Allied Architects create a reticent tasting room in the Oregon wine country
Coast to coast, winemaking in the United States is flourishing as never before. In 1976, a panel of Parisian critics held a blind tasting of wines from France and California’s Napa Valley. To everyone’s astonishment, they selected two of the upstarts. Five years earlier, the Sokol Blosser family had established a winery on 40 hectares of the Dundee Hills, overlooking Oregon’s Willamette Valley. It marked the beginning of a new wine region in the rainy northwest, which has burgeoned and won acclaim for its Pinot Noirs.Architecture has lagged behind; world-class wines are produced and showcased in unremarkable buildings, and wine tourism is at an early stage of development.
Sokol Blosser built the first tasting room in Oregon in 1978; in 2012, they decided they needed a larger, more distinguished structure to welcome a growing number of visitors. The family commissioned Allied Works to develop a master plan and design a new building for tastings and events. It was an inspired choice, for firm principal Brad Cloepfil has won acclaim for his art museums, and opened a second office in New York, while remaining deeply attached to his native Oregon.He grew up in the country, and worked on his parents’ farm, before starting his practice in the city of Portland.
All over the world, architects are being challenged to rethink the winery as a contemporary expression of tradition and innovation, agriculture and technology, production and hospitality. In Spain, before the recession hit, wineries were competing for attention, commissioning eye-grabbing buildings from Pritzker prizewinners. By contrast, Oregon retains its quiet, provincial character; client and architect had no desire to show off on this project. Cloepfil took his inspiration from the hop barns he remembered from his youth.“Built of hemlock, fir, and cedar, they had a close connection to the land and were constructed with economy and a sense of grace,” he recalls. “Sadly, they are fast disappearing.”
Cloepfil describes his design as a “transparent solid,” a block of cedar that has been carved and hollowed out to become permeable and embrace sweeping views of vineyards and wooded hills. Allied Works cut five terraces into the hillside between the winery and the vines, to create a site for the 660-square-meter building, gardens, and parking areas, linked by landscaped paths.Visitors ascend to an open porch, and a foyer that gives access to public and private tasting rooms, an events space, a kitchen for cookery lessons, a casual restaurant that extends out to a covered porch, and downstairs to a club room and walled garden. Expansive windows and a linear skylight provide abundant natural light, even in winter. From afar, this could be a vintage gray barn with a sod roof; within, there’s a dynamic play of angles and the warmth of natural wood. This is the first contemporary building of merit in the region and it creates a model for future developments. “It was a low-budget building, and we wanted the simple form to have depth and character, with a play of light and shadow,” explains Cloepfil. “It’s