January 2012 Issue of Wines & Vines

Building for Visitors and Sustainability

Winery designs emphasize retail, materials and wine quality

by Paul Franson
CLICK PHOTO TO PLAY VIDEO: Vintner Jeff O'Neill of Ram's Gate and winemaker Steve Rogstad of Cuvaison (above) show winery designs.

In recent years, a number of trends have emerged in the design and construction of boutique wineries:

• Emphasis on the visitor experience,
• Focus on sustainability including materials and layout,
• Design for quality.

In addition, “warehouse wineries” in urban settings are proliferating around the country as new wine companies seek to minimize costs and be close to customers.

Enhancing the visitor experience
Wineries are different from most businesses. Gary Orr, president and director of design for Orr Design Office Inc., points out, “A winery is an industrial facility, but to the wine consumer it is a unique retail environment that represents the public face of the wine.”

Combined with the appeal of direct sales, this means that many new wineries are designed more with an eye to potential retail customers than just efficient production.

David James, the senior vice president U.S. mainland for Ledcor Construction of Napa, Calif., has seen an increasing emphasis on the visitor experience in the 16 years he’s helped build wineries in the Napa Valley. In the current economic slowdown, much of the firm’s work has been aimed at enhancing visitor experience at wineries rather than increasing production or building new production facilities.

Perhaps no place better illustrates this than the dramatic new Ram’s Gate Winery, the first winery visitors from San Francisco encounter as they head into the Sonoma and Napa valleys. Its designer, famed St. Helena, Calif., architect Howard Backen of Backen, Gillam & Kroeger Architects, says, “Visitors could drive up from San Francisco, visit Ram’s Gate and return home feeling they’d had a full wine country experience.”

The winery is much more oriented toward visitors than production. “It’s based on drama,” Backen says. While designed to produce quality wine, the production area is open to the visitors center, and the large upright oval tanks grab the visitor’s eye.

Backen, who has designed about 30 wineries including Harlan Estate, is best known for his designs based on the vernacular barns of wine country, and the tasting room at Ram’s Gate reflects that style with high ceilings, extensive use of recycled wood and open spaces inside and out.

Not all of Backen’s designs fit that mold, however. The new Paul Hobbs Winery, for example, has an industrial edge and employs poured concrete and corrugated metal. These materials are becoming more and more popular for wineries, and modern winery production areas tend to be devoid of wood due to concerns about TCA contamination; much of what looks like wood in wineries is actually concrete and other materials designed to emulate wood.

Other recent examples of contemporary, visitor-oriented design include Ovid Vineyards high above Napa Valley, which Backen designed. Its visitors center is surrounded by glass to take advantage of the dramatic view while the winemaking takes place in the cellar.

At Dana Estates, Backen turned the ruins of an old winery into a courtyard that enhances the visitor experience.

Charles Krug is turning its restored Carriage House into a visitors center complete with a deli and possible museum, and even the venerable Louis M. Martini Winery is turning a large production building into an enhanced visitors center.

By contrast, at Screaming Eagle, which does not welcome visitors, little is visible above ground.

More comfortable and inviting visitors space
Another architect who’s worked on visitor-oriented wineries is Douglas Thornley of Gould Evans Baum Thornley Architects in San Francisco. He has been involved in many California winery designs since 1998, including the new Cuvaison site with its dramatic tasting room in Carneros, the visitors center at the old Cuvaison site in Calistoga and Lynmar Estate in Sebastopol.

“Our clients are very interested in increasing direct-to-consumer sales and creating brand loyalty,” Thornley says. “They want visitors to return and recommend that their friends visit.”

One move to this end is to make tasting rooms more comfortable, as at Ram’s Gate. “We see an increase in indoor-outdoor space, which visitors love and also increases visitor space without adding more buildings,” he says

Thornley points out, “No one wants a big, empty space, but smaller spaces that can be opened and combined as needed.” At Cuvaison, for example, a space normally used for VIP and club events can be opened if needed for big crowds on weekends.

He also sees a move from “belly up to the bar” tasting to comfortable seating options. This creates lounges where visitors can meet and share the experience, encouraging them to return.

Thornley also notes the move to adding more educational content, as Raymond Vineyards has done with a special classroom and program designed by Karen MacNeil, head of the Rudd Center for Professional Wine Studies at The Culinary Institute of America at Greystone.

