A photo caption with this article about Barboursville Vineyards incorrectly described Gianni Zonin as the winemaker. He is the winery's owner; Luca Paschina, the general manager, is the winemaker.
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For Barboursville's vintner, wine and design bridge Old World and new
Today, the Barboursville winery, about 20 miles north of Charlottesville, produces about 35,000 cases of wine a year. And while that doesn't make it the state's top producer in terms of volume, the Zonin operation is clearly a leader in consistency and quality. "Their Octagon [Bordeaux-style merlot blend] is a showpiece for the state," said Annette Boyd, director of the Virginia Wine Board Marketing Office in Richmond.
If they have done right by their grapes, Gianni and Silvana have also done right by the estate as a whole, which attracts as many as 80,000 visitors a year. Today, a long, low building hugging one ridge of the property houses a tasting room; a warmly elegant Italian restaurant, Palladio (named for the Renaissance architect); and the winery offices. A short ride down a farm road are the Barboursville ruins and, next to them, the Zonin residence, made from two two-story brick buildings, since connected.
Converting the buildings into a usable home took some doing. Each building had two ample rooms per floor, but getting upstairs required outside staircases. At some point in their almost-200-year history -- winery manager Luca Paschina doesn't know when -- the two buildings were connected by a shallow "hyphen" containing not much more than a foyer and a staircase taken from another old house. That created one villa with eight large rooms, four on each floor. But even then, Silvana Zonin explained, you had to walk through one room to get to the next.
They could have created corridors upstairs and down that would lead past the closest rooms, but that would have destroyed the original rooms. It also would have cut the rooms off from their direct access to both front and rear balconies. Instead, working with architect Henry J. "Hank" Browne, who also carved out modern bathrooms for the house, they flanked the upstairs foyer with two proper sitting rooms, each of which leads to its own bedroom.
"We tried to have respect for the original house," she said. In fact, they removed only one interior wall.
The bathroom for what's called the Octagon suite is another example of showing respect for the Barbours' legacy. The room was carved out of the home's former library. The walls of shelving were left in place, and plumbing fixtures were installed in such a way that some future owner could remove them and return the room to its original use.
Even as the Zonins refitted the brick house for their family, they were making plans to share it with outsiders. The Zonin residence is now the 1804 Inn, but only when the couple are not in Virginia.
The project took the better part of two years. Silvana Zonin approached decorating the house step by step, a room at a time. "We would leave the fabrics in the room, then come back the next day. If they still looked good, that was it," she said. "We didn't want to make a mistake, but we couldn't change our mind later," she added, noting that as she worked with Charlottesville decorator Heidi Brooks, her husband kept a businessman's eye on the process and the budget.
That doesn't mean that the interiors are fixed forever. "I keep coming back to it fresh," bringing paintings from Italy and sending things back, she said. And so the Italian-American exchange continues.