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Architectural "tasting" in the Napa-Sonoma wine country; many new wineries are worth a visit for their building style alone. Here's how to plan a tour.

Architectural "tasting' in the Napa-Sonoma wine county

Seeking to imprint their identity in a proliferating marketplace, many California wineries have turned to architecture as a form of packaging. Nowhere is the resulting range of styles and shapes more visible than in the Napa-Sonoma wine region.

Here, more than a hundred new wineries have been built in the last two decades. Their architecture spans a spectrum of images, from rustic barns to manor houses to sculptural statements. The region has become a sort of eclectic chateau country, worth touring for its building styles alone.

To start you on your own winery design tour, we asked for recommendations from a number of experts, including architecture critic Allan Temko, architectural historian Sally Woodbridge, and wine-book author Bob Thompson. From their suggestions we've culled a baker's dozen of wineries built within the last 20 years.

They're grouped loosely in three categories. Barn-like buildings clearly take their inspiration from the region's rural tradition. Manors of various scales range from mission-style hacienda to French chateau. Modern designs use bold geometric forms to achieve sculptural effect. For a day's winery touring with maximum architectural contrast, you could choose to visit one from each category. You're also bound to make discoveries of your own, as more new wineries (like Clos Pegase, shown on page 14) break ground.

If you time your visit during spring, you'll avoid summer's heavy traffic and see the vineyards flush with new green leaves and wildflowers. Tours at many of the wineries listed here are by appointment only; get directions when you call. Most tours last 30 minutes to an hour.


Cakebread. Four dormers and a diamond-shaped chimney skylight punctuate this simple barn. Inside, ranks of barrels flank a central aisle to form a robustly proportioned wine hall running the length of the roof ridge. This hall intersects another grand room containing stainless steel tanks. The building, designed by San Francisco architect William Turnbull, won an honor award from the American Institute of Architects.

Cakebread specializes in Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon. Tours by appointment; tasting 10 to 4 daily; (707) 963-5221, (415) 832-8444.

Fisher. The board-and-batten simplicity of this small gabled winery gives it an indigenous 19th-century quality. Double-hung, wood-sash windows underscore the farmhouse look. One eave extends to become a trellis sheltering the loading dock. Inside, a single soaring volume rises into the gable past a network of big honey-colored wood trusses angling into the roof, turning structural necessity into architectural sculpture. Designed by William Turnbull, this winery has also received an honor award from the American Institute of Architects.

Specializes in Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. Informal tours on weekdays by appointment; occasional tasting; (707) 539-7511.

Joseph Phelps. Through an elaborate trellised gateway, you glimpse a long board-and-batten barn appearing to float over a sea of grapes. Closer inspection reveals a monumental X-braced wisteria trellis defining the entrance and leading visitors toward the vineyard view. The timbers came from an old bridge, giving the vast arbor the look of a trestle. Sausalito architect John Marsh Davis did the design.

Makes a wide range of table and dessert wines. Tours by appointment Mondays through Saturdays; tasting room; (707) 963-2745.

Souverain. Hipped roofs of hop kilns provided the inspiration for the large towers at each end of this imposing, heavily timbered structure, winner of an AIA award in 1974. The dominant roof shapes recall rustic lodges in national parks. You could call it both a barn and a manor. Also designed by John Marsh Davis.

Makes a wide range of table wines. Tours daily at 11, 1, and 3; tasting room, restaurant. On Independence Lane off 101 at Geyserville; (707) 433-8281.


Jordan. The inspiration for this meticulously detailed hilltop winery complex is the chateau country of Bordeaux. Tile roofs, yellow concrete walls, red shutters, and spreading ivy create the feeling of a great estate, with gravel terraces, balconies, and exterior stairways.

One aging cellar resembles a vast manorial dining hall that just happens to be occupied by rows of oak tanks. The half-timbered ceiling with its bow trusses adds to the Old World impression. San Francisco architects Backen Arrigoni & Ross designed the complex.

Specializes in Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. Tours Mondays through Saturdays by appointment; no tasting; (707) 433-6955.

Robert Mondavi. Designed by Cliff May, father of the Western ranch-house style, this winery started the new building era when it opened in 1966--one of the region's first new wineries since Prohibition. The cream-colored, thick-walled structure recalls early California's haciendas and missions. At the center of the spreading gabled facade, a giant gateway arch frames a view into a courtyard and to vineyards and mountains beyond.

Mondavi makes a wide range of table wines. Tours and tasting daily from 9 to 5 April through September, 10 to 4:30 October through March. In Oakville at 7801 St. Helena Highway (west side of State 29); (707) 963-9611.