Raymond Vineyards also has added an opulent private room for club members, a dramatic “Crystal Room” for tastings and even a lab-like classroom for blending exercises. Outside, it has established a comprehensive garden demonstrating grapegrowing with a focus on Biodynamic farming practices.

Thornley notes that wineries also are adding commercial kitchens to beef up their wine and food pairings. “All our designs but one have a commercial kitchen.” He also sees a demand for “super cave rooms” to use for events.

It’s not just California wineries that are seeking more attention from visitors. Laurence Ferar of Laurence Ferar & Associates in Portland, Ore., connects the visits with retail sales. “In Oregon, as elsewhere, winery owners are recognizing the benefits of direct sales. Many of our long-term clients who once swore they’d be open to the public ‘over my dead body’ are now asking us to design tasting rooms.”

Because of the weak economy, almost all of Ferar’s clients are also requesting a master plan for phased construction, rather than completing projects all at once—and they often start with the part that brings in dollars. One of Ferar’s clients, Alexana Winery of Dundee, Ore., just opened a tasting room as the initial phase of its  winery project. The production phase will come later, but currently the wine is produced at the neighboring facility of winemaker Lynn Penner-Ash.

The first-phase building includes the tasting room, a private dining room and a commercial kitchen on the main level; an apartment for the owner is upstairs. Winery offices, shipping and wine storage are on the lower level. The production portion of the building has been submitted for permits, and construction should start this month.

Sustainability is a huge issue for most wineries. “Our clients continue to want sustainability blended with good design, whether it is a new winery, a remodel or an adaptive reuse of an existing building,” says Joe Chauncey, principal of Boxwood integrated design studio in Seattle, Wash. “They also want a way to tell their story and create a memorable experience.”

Chauncey cites a recent project to illustrate this. Hightower Cellars on Red Mountain recently doubled its production. The existing winery, located in a converted stable with minimal insulation, was working functionally but not sustainably.

The expansion was designed with insulated blocks made from chipped recycled wood shipping pallets in a concrete matrix.

To improve the thermal characteristics of the existing building, Chauncey created solar shading using recycled wine barrel staves and doubled the insulation in the roof.

The completed project with a tasting room overlooking the vineyard doubles the size of the winery without using any more energy to operate.

Chauncey adds, “If sustainability is defined as ecology, economy and equity, solutions that improve economics (especially over the past three years) are the best answer to assuring the viability of wineries, whether it is in a warehouse or next to a vineyard.”

Howard Backen says, “Sustainability is almost automatic these days. We can use spec materials like reclaimed wood and fly ash insulation.”

Jon Lail, another St. Helena, Calif., architect with dozens of wineries under his belt, notes that most architects push green designs. This has many aspects, from materials used to minimize energy use and generating clean power on site. Orientation, overhangs, placement of glass and openings can have a huge impact. One of Lail’s wineries is CADE on Howell Mountain in Napa County, which meets LEED-Platinum standards.

Arkenstone, another new winery designed by Lail, uses a geothermal system. Vineyard 29, a Backen design, uses a microturbine cogeneration plant to heat and cool the winery and its caves.

Almost everyone is adopting photovoltaic solar cells, too, notes Backen. One example is Tim Mondavi’s new Continuum Winery. “It’s beautifully sited for solar power on the roof,” he says.

Caves are a popular way to go green, as they require little maintenance and reduce energy requirements. “Caves are pretty economic, but becoming less so,” Backen says, noting that these days, most caves include cooling systems since their natural temperature of about 63°F isn’t low enough for optimum barrel storage.

Some caves include rooms used for malolactic fermentation, so they have to be heated. These rooms are often chilled for cold stabilization as well. Heating can also be used for offices and event rooms. Unless carefully designed, the caves generally need mechanical ventilation, too.

Though traditionally restricted to barrel storage, more and more wineries are being built largely within caves, including large spaces for fermentation tanks and even crushers and presses.

These complicate construction; they not only have to be larger, they also impose stricter requirements for ventilation and sanitation.

A compromise is the situation at Hunnicutt Wines in St. Helena (see “Custom Crush in a Cave,” December 2011 issue), where the destemmer and press are located outside on a crush pad, while fermentation is in a large “cut and cover” extension of the cave system.

In keeping with the sustainability theme, recycled materials are popular, including wood and fly ash for insulation. Lail notes interest in bamboo flooring, which can withstand high heels.

