Project DescriptionTHE CHALLENGE
The setting for this new winery production and hospitality center is a broad, flat and sunny stretch of the Napa Valley floor with spectacular views to Howell Mountain to the East and the Mayacamus range to the West. The client ask for something Napa Valley had never seen in a winery. They also wanted it to fit within the context of the site’s deep roots in the origin of winemaking in the region, be complimentary to natural and cultural surroundings, and provide a museum-quality backdrop for art.
With a site plan set by Gehry Partners during a previous phase of the project, the location of the building was fixed. A dilapidated but historically significant stone and wood barn-like structure stood on one side. It once housed the original cooperative winemaking collective in the Napa Valley. On the other side, a nondescript, mid-century office building butted up against the site. Both structures were to remain. A state-of-the art wine fermentation facility, which the principal architect on this project had designed during an earlier phase of the development, was already constructed on the site and would be incorporated.
THE RESPONSE IN DESIGN + TECHNOLOGY
The solution is a building whose presence feels like it stretches across the valley from mountain range to mountain range, drawing tasters from all sides. The interior palette of materials and colors is drawn from the local, native landscape and the historic structure next door -- weathering steel, warm concrete, hand applied plaster and stone. To elevate the structure to a level not seen elsewhere in the Valley and to reveal and reflect, the interior materials and the winery guest experience are encased in a curtain of transparent, structural glass. The affect is stunning and dynamic in its context. Depending on the time of day, the glass either reveals the warm natural tones of the interior, tying the new contemporary building to the historic one nearby, or reflects the splendor of the surrounding landscape.
Using structural glass in this way brought unforeseen challenges and creative solutions. Joint hardware had to provide pockets between panels that would allow for expansion and contraction during earthquakes. While most of the glass is hung, in areas where it must bear a load, custom connecting hardware had to be designed and manufactured to provide sufficient support. Outside, a line of mature trees was installed at a strategic distance along the largest expanse of glass to provide a natural landing for birds who might otherwise be fooled into crashing into the glass wall. The structure, which is certified as LEED Gold, withstood the recent 6.0 earthquake, with no damage to the glass.
THE VISITOR EXPERIENCE
Our point of departure was the heritage oak, a natural drop off and gathering place from which to launch a tour. From that perspective the wide mouth of the entry courtyard welcomes and then splays inward toward the winery entrance. The affect is one of drawing anyone in the vicinity into the court, along a narrowing and descending walkway and pulling them through the vermillion rimmed entry portal.
The lobby, necessarily small in size, visually expands, via a floor that flows seamlessly under the glass wall from inside to out, to encompass the entire entry court, where larger groups can gather. Once inside, the visitor moves through a series of contrasting experiences, choreographed by the expansion and contraction of the architecture and punctuated by interludes for contemplation and observation of the owners superb collection of thought provoking and whimsical art.
The first evidence of the working winery comes as a glimpse into the compressed and dark fermentation tank room just beyond the lobby. From there, natural light pulls attention to an open stair by which the visitor ascends to their first panoramic view of the landscape and a stunning perspective on the historic, stone winery building next door.
At the top of the stair a bridge creates a natural pause from which a backward look showcases the heritage oak. The journey continues past overlooks to the production area on the inward side and specialty, private tasting chambers at the exterior walls. Side walls of these chambers splay outward as one moves closer to the windows while the ceiling slopes upward. The affect from the entrance of the rooms is a series of three “movie screen” like views of the vistas beyond. A position near the glass brings a bird’s eye view of the sculptural art installations that enrich the winery campus gardens below.
Beyond the private tasting chambers the primary tasting bar and its adjacent terrace come into view. From this perspective, because the height of the second story is set just above the valley floor, the vines seem to roll out from under the building like a carpet and the visitor is immersed in the winemaking process from vineyard to glass.
DESIGNING FOR ART
The building was envisioned to blend wine, people and art. The collaboration with the artists was an exercise in defending the architecture so that it both showcases the vibrant collection and stands as its own artistic expression. Architecture created the venue for the art and then as the art was chosen, the architecture flexed, mostly related to proportion, to the advantage of both.
LESSIONS FROM A MASTER
When asked how we were influenced on this project by having worked previously with Frank Gehry’s office on the production facility, the response is simple and significant. That experience made us stronger. When you are in pursuit of a new idea, like this application of structural glazing in a Napa Valley winery, the easy road, when barriers arise, is to back off to a crossroad of comfort. We stood strong for our design and we are grateful for an enlightened client who respected that. When value engineering time came, the client ask: “What are the top three things that you cannot give up?” Our response was, “Glazing, glazing, glazing. “