Monticello. What is a facsimile of Thomas Jefferson's house doing here on the valley floor among the vines? Owners Marilyn and Jay Corley took Jefferson's interest in wine as the inspiration for their own winemaking enterprise. Using his architecture seemed the logical next step: the winery portico and the administration building with its temple fronts are based loosely on the Virginia Monticello.

Produces table and dessert wines. Tours and tasting 10 to 4 daily. North of Napa off Oak Knoll Avenue at 4242 Big Ranch Road; (707) 253-2802.

Newton. A circuitous driveway leads past terraced vines to a high knoll. Designed by owners Su Hua and Peter Newton, the winery is built into the side of the hill and commands a dazzling view of St. Helena. The real surprise is the roof: a startlingly complete but improbable parterre landscape of lawns, crisscrossing boxwood, and rows of miniature roses, recalling the elaborate chateau gardens of France. The roof garden provides natural insulation.

Produces Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc. Thurs weekdays by appointment; occasional barrel tasting; (707) 963-4613.

Spring Mountain. The original 1885 Germanic Victorian house on the property, visible but not open to the public, is famous as the shooting location for the TV series Falcon Crest. The winery is a recently completed building that's a stage-set version of 1880s Second Empire style, with mansard roof and central tower, designed by owner Michael Robbins.

Produces table wines under Spring Mountain and Falcon Crest labels. Free winery tours by appointment; tours of grounds $4; tasting 10 to 5:30 daily. In St. Helena at 2805 Spring Mountain Road; (707) 963-5233.

Sterling. On a spectacular site--an island-hill in the Napa Valley--the winery capitalizes on long views over a sea of grapevines. Hefty white walls, tiny windows, and tall bell towers create an unexpected image of a Greek monastery. Gondolas take you from the parking area on the valley floor up to the winery, designed by Martin Waterfield.

Makes a wide range of table wines. Self-guided tours and tasting 10:30 to 4:30 daily April through December, Wednesdays through Sundays January through March. Admission $5. Southeast of Calistoga at 1111 Dunaweal Lane; (707) 942-5151.


Domaine Chandon. Barrel vaults over broad stair-stepped terraces make the structure--designed by ROMA architects of San Francisco--appear to grow out of its rolling vineyard site. The walk in is carefully orchestrated through a sequence of contrasting spaces: you cross a bridge, enter a cave-like exhibit area, and climb a broad stairway into the light.

Produces sparkling wine. Open 11 to 5:30 Wednesdays through Sundays November through April, daily May through October; tours given hourly on weekdays, every half-hour on weekends; tasting $2.50 per glass. Restaurant serves lunch and dinner. In Yountville west of State 29 at California Drive exit; (707) 944-2280.

Piper-Sonoma. Huge concrete beams step down to a broad concrete dining terrace, like a series of progressively broader trays. Terraced planters continue the abstract, geometric theme down to a small creek. Roland-Miller Architects of Santa Rosa designed the winery.

Produces sparkling wine. Open 10 to 5 daily April through December, then Fridays through Sundays January through March; tours every hour on the half-hour; tasting $2.50 per glass. Light cafe lunches available. Between Windsor and Healdsburg, west of U.S. 101 on Old Redwood Highway; (707) 433-8843.

Sonoma-Cutrer. Also designed by the Roland-Miller firm, this large flat-roofed winery stretches across a modest rise to continue the terrace idea on a broader scale. The broadest terrace is really an immense championship croquet lawn bordered by a raised area for seating, like a rectangular amphitheater.

Specializes in Chardonnay. Tours and tasting weekdays by appointment; (707) 528-1181.

Photo: BARN Simple board-and-batten exterior of Fisher winery hides a structural surprise: handsome lazy-X trusses

Photo: MANOR Mansard roof, cupola, and central pediment give new building at Spring Mountain Vineyards the look of an estate from the 1880s

Photo: Elaborate boxwood geometry of roof garden at Newton Vineyard recalls the landscapes of France's chateau country

Photo: Thirteen wineries representing three architecture styles are clustered in the Napa and Sonoma valleys

Photo: MODERN Like enormous stairs, concrete roof beams step down to terrace at hospitality center of Piper-Sonoma Cellars

Photo: Blank dormers and a central light tower rise over the vines at Cakebread Cellars, for an abstract barn-like look

Photo: Classical portico turns ordinary warehouse door into a stage-set entrance at Monticello Cellars

Photo: Gigantic arbor built with trestle-bridge timbers defines entry at Phelps winery

Photo: Grand wide arch at Robert Mondavi Winery functions both as a gateway and as a symbol recalling missions, haciendas

Photo: Footings and cave take shape in Calistoga at Clos Pegase, by Princeton architect Michael Graves, expected to open in late 1986
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Copyright 1986 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Date:Apr 1, 1986
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