Metal has become the most popular material for building wineries, says Ledcor’s James, who has built many wineries in Napa Valley. “It has advantages of cost and environmental considerations.”

Architect Thornley adds, “We are seeing the integration of metal building systems (such as Soule Building Systems) in wineries. They offer clear span spaces with no columns in the middle of the room, speed of building and bulletproof interiors that can be hosed down. In addition, they can be clad in exterior materials such as wood or metal siding that allows them to harmonize with the overall design aesthetic of the project.”

Metal isn’t optimum for hilly sites, however. There, concrete excels. “Concrete is more driven by aesthetics,” says James.

Thornley also sees a trend toward more modern designs that use warmer materials like stone and wood (though not in production areas). “There’s not so much stainless steel and glass.”

Perhaps the ultimate form of sustainability—not to forget comfortable surroundings—is reusing old buildings. Frank Borges Jr. Construction of St. Helena, Calif., is working with two old wineries there.

Not many areas have the “ghost” wineries of Napa and Sonoma valleys, but they’re so desired that many structures—like that of winemaker Luc Morlet—are being converted from residences back to their original use.

Morlet’s winery north of St. Helena is a small, two-story stone structure permitted for up to 5,000 cases. Borges has completed seismic upgrading, hiding the steel frame, and built a crush pad. Architect Paul Kelly also has drawn up plans for a cave system.

Borges also is working on the old stone winery that was hidden inside the former Napa Valley Cooperative Winery, a large metal building at Hall Wines, south of St. Helena.

His firm installed a seismic frame in the 1885 winery even before Silverado Construction completed the massive demolition of the metal building. The architects are Juan Carlos Fernandez and Jarrod M. Denton from Signum Architects of St. Helena. The duo formerly worked with Lail Design Group.

A quest for quality
The other trend in winery design is for quality and efficiency, with an increasing emphasis on small-lot production. “We see a big trend to small-lot fermentation,” says James of Ledcor. “It gives more flexibility, but it takes more space,” he says.

This extends to single-high barrel stacking, which provides convenience but requires greater space.

Another move to improve quality, of course, is to banish wood (except barrels) from wineries. At CADE and many other wineries, the barrel rails are concrete, and the trim that looks like wood is a man-made material designed for decks.

In another approach to improving quality, Ledcor’s James sees a desire to provide more constant temperature and humidity in caves, which can be challenging with a long or complex design.

Lail suggests covered, cooled areas for receiving grapes, particularly in custom-crush wineries where there may be a delay before processing.

Perhaps the biggest trend in gentle handling of grapes is an old one: gravity flow. For wineries on hillsides, this can be straightforward, but at Opus One, a mezzanine was created to allow dumping grapes into tanks using gravity. Ovid is on a hill, but it uses a trapdoor, accessible from outside, which opens over each tank in the cellar.

Lange Twins in Lodi, Calif., built a highway-like overpass to provide gravity flow, but for wineries without hills and ramps, the solutions can be as simple as a forklift or as complex as a special elevator like those seen at Palmaz Vineyards or Vineyard 29.

Backen designed the Paul Hobbs Winery with an overhead trolley for transporting grapes. Perhaps the ultimate scheme for gravity flow is the carousel that rotates tanks under the destemmer at Palmaz’ astonishing underground winery.

Another old (and surprising) trend being touted for making better wine is the increasing use of concrete for fermentation tanks, notably egg-shaped tanks that are supposed to induce convection currents and maintain constant temperatures.

At Ovid, they’ve even constructed poured-in-place concrete tanks, miniature versions of the ones used—and largely abandoned—in the past. The Ovid tanks contain cooling coils and have dimensions of two to one in height to width. They can hold 850 to 1,700 gallons. The winery also uses upright wood vats.

Warehouse wineries
While many wineries seek to attract visitors with fancy designs and amenities, others turn to locations in cities. Northwest architect Joe Chauncey notes that one of the trends in Washington is the warehouse winery, especially in the western side of the state. “These are popping up in industrial parks near population centers and offer the benefit to tasters of as many as 20 wineries within walking distance from each other.”

They’re also typically economically built and don’t waste much effort on looks. Lail notes that such urban wineries are straightforward: a box divided in half with one side for storage, the other for operations. “There’s no romance, just efficiency.”

Chauncey adds, “There’s no architectural design here, just functional space and lots of neighbors to share equipment.”

