There is a wine cellar in the Etna area that conjures up primordial, material images: only three parallelepipeds of controlled-oxidation iron emerge from the subsoil. The womb of the earth is in fact entrusted with all the rooms, which remain completely hypogeal. Cellar Alta Mora Cusumano, in the province of Catania, is reminiscent in idea of the sacred forge of Hephaestus, the one who forged metals and weapons for gods and heroes and who, according to myth, inhabited the belly of the volcano. Many buildings that we have seen and will see relate to the landscape, opening up to it seamlessly. In this case, on the other hand, the right dialogue with the place is achieved by immersing oneself in an 'internal' and 'interior' landscape.

Alta Mora Cusumano: the forge of Vulcan

It begins with an almost secret entrance, sacralised by mighty structures with few openings, but at the same time integrated into the landscape perfectly, as if it were the result of the alchemical aggregation of the same ferrous dust that permeates the ground here. In the external structure - stereometric and pure - one can already clearly read the intention of essentiality and absence of waste that raises the project of the Palermo studio Ruffino Associati to high levels of refinement and simplicity.

High Cusumano blackberry

An anthropic cave

The essential and clean interior is a hybrid of nature and architecture, something liminal between being a room and a cave, an environment with the heteroclite appeal of an anthropic cavern. The resin floor gives way to pieces of earth, just as the plaster of the walls blends with the bare lava rock. Metal stairs suspended by tie rods that act as handrails recall mythical descents into a mine. An environment of an almost denied static nature because what is born from magma and lava has only the illusion of immobility.

Alta mora cusumano wine cellar

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Everything is transformed, in the embrace of the earth the seeds die to themselves and are reborn as plants, solid basalt and cold iron melt like wax in the sacred fire of the forge. Thus the must in the vats and barrels silently transmutes into something else, in a process that involves all the elements of the quaternary in a 'pagan' way: the air and water of fermentation, the implied fire of the volcano, but first and foremost the earth.

High blackberry cusumano cooperage

Alta Mora Cusumano: a love for the land

This land is loved because it generates and produces, and one of the most authentic expressions of love is "having care". A care that the architect can only express by respecting the principles of sustainability and energy optimisation of production activities. The homeothermy of the building envelope is entrusted directly to the inertia of the volcanic rocks, the LED lighting is regulated and modulated according to the activities and is therefore also remarkably scenic and sacred.

High blackberry cusumano terra

Waste is reduced to zero in the use of local materials such as volcanic marl cocciopesto for the finishes, and, of course, lava stone. Energy is produced from biomass from processing waste, and the construction and operation of the building is totally kilometre-neutral.

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Alta Mora Cusumano: as high as low

And as in one of the most famous hermetic mottos, 'as high so low', what bears fruit in the volcanic soil returns after vinification in its subsoil the same character of the Genius Loci so masterfully interpreted by the designers. The most authentic expression of the grapes of the nerello mascalese vine, bred using the espalier and sapling method, softly pressed and then fermented in steel, malolactic fermentation and finally aged in large oak casks.
We rediscover in the garnet colour, minerality and wide olfactory range of nerello, the mythical atmospheres, essential yet refined, that are the archetype of our most primitive and pleasant imagination.

Nerello mascalese grape variety

The project in brief:

Project: Ruffino Associati

Client: Alta Mora Winery

Where and when: Castiglione di Sicilia (CT), 2015

Photo credits: Ruffino Associati, Wine Dharma (only for the photo of nerello mascalese)