Designing the Dynamic

August 2011
by Kerry Kirkham
CLICK PHOTO TO PLAY VIDEO: Hall Wines Technical Review
Hall Wines’ St. Helena facility was California’s first Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) gold-certified winery. Developed by the U.S. Green Building Council, LEED provides guidance and certification for the design, construction and operation of energy-efficient and environmentally friendly buildings.

Owners Craig and Kathryn Hall began planning their self-financed state-of-the-art St. Helena facility in 2003. Lail Design Group of St. Helena and Gehry Partners LLP of Los Angeles were tapped as architects. By 2005, designs were under way, and the project broke ground July 2007. By August of 2008, the winery was occupied and fully operational, right in time for crush. To date, the fermentation building is approximately 20,000 square feet, and the barrel chais is approximately 25,000 square feet.

When discussing the building process of this workhorse winery, Mike Reynolds, president and general manager of Hall Wines, said, “It happened very fast. Especially considering the scale of what we built.” Reynolds, a key figure in planning Hall’s St. Helena facility, is a graduate of the University of California, Davis, who worked for Schramsberg and Kendall-Jackson before joining Hall Wines in 2002 as employee No. 1—winemaker, vineyard manager and everything in between.

Forward thinking
“When you go out and buy a computer it becomes obsolete quickly, so it’s best to start as high tech as possible,” Reynolds said, citing a parallel to winery equipment. When designing Hall’s St. Helena facility, Reynolds took a trip to Bordeaux in spring 2003 to taste wines and seek inspiration.

“During the trip, we were there to experience the great wines of Bordeaux and to see what new, state-of-the-art technology was in use.” What Reynolds found was a mixed bag. Wineries such as Château Latour featured brand new technology, while many had more dated equipment.

What really struck Reynolds was his visit to Château Lynch-Bages in Pauillac. Reynolds toured the stately old winery, which dated back to the early 1900s, before touring the new winery facility, which he found to be the equivalent of wineries built in Napa during the 1970s. It was built in 1978, and all the equipment was obviously dated. This proved to be one of the most cautionary tales of his exploratory Bordeaux expedition.

Further driving home the point of building smartly with an eye toward the future, Reynolds said, “You only get to do things one time. You need to build it state of the art and flexible. You can’t anticipate what the new techniques are going to be, but you need to make a winery as flexible as possible so you can adapt to new technologies.”

With a mind for dynamic adaptability, the winery was furnished with more water heaters than currently needed; they fire up according to demand for maximum efficiency. There are empty slots in an expandable electrical panel to meet future power demands. A rollup door opens to an empty lot where it eventually may be a throughway to an expanded production area. Capped off pipes bolted to the ceiling of the production area end at bare walls where one day they could lead to future tanks and water outlets.

Historical inheritance
By purchasing the winery site, Hall not only gained a prime location south of St. Helena on bustling Highway 29, it also inherited valuable historical resources and assets. One of those assets was a stone winery, built in 1885, which operated until prohibition in 1920. Evidence shows that vines were planted on the property around the 1850s. The current plan is to begin restoring the old stone building this summer.

From 1933 until 1993, the historic stone winery and structures that grew up around it operated as the Napa Valley Cooperative Winery, aka The Co-op. The Co-op was founded by group of growers who invested in tanks and barrels after Prohibition, when there were few well-established brands in the Napa Valley. It was one of the largest winery sites in Napa Valley, which, according to Reynolds, made as much as 40% of the wine in the valley. Herein lies perhaps one of Hall’s most valuable assets: entitlement.

With the purchase of the property came a permit to make 1.2 million cases of wine per year. When a winery or anything industrial is built, all plans must go through a rigorous environmental impact report, which includes proposed use vs. historic use. “Because the history of the use was so significant, our environmental impact was going to be a reduction in use. Our goal was going to be to reduce from the start.” Reynolds said. Hall currently produces 50,000 cases with plans to gradually expand. Expansion plans could increase production to 200,000-250,000 cases, but it is still uncertain whether the winery will ever grow to that size.

Wines & Vines interviewed key staff members at Hall Wines to get a clear picture of the winery design, construction and winemaking priorities that went into the engineering and design decision making.

Impetus for improved quality
Winemakers can be very particular about tank jacketing. The lack of total temperature control from partial tank jackets frustrated Reynolds, so he enlisted Canby, Ore.-based JV Northwest to build four 1,500-, six 6,000-, four 11,800- and three 12,600-gallon tanks that were jacketed from top to bottom. The jackets were plumbed for hot and cold glycol so they could apply heat or cold anywhere on the tank. Secondary dimpled heating jackets were built at the bottom to allow the heat to rise through the middle of the tank. “At the time it was rare for that to be done,” according the David Carter Jones of JV Northwest. “It has become a relatively popular option since then.”