Laurence Ferar adds, “We see an increase in joint ventures. We are currently completing phase two of a project for Appassionata Vineyards in Newberg, Ore., a (primarily) Pinot Noir project of Jay Somer of J. Christopher Wines and Ernst Loosen (aka Dr. Loosen).

Ledcor’s James notes that, at least in Napa County, a big issue for wineries in industrial spaces is wastewater: The wineries have to pay to have it removed or install small but expensive wastewater-treatment plants.

Two winery designs
Two recent designs by leading architects illustrate many of these trends:

Howell Mountain’s Arkenstone Vineyards, designed by the Lail Design Group, blends into the natural hues of the surrounding forested area. It was carefully positioned so that no existing trees needed to be cleared. Constructed from corrugated metal pre-finished in black, brown and rust tones, the building is a modern version of a vintage barn updated with French doors, picture windows and walkout balconies, all designed to bring natural light and vineyard vistas indoors.

The interior of the tasting room also was designed with the natural surroundings in mind, using warm wood flooring, soft moss and slate-colored palettes. High ceilings create a feeling of continuity for guests entering from the forested outdoors. A large communal table, comfortable seating and a central fireplace cut and formed from a single slab of limestone create a welcoming and homey feel. Simple touches such as Shaker-style cabinetry and wainscoting add elegance and sophistication.

The Lail Design Group, winemaker Sam Kaplan and winery owners Ron and Susan Krausz also designed the 25,000-square-foot underground cave system. Upon entering the cave through a massive wooden door, guests descend down a flight of stairs to the fermentation hall and barrel-storage caves below.

Located on the hilltop site of the former Roche Winery in the southern part of the Carneros AVA, Ram’s Gate Winery is designed by one of the region’s best-known architects, Howard Backen, who has created a modern interpretation of the weathered farmsteads of old Carneros.

Ram’s Gate embodies classic refinement as well as contemporary inspiration. The site reflects its landscape yet is unique amidst its more rustic neighbors. Backen’s signature farmhouse aesthetic and keen ability to blend indoors and outdoors connect Ram’s Gate to its breathtaking surroundings.

Famed interior designer Orlando Diaz-Azcuy will bring his mix of classic aesthetic and modern minimalism to the winery’s interiors, mixing old and new, modern and vintage, and bold colors, fabrics and textures.

The 22,000-square-foot winery is housed in a stunning barn, including an open-air reception courtyard, grand tasting pavilion, one-of-a-kind demonstration kitchen, fireside lounge, elegantly appointed reserve tasting suites, wine library, underground dining alcove and barrel cellar available for private events as well as concierge service.

Architectural highlights include 30-foot ceilings, exposed beams, walls made of reclaimed snow fence, recycled French granite paver-stones and massive floor-to-ceiling glass “walls” that open to sweeping vineyard and bay views. The property will include several event spaces that can accommodate anywhere from six to several hundred guests.

Wine education
Finally, new wine education facilities represent other interesting developments. The University of California, Davis, has completed an impressive new teaching winery and is starting construction on a facility designed to develop sustainable manufacturing with funds donated by Barbara Banke and the late Jess Jackson.

Designed by Laurence Ferar and Associates in collaboration with FFA Architects, the Southern Oregon Wine Institute will provide a new home for Umpqua Community College’s viticulture and enology program.

The facility is designed to provide students with hands-on experience in all aspects of commercial winery operations—from grapegrowing and wine production to hospitality and business practices. The building program includes several “incubator” spaces for recent graduates as well as a demonstration kitchen for the school’s Culinary Arts Department. The institute will serve the local wine industry through educational outreach and regional economic development.

Joe Chauncey is working on a wine education center for the Northwest Wine Academy. He is helping the school adapt a metal storage building into a working winery, teaching kitchen, laboratory and classrooms. Barrels will be stored in freestanding, insulated rooms inside the building created with the same insulated blocks used for Hightower Cellars in Benton City, Wash. This solution is designed to reduce temperature fluctuations, reduce cooling requirements and reduce evaporation.

The academy also is installing 12 light tubes through the roof to provide natural light in all interior spaces—a solution that reduces the need for artificial lighting during daylight hours.

A last word
Backen says he’s busier than he’s ever been, but most builders report things are slow compared to the heady days of the past. What is being built is often innovative. “There’s lots of interesting architecture; it’s fun for us to build,” notes Ledcor’s James.


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