June 2014 Issue of Wines & Vines

Space and Flow

Winery design focuses on efficient winemaking, unique experience

by Andrew Adams
Law Estate Winery
While visitors to the new Law Estate Wines winery in Paso Robles, Calif., enjoy sweeping views, the ridgetop winery is largely screened from view. Photo: Doug Dun/Bar Architects.

In planning the new Law Estate Wines winery in Paso Robles, Calif., veteran winemaker Scott Hawley took a somewhat novel approach to envisioning the winemaking process.

Instead of focusing on how he could equip the crush pad and cellar, he sought to eliminate steps and machinery to simplify the process. “I sort of wanted to go backward and take out equipment.…Let’s see how easy we can make this,” he said.

Hawley said the finished winery features stunning architecture and design, yet the building facilitates a rather simple and straightforward winemaking process. Several other winemakers with experience in building and planning wineries offered similar thoughts in discussing the keys of good winery design and construction: Simpler is usually better, and extra space can come in real handy.


  • Space and flexibility are keys to good winery design.
  • Different winemaking styles require different winery designs.
  • Most new wineries are embracing ?a modern aesthetic.

Cleaning up gravity flow
Hawley has worked in winemaking in the Central Coast for nearly 15 years and helped design several wineries. He said he’s worked at places where the goal was a gravity-flow winemaking process, but the system was needlessly complicated with grape elevators, forklifts and hoists. Such processes are vulnerable to equipment failure, which can bring harvest to a grinding halt, Hawley contended.

The system at Law is based around half-ton stainless steel bins that collect destemmed fruit and can be pushed over to tanks with a pallet jack. The bins feature an airlift mechanism that makes them act a bit like miniature dump trucks. With the push of a button, a worker can activate the lift, prompting the grapes to fall into the tops of tanks that are level with the crush pad. Dumping takes about eight seconds, but the winery has two lift bins, so when one is being emptied or transferred back and forth from the crush pad, the other is being filled.

Sonoma Cast Stone built the winery’s 22 concrete tanks that feature 55-inch-wide openings at the top to make grape dumping clean and easy. Hawley said the mess of harvest is limited to the initial processing and sorting area, and it reduces the need to use water to clean other areas. “The trick in the design is it doesn’t drip,” Hawley said of the bins.

Law Estate Wines produced its first vintage in 2010, and the 2013 harvest was the first in the new winery. The winery is 18,000 square feet, which includes the hospitality area. Hawley said the winery was built to produce 10,000 cases, but current production is 3,500 cases. “We built in the growth, we just haven’t gotten there yet,” he said.

Throughout the winery are design features in line with the simple and efficient process for filling tanks. Prior to construction, the design team ran solar studies on the crush pad area to ensure the grapes and workers were never exposed to direct sunlight. Water, power and gas stations are located just where they’re needed to reduce excess water and energy use. “It’s a challenging process to really look at a site and say how can we do this as efficiently as possible.”

Understanding the site
Jeff Goodwin is the principal in charge of winery projects for San Francisco, Calif.-based BAR Architects, which designed the Law Estate Wines winery as well as other notable wineries in California like Jordan Vineyard & Winery, Cardinale and Mumm Napa.

He said that evidence of the industry’s largest trends is evident in the design of new wineries. Consumers are becoming more wine savvy, and wineries are exploring new varieties and wine styles. “What that means in terms of winemaking design is small-lot production, smaller fermentors, more blending areas and a lot more barrel storage,” Goodwin said.

The new Law Estate Wines winery is also reflective of what Goodwin sees as an trend for new wineries with a “modern aesthetic” rather that trying to recreate a villa or chateau from the Old World. “We’re also seeing a huge interest in tying the indoor spaces with the outdoor spaces.”

He said the design process typically starts with a thorough review of the building site to “capitalize on what’s unique with the piece of land.”

In the case of the Law winery, Goodwin said the owners had purchased a piece of land with spectacular views from a ridge that was adjacent to the estate vineyards. The vision was for a winery with expansive 360° views that included the estate vines and panoramas of the canyon, yet conforming to county planning requirements and not dominating the view of the horizon. By studying the site and its view lines and sun patterns, Goodwin said designers came up with a plan that would highlight the site yet conceal the winery. From the tasting room, visitors can see the vineyards and marvel at the views, but the winery is largely screened from sight.

The design palate for the winery included both smooth concrete and board form that incorporates texture from wood planks set against the concrete as it hardens. Goodwin said the main entry walls are clad in steel that rusts over time, providing a weathered look.

In addition to unique design, Goodwin said winery clients often seek to set their properties apart by offering unique hospitality experiences. He said the firm is working with clients in Paso Robles and the Carneros AVA to create agri-tourism spaces that offer guests more than just wine tasting. He said other winery spaces are now being designed with the intention to fill more than just its winemaking purpose. “It’s no longer just a tasting room for a couple of events,” he said.

