Cesar Portela: «The architecture of Pazo Baion is all about design and efficiency»

Cesar Portela is the creator of the architecture of Pazo Baion

Nature, history, culture and, above all, wines. Talking to its creator about the architecture of Pazo Baion is a fascinating exercise because of the passion and knowledge with which he talks about a project that is now internationally recognized

To delve into the architecture of Pazo Baion, no accompanying is as appropriate as that of the professional who returned the property to its splendor. César Portela (Pontevedra, 1937) has a sparkle in his eyes when he talks about the project he undertook in 2008, when Condes de Albarei took over the winery.

The passion with which he speaks about the project, the enthusiasm that he continues to exude at 83 years of age, still at the helm, are surely the unmistakable proof of the perfect marriage that has been forged between the brilliant architect and Pazo Baion.

Sharing a few hours with him while visiting the estate is a gift. Discovering the secrets of a “project that is still very much alive” thirteen years after its birth is a fascinating journey. Come in and read. With all of you: Cesar Portela.

-How has the Pazo Baion project evolved twelve years after seeing the light of day?

-Truly, this is not the usual project that you commission to an architect. In Galicia, it’s essential to see the territory to make architecture; the place where a house is located is as important as the house itself. In fact, it can bring you closer to heaven or hell [laughs]. In the case of the architecture of Pazo Baion, I spent hours and hours touring the estate to try to get to know each element well, even each flower or tree. Which ones had to be in the shade, which ones had to be in the sun all day… From the beginning, nature had a place at the table where the project was being drafted. And you can see that today, this project has matured very well.

-The project is different today than when it germinated in 2008, and gives the feeling that it will be even more special, even more spectacular, in ten years’ time.

-It’s true, Pazo Baion is growing up, evolving. Each year that passes is more beautiful, it’s changing and for the better. Just as many works of architecture degrade over time, the opposite happens to the pazo.

-The feeling when you visit Pazo Baión is that it’s a place of places. Full of secret corners, unique, full of surprises. Did you conceive it that way?

-Indeed. Pazo Baion is different if you spend one hour or six hours. If you have six hours you will discover many places and corners, but also unique views. There are unique perspectives. From the top of the church of Baion, from the viewpoints of the events room with the valley of O Salnes in front of you, at the foot of the river… I still don’t know them all and I have walked around the estate many times.

-One of the evils of Galician architecture is the lack of sensitivity that sometimes arises with respect to the fit in the environment. Perhaps the epitome of this problem are those houses, even cities, that turn their backs to the sea. In Pazo Baion the vocation to fit in with the environment gives the impression of being a central element of the project. Is that so?

-It’s true what you say that architecture in Galicia has lacked sensitivity on too many occasions. I firmly believe that any large building, complex, pazo… has to take advantage of the environment, the place where it is located, to exploit its full potential. When we conceived the architecture of Pazo Baion and the whole project, we took advantage of nature and of course also the history and heritage of the property to shape the whole idea.

-I supose that one of the goals of your work was to combine design and functionality. After all, the raison d’être of Pazo Baion is the production of exceptional albariño wines. Did the creation of a modern winery pose an additional challenge for you?

-That was a sword of Damocles that I always had over me. We were very clear that we were working for a cooperative (Condes de Albarei) who are not millionaires. We had to create the most productive project possible, but that shouldn’t be at odds with aesthetics.

-That duality between design and efficiency.

-It had to be that way. Every action we undertook was based on an essential cocktail: it had to be beautiful, productive… The winery is a good example because it is very attractive from the design point of view, it is obviously very functional, but also many elements of the original structure were used. The architecture of Pazo Baion is all about design and efficiency.

The tasting room is a good example to know the architecture of Pazo Baion
View of Pazo Baion’s taste room

-The tasting room is another example. Today it is undoubtedly an imposing room, but in reality it took advantage of a space that already existed.

-There are many spaces within Pazo Baion that are based on this premise. In the events room, which was an old cowshed, a restoration was made taking advantage of many elements. And adding others to give it a contemporary touch.

At this point I would like to highlight the work of the new owners, of the more than 400 families that are part of Condes de Albarei, and of the board of directors, the one I met when the project was created and the one that is here today. They are exceptional.

All this philosophy has been perfectly understood, they have always wanted to combine aesthetics and efficiency. This coexistence has made Pazo Baion a distinct viticulture and wine tourism project. And if there has been a contradiction, which obviously there has been, they have resolved it with a sensitivity that is not always easy to find.

-How do you combine a trip as complex as this one? Obviously mainly for the world of wine, but also for the architecture, history, culture, nature.

-It took me many walks and hours of work to conceive all the architecture of Pazo Baion and each of the elements in which we wanted to intervene. And, above all, when we had already made the decision to do something, to analyze it as if we hadn’t done it ourselves. To stand in front of that decision and criticize it.

We couldn’t do anything lightly because we were dealing with a property that had been coming to life for five centuries. Every stone, every wall… Everything had to be picked up and respected in order to build the architecture of Pazo Baion.

-Pazo Baion’s fit in the environment is another element that attracts attention. When you stand in front of the main buildings, the whole complex, the towers, the powerful presence of the stone, is very imposing. But the further one moves away and takes perspective, the more symbiosis is perceived. There is no aggression. On the contrary, each building has a very harmonious presence in the estate as a whole. Did it take you long to get there?

-Respecting the volumes was something fundamental when facing the project. Not to win, not to lose, to conceive each element as a whole in which everything played a role. And it still has a long way to go because this is a living project. It still has a long way to go.

-The balance between tradition and avant-garde is also striking.

-That was another pillar for us. Intervening with sometimes very subtle actions (furniture, concrete floors, paintings, windows…) that bring those avant-garde touches that connect so well with buildings that hold so much history.

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