Healdsburg, California, USA
Approaching the design of a winery that had previously burned down, San Francisco-based architecture firm Piechota Architecture recognized the central role that water plays in the region and in the production of wine.
With that knowledge serving as a guiding light, the firm produced a nearly-net-zero-water tasting room and production facility for the small family-owned Silver Oak.
The Silver Oak Winery was recently awarded with a 2020 American Architecture Award from The Chicago Athenaeum and The European Centre for Architecture Art Design and Urban Studies.
Beyond its practical role, water also appears as an aesthetic element in the project, a reflective pool cutting its way through the tasting room and participating in a back-and-forth reflection with the adjacent window.
The building becomes a study in aesthetic rhythms, syncopations. Walking up the long, landscaped walkway, the layers of articulation — gravel, concrete, tree, siding, grass, blade, glass, wood — present in the project begin to unfold.
The shape of the exterior references the dominant barn form in the area, here reduced to its simplest clarity.
Driving up, the visitor sees the barn-like tasting room and production spaces emerge effortlessly from the hillside. Inside, every space has a view of the vineyard, and the local landscape becomes art.
The window mullions in the hallway connect the open tasting room to the clearly defined kitchen, whose openness and relationship to the garden is an explicit expression of the deep relationship between farm and table here.
In the event pavilion, massive glass walls slide open, creating the sense of an outdoor patio still sheltered by crisp architecture, opening visitors up to the calming breeze of the valley winds.
That is the inside; there is also the outside: if you look, the hill behind the main tasting room becomes the central focus. Looking through a sweeping open space whose shape is reflective of the idealized and almostPlatonic barn, you see a gently rolling landscape, dotted with trees.
The Alexander Valley has its own spirit; long the little sibling to the more heavily-built-up Napa to the east, the valley has been recognized for its small wineries; its more intimate orientation to the production of wine; its status as an almost-secret (that is just now beginning to be told).
The history of the region also unfolds here.
The winery’s exterior is clad in wood siding repurposed from 100-year-old wine tanks from Cherokee Winery, one of the valley’s pioneers of winemaking.
Valley oak wood, used throughout, came from Middletown trees that died in the Valley Fire of 2015, their blackened trunks taking on new life in the winery.
The entry stair in the production department is built from repurposed wood from oak wine barrels, the red wine stains purposefully left.
The material palette, dominantly steel and wood, reference the construction of a wine barrel, while wood slats at the end of the fermentation room shape light and shadow, reminiscent of the quality of light inside old barns – the way in which the sun, no matter how guarded, will still find a way in. The scent of wine permeates the space, until you step outside, when the scent of herbs fills the breeze.
Near the pavilion-like entry patio, a series of raised vegetable gardens contrast with the unfurling and untamed landscape beyond the winery’s borders.
The smells, colors, movements of the garden connect to a larger cycle – the observation of seasonal changes, and the way in which we, as humans, can find delight in our lives through the knowledge that they are always changing.
Project: Silver Oak Winery
Architects: Piechota Architecture
Client: Silver Oak Cellars
Photographer: Joe Fletcher