which is what happens after too much wine.

The large windows at the top of the building are shaped to resemble wine bottles with their corks sticking out, and at ground level you can see some small windows, which today are covered with wood. These windows played a very important part, as they were for ventilation.

Wine when it ferments produces gas, this gas is heavier than air, thus making breathing impossible and therefore deemed as deadly. To see if it was safe to enter the building, normally you would test just inside the window with a lighted rag, (if the rag went out, hence no air), the problem with this method for a windy village is that the rag could be blown out by the wind.

A section of the Frieze which decorates the front of the building

A section of the Frieze which decorates the front of the building

In Pinell they had a more effective use under these conditions, they used a stray cat. The animal would be thrown in one of the small windows, and if it came back out again, it could obviously breath and the gas had gone, if not you had to wait a few days and repeat the process.

Inside - The first wine area

Here, are located the 70 vats, which are made of cement. There are a total of 46, of which each holds 30,000 litres, and under the passageways are 24 more, whose capacity is 60,000 litres each.

When the building was built, the plans showed all the vats but because of financial difficulties only 30 of the 30,000 litre ones where built at that time, along with all of the underground ones. The remaining 16 where added in 1968 thus completing the original designs for this section.

Each vat is supported by thin arches which are common to Catalonia, these are made of brick and are designed to support the weight of the vat, the 30,000 litres that go inside and the workers which would work on top of the vats.

From approximately 1968 to 1984, these vats were full of wine, though it was only the basic table wine. In Terra Alta this was called a granel, and sold loose (you brought your own container to be filled).

The cooperative did not make bottled wine. There was however a large market for the a granel wine, due to the alcohol content. In Terra Alta the wine is known for having high amounts of alcohol due to the weather. The grapes are rather small but because of this the sugar content is concentrated and it is this that turns into alcohol. Buyers from other parts of Spain, France and Italy would buy this wine to mix with theirs to raise the low alcohol content in their own.

Inside the Cellars

Inside the Cellars

In 1984 when Spain became part of the European community, it was told it was producing too much wine (along with other things, depending on the region). What was required was less quantity, and better quality. To help, grants were given to those farmers who wished to pull out their vines and plant olives or almonds.

In Pinell, many people did this and for some years there was no wine made at the cooperative at all, and oil became the large produce. But what was lost in wine was gained by preservation of this wonderful building.

The architect managed to create a building which is not only beautiful in design but also practical in function. There is a small channel in the ground which would have been full of cold water, this was to help lower the ambient temperature. Between each vat there is a gap, which enables the cooled air to circulate round the vats lowering in turn the temperature of the wine which would be fermenting inside.

The reason for this is to make the wine ferment slower, this creates more taste and bouquet, and is a process which is still done today, although with today's technology, it is done with metal plaques which are placed inside the vats and connected to a cold machine rather like a fridge.

Today this part of the building is more of a museum, treasured for its architectural and engineering value.

Upstairs - Above the vats

Upstairs in the Cellars

Upstairs in the Cellars

Once on the vats you can appreciate why this building is called the cathedral of wine simply because of its structure, it resembles more a cathedral than a cooperative of a small village.

The name cathedral of wine was not placed lightly, in fact it was given to this building by the architects of Barcelona in 1960, when they decreed that this building was the cathedral of wine of all Catalonia. In later years the same name and honor was given to the cooperative of Gandesa (also a work of Cesar Martinell) and several others though Pinell's remains the first.

The large arches are parabolic, they and all the others were made solely from bricks, which were made by hand using moulds. These moulds were also made by hand to insure that each and every arch would be both geometrically and mathematically identical, this way the forces created would allow them to support their own weight and that of the ceiling.

The amount quoted for building the cooperative was 405,000 ptas of the old money, when the final bill was presented it was for 1,070,000 ptas, two and a half times what they had thought. For the people of Pinell this meant they had to mortgage their houses and lands, and bring their produce here for three years without pay.

The sacrifice made by each and every one of the first members was felt for generations. In 2005 there were still two houses in this village mortgaged to this building. Why would people build such a building might be the question raised, the reasons are easy to explain. People had different priorities then, community spirit was very much the agenda and to build something for everyone and for all their futures as they saw it was worth building right. They wanted something dignified, something worth passing on to future generations, and something to leave behind for those that followed.