Tom Weidinger is a partner at Napa, Calif.-based Cello & Maudru Construction, where he manages winery projects. He said since 1987 the firm has worked on more than 40 wineries in Napa and Sonoma counties and the Santa Maria, Calif., area. “Sustainability and green design are more a part of projects than ever before,” he said. “Winery owners and designers are working hard to minimize their carbon footprint, and clients are also looking to reduce their energy and water consumption and install solar power.”

Weidinger said winemaking functions of a winery tend to depend on the vision of the winery owner and winemaker as well as what the site will allow. “Gravity flow continues to be a popular and sensible choice if the site allows,” he said. “It’s a win-win in that grapes and wine are more gently handled while using less electricity.”

Size dictated by wine style
Tony Rynders is one of Oregon’s most experienced winemakers, having worked at Domaine Serene for more than a decade. In addition to his own brand, Rynders consults for several clients and has also helped design numerous wineries. He’s currently designing a new winery and custom-crush facility in Carlton, Ore., for his own brand, Tendril Wine Cellars, and to make the wines of several of his winery clients.

Rynders said some of the wineries he designed came with “fairly luxurious” budgets; others—like his new winery—have had a fairly limited budget. A winery can still produce high-quality luxury wines in a simple building, but Rynders said there are some key design elements. “We haven’t found a way to get around the need for copious amounts of hand labor,” he said. That means a large crush area to accommodate vibrating tables and sorting crews, and an overhang to protect the equipment and workers from the elements.

The fermentation area will feature enough room to ferment only small wine lots in 5-ton tanks, another detail designed with quality in mind. Rynders said the winery would also have sufficient “multifunctional space” for optimal workflow and to accommodate different winemaking operations during the year.

And what he described as “the most critical aspect” for his wine is extra barrel space to allow aging the wine for 14 to 17 months, which is longer than most other wineries in Oregon. This has put his ratio of square feet to case production at 1:1. Rynders admits that’s more space than most other wineries would need, but the longer barrel aging requires it, and he doesn’t like to stack higher than four barrels. “I’m doubling down on the barrel room portion of it,” he said.

Rynders said it’s important to always leave space for growth or a change in winemaking style or varietals. “I’ve never been a fan of bolting anything to the floor, quite frankly,” he said. “Wineries evolve over time.”

The project will be relatively simple compared to some of the larger wineries he’s helped design, but Rynders said it should suit his needs just fine. “I’ve kind of evolved to really embracing a winery as a winery,” he said. “People want to come in and see shiny tanks and barrels, and I don’t think it needs to be more complicated than that.”

Simple doesn’t mean less space
David Ramey, founder of Ramey Wine Cellars, is working on a new winery in the Healdsburg, Calif., area that will support his low-intervention style. “I don’t think good wine comes from high tech at all—you certainly don’t make good wine on a computer,” he said. “I just think that nature made wine for 5,000 years before scientists showed up, and it’s still not that complicated.”

Ramey then is designing a relatively simple winery that will accommodate his straightforward process of getting the fruit into tanks and letting native yeasts do their thing.

He said almost every winery benefits from extra space. Often during the design phase, an owner and his or her architect will start shaving square feet to reduce costs, but ultimately they pay the price later with reduced efficiency. “This is the one thing, after years of managing production you so appreciate an extra 25 square feet,” he said.

The extra space provides a place for all those sumps, pumps, bins, gas tanks, racking wands and all the other detritus of winemaking that float through a winery during the frenzied days of harvest. Larger areas that can be empty through much of the year can quickly be filled for filling or racking barrels.

Ramey’s new winery will be about 35,000 square feet, and he’s applying for a 60,000 case permit, or a square foot to case ratio of 1:2. Like Rynders, Ramey said he needs extra space for longer barrel aging and barrel fermentation. A more “cash-flow friendly” winery employing just tank fermentation with little to no barrel work would need a much smaller space. “We make very old-fashioned, traditional wines,” he said. “That old-time way of doing something just takes more space.”

In the cellar, Ramey said his general rule of thumb is to have an electric, water and gas station for every four tanks located so that it can be used for multiple operations. “You just can’t have longer hoses and fewer stations because you need to do multiple operations at the same time.”

For open areas like barrel rooms, stations should be situated evenly along the perimeter and on both sides so that forklifts and other workers can pass through the area.

Rynders also touched on the necessity of open space, and he also said one feature in winery design that’s relatively common now but wasn’t when he was starting is cold storage. He said he knows a larger winery in Oregon that spent more than $1 million on its cold storage, and it’s something he’d love to have at his planned winery but can’t fit it into his budget. “While I can covet my neighbor’s cold storage, I can’t afford to build it.”

When working with such a thin-skinned grape as Pinot, Rynders said having the ability to pull fruit in advance of weather or to keep it cool at the winery during a heat spike is invaluable.

But no amount of extra equipment, artistic design or other amenities can help if a winery just doesn’t fit the winemaking program or style. “You don’t want the logistics of your winery to impact negatively the quality of your wines because you’ll never get that back,” Rynders said. “It’s actually probably more important than hand-sorting your grapes.”

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