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Wine and sophisticated design often go hand in hand, and architecture firms are earning stellar reputations for their innovative and artful winery projects. It’s a complicated challenge that requires designers to respond to the landscape, fulfill the demands of a working production facility and visitor center, and give shape to the personal vision of the winemaker.
Here are four of the best architecture firms currently working in the winery world.
Seattle-based Olson Kundig won a 2021 American Institute of Architects National Architecture Honor Award for its design of Martin’s Lane Winery. Perched on a hillside overlooking Lake Okanagan, in Kelowna, British Columbia, the structure’s striking angularity harmonizes with vine-covered slopes.
“Ultimately, winemaking is about the land, or terroir,” says Tom Kundig, the firm’s co-owner and design principal. “How you relate to that land as a winemaker brings out the special qualities of the wine. Likewise, my approach to architecture is always grounded in context. If you start with the primacy of the site, everything else becomes a direct response to that particular place.”
The firm’s design for Martin’s Lane works with the steep site, allowing winemakers to use a gravity-assisted technique to gently handle delicate Pinot Noir grapes.
“The idea for Martin’s Lane Winery came from thinking about that relationship between the building as a gravity-flow winery that steps down the hill following the natural topography of the site, and the cantilevered hospitality area where you taste the wine and look out over the natural landscape—the terroir—beyond,” explains Kundig. “Martin’s Lane is about the intersection between those two realms of winemaking on a hill. There’s a beauty in the function and process of winemaking, and a building that clearly expresses that function.”
“A production winery is a working building,” says Juancarlos Fernandez, partner at St. Helena, California-based Signum Architecture. “It needs to function closely with the land and vines, taking into account delivery of the grapes, crush, fermentation and every other process that goes into making wine. Wineries are also very personal expressions of the dreams and aspirations of the winemakers.”
Signum’s designers embrace that balancing act. The buildings they created for Aperture Cellars pay tribute to winemaker Jesse Katz’s close relationship with his father, photographer Andy Katz.
“We filtered our design process through the exploration of the camera—specifically the aperture of a lens—deconstructing the elements of an aperture’s hexagonal shape and reassembling them to form the massing for the two buildings,” says Fernandez.
The winery’s distinctive roofline has since become the symbol of the Aperture brand.
“We designed Cade estate, with its bold forms, to express the bold character of the Howell Mountain site and the wines made there,” Fernandez continues. “Odette Estate is set in the Stags Leap region, known for producing wines with softer, more feminine qualities. Our design for the production winery, with its flowing curves, conveys the character of the land and grapes. I am drawn to winery design because, more than any other building type I know of, it is intimately connected to the land.”
“For every project we try to get at the heart of the owner’s and winemaker’s approach to the making of wine, and reflect that in the architecture,” says Daniel Piechota, founding principal of San Francisco-based Piechota Architecture.
The buildings his studio designed for Silver Oak’s Alexander Valley winery embody that connection. The brand was born in a Napa Valley dairy barn in 1972, prompting Piechota to provide a new spin on a traditional barn form. His team integrated reclaimed and salvaged materials into each structure, including wood cladding repurposed from century-old Mondavi wine tanks. Since Silver Oak focuses on Cabernet Sauvignon aged in American Oak barrels, designers fashioned a stairway in the production department from antique oak wine barrels, even preserving the red stains.
Silver Oak’s water conservation and energy-saving strategies include 2,595 solar panels that produce 105% of the facility’s annual electric supply. It’s the world’s first winery to be LEED Platinum certified for building, design and construction. It’s also the first manufacturing facility in the world to gain certification as a Living Building by the International Living Future Institute.
Nature is a central theme at Silver Oak, and Piechota designed the winery buildings to frame views of the vineyard and embrace the landscape. A curtain wall that rises at end of the production space has a slatted shade screen intended to resemble tree trunks and branches, and a long pool built beside the tasting room adds glittering reflections.
Richard Beard Architects
“Wineries take on the character of their owners, winemakers, and products,” says Richard Beard, principal of San Francisco-based Richard Beard Architects. “They become in some large measure a physical expression of all these constituencies.”
“It’s a delightful design problem,” he adds.
That delight shines through at Theorem Vineyards, where Beard created new facilities inspired by historic agricultural structures in the area.
“Here, we have wines that are 100% Cabernet [Sauvignon] for instance, a lot of it from old vines,” says Beard. “That implies a directness and nuanced sophistication that I feel is expressed in the building. Similarly, they produce largely un-oaked whites that are refreshing and direct. A lot of people who visit Theorem comment on the assured character, but not ostentatious presence of, the buildings.”
Measuring just under 9,000 square feet, the barn-like structure includes an airy, two-story wine production area, an underground barrel room and a visitor center converted from an old chicken coop. Theorem’s hospitality program focuses on personalized tastings, and Beard’s design highlights those experiences.
“Who doesn’t remember their first visits to wineries?” says Beard. “There’s mystery about what goes on in them. A product that fits in a glass you hold in your hand, and a building with spaces of comparatively huge scale—we love to play up the theater in that, make it a story.”