They were also promised financial help by the government at the time, called the (Mancomunitat). This political party had done many deeds to help farmers and their communities, grape growers had passed through and recovered from the vine illness which had devastated vines in Spain and France earlier on in the century, and the Mancomunitat wished to encourage recovery, they favored the cooperative idea and pledged that once the building was finished they would pay a certain percentage of the total cost.

The problem Pinell had was that in 1920 there were elections, the mancomunitat got voted out and therefore so did their policies. The cooperative was not finished until 1922, two years later and was no longer eligible for help.

Though a sad tale, it was not a sacrifice in vain, for though the cooperative may not be the centre of the community's finances any longer, it is appreciated for its beauty not only by Pinellenses, but by visitors from all over the world. Therefore a credit as well as a memorial to those brave people that passed before us, their vision and their sacrifice.

Up here you can also see the viaduct which passes the grape pulp to the vats from the pressing area in the reception, where it will ferment and become wine, inside is an Archimedes screw which helps the pulp along. You can also see the very clever idea for lowering the temperature which was used.

The Viaduct that passes grape pulp to the Vats

The Viaduct that passes grape pulp to the Vats

Down stairs, as explained, was the channel for cold water and the importance of lowering the temperature when the wine is fermenting. Up here however the temperature in the summer is always higher. The reason as with all buildings is that hot air rises, and although this building has high ceilings which help the heat to escape it is still noticeably warmer.

Therefore a way of reducing this temperature had to be put in place, so that the wine could ferment equally within the vats at all levels. To obtain this they used what would be today known as a cold radiator. The metal banister of the gantries are in fact made from water pipes, these were filled with cold water from the water cistern which would lower the overall temperature enough to match the one below.

When the water in the pipes became tepid, it would be changed and could be used for other things, thus also environmentally friendly.

The Transversal Area and Cellar

The Grapes on the Conveyor Belt

The Grapes on the Conveyor Belt

This area appears to be more modern, simply because of the modern floor covering, equipment and several stainless steel vats. This is the area where the wine is produced today. When the cooperative was built the area up through the small wooden doors was the most important area of the cooperative and aptly named the reception, as it was through the large wooden doors that the grapes arrived, they were pressed and via the large pulley (still visible), raised to the vats.

Today the grapes enter through the same large wooden doors but are placed on a conveyer belt which brings them directly into this section where they are processed depending on the type of wine they are to become. In this area we have the two hanging staircases which are of architectural value, and the history of the roof. This roof today is a normal roof of tiles and wood, though before it was the ventilation system for this cooperative.

The tiles were placed using only wire thread on the top most side of the tile, this meant that when the wind blew, and Pinell is a windy village, the tiles would lift like dominoes, this allowed the air in, which in turn would push the heavier gas down and in the direction of the small windows at the front of the building.

One of the Stainless Steel Vats

One of the Stainless Steel Vats

This idea was applied only to this roof on purpose so that the gas would be forced to travel in the direction of the small windows and out. If this way of placing the roof tiles had been applied to all the roof areas, the air would have come in and just pushed the gas down, which would then disperse throughout the whole building not necessarily leaving via the small windows in the front area.

Today the tiles are cemented in place for three very good reasons. Firstly there is no longer the need for such ventilation as the wine produced here today is a symbolic quantity in comparison of years gone by. Secondly, when you have a roof which lifts and falls in the wind, you can imagine the noise and potential for breakages (tiles) and thirdly, when it is windy and raining at the same time, in this part of the building it will also be raining, there are modern machines which use electricity and therefore it has become not only impractical but also dangerous to use this method of ventilation.

However in it's day it was very effective and ingenious.

The Cellar

The wine cellar is again testimony of the Gaudi influence. Here we have the pillars which start off in stone, climbing in the form of a cross in brick and opening to support the curved ceilings (traditional Catalonian style) in the form of a palm tree.

This area was created to withhold a steady temperature, essential for storing wine which is susceptible to change even once inside the bottle, therefore changes to its environment will and can affect it. In this area some of the room is underground (which can be noted by the damp seeping in through the ground above), this acts as a natural insulation. The remaining area has two more ceilings above the visible brick one, which are normal, but these act as an air chamber and mimic the effect of the ground.

The overall effect is that this area has a temperature difference of only 2 degrees from summer to winter.