Built by Santa Rosa, Calif.-based P&L equipment, “The concept with the crush pad was that we should be able to receive at least 10% of the full build-out of the winery on any given day,” Reynolds said of the north- and south-running grape-receiving areas.

The south grape receiving area and hopper wa s designed to allow full sorting of the fruit, if required, and runs at a maximum of 5 tons per hour when sorting. It can run faster when not sorting and feeding white grapes to the press. The south area handles both red and white grapes, and it accommodates whole-cluster delivery to the presses.

The north grape-receiving area and hopper can run at a maximum of 50 tons per hour and is only for red grapes, where the fruit is also destemmed and crushed by Puleo Vega crushers and destemmers. Hall also has an array of presses from Diemme and Puleo bladder presses. The must is then pumped into the winery via Carlsen Waukesha must and liquid pumps.

Getting with the program
According to winemaker Steve Leveque, Hall’s wine program consists of two segments: “The Core Four,” which is sold through wholesale markets, and the Artisan Series, which is direct to consumer and constitutes 40% of total wine sales. The winemaking methodologies are the same between the two retail programs, only the vineyard selections differ. “Napa is a great playground of terroirs. Quality starts in the vineyard, and there are great expressions of terroir in Napa Valley,” Leveque said.

Harvest crews are instructed to pick at night and in the early morning in order to bring in cool fruit. All reds are cold soaked and undergo native yeast fermentation and natural malolactic. Leveque suspects the natural ML comes from the winery environment, where the natural yeast most likely originates in the vineyard. Hall Wines is gradually moving away from fining and filtration as well.

Temperature control is crucial to Leveque’s winemaking process involving native fermentation and no filtration, which he described as “bookends that keep me honest. I take no shortcuts.” Leveque also doesn’t rack his reds. Rather, they age on light lees and undergo a monthly battonage, or lees stirring.

Hall’s oak program is all French, with barrels sourced from a variety of coopers including Taransaud, Tonnellerie Sylvain, Tonnellerie Boutes and François Frères. Barrels are stacked five high on steel racks from Western Square.

As a steward of the land, Hall is moving away from sulfur use in the vineyard in favor of organic JMS Stylet-Oil. Though vineyard equipment runs on Biodiesel, its presence is kept to a minimum due to the potentially negative impact on delicate vineyard soils. All 450 acres of Hall’s vineyard sites are 100% organic and sustainably farmed.

Bottling up finances
One component that wasn’t built into Hall Wines’ St. Helena facility was a bottling line. Though Reynolds said there might come a time when the cost of a permanent bottling line can be justified, “We determined that we did not have the bottling demand yet to support the capital investment to install a bottling line. The investment includes the actual bottling line (costing between $500,000 to $700,000), space in a building to put the bottling line at 3,000 square feet ($150 per square foot) and an on-staff bottling line mechanic who is an expert on all machines and works on them enough to make sure they run exceptionally well.”

Currently, Hall Wines contracts out its bottling to Napa-based Ryan McGee Bottling, generally at less than $3 per case. Push-up Bordeaux bottles in antique green and flint are sourced through Oakland-based California Glass. Bottles are sealed with corks from Scott Laboratories, crowned with Amcor capsules and designated with labels from Napa-based Collotype Labels International.

LEEDers of the pack
In order to meet the requirements to become LEED gold certified, Hall implemented numerous sustainable design elements and practices. Designs and practices must feature water efficiency, energy savings, reduction in CO2 emissions and improved indoor environmental quality.

Solar energy is one of the biggest jewels in Hall’s gold LEED crown. More than 35% of energy needed to power the winery comes from converting sunlight into energy, some of which is fed back into the power grid. Cupertino Electric of San Jose, Calif., installed approximately 42,000 square feet of photovoltaic cells on the rooftops of the winery’s fermentation and barrel chais buildings. During the day, energy-saving natural light shines through skylights in some of the production areas.

A radiant heating and cooling system under the concrete floor helps provide more precise and energy-efficient temperature control as hot or cold water runs through the slab. An array of five natural gas-powered PK Weathermaster hot water heaters installed on the roof of the fermentation building fire individually as hot water demand increases. During a recent visit, only two were actively heating water.

Water conservation is also a Hall Wines mission. Jensen Corp. of San Jose, Calif., designed the winery grounds with drought-tolerant plants, reducing irrigation demands by more than 50%. Recycled water is used to irrigate landscaping and vineyards. Further water conservation was achieved by using efficient low-flow water outlets, slashing building water use by 40%.

CO2 emissions were reduced by sourcing more than 10% of the materials used to build the facility within 500 miles of the project site. More than 10% of the winery’s building materials consist of recycled content.

“We believed then and believe now it’s a big deal to be LEED certified. The question shouldn’t be why are you LEED certified, the question should be, why are you not?” Reynolds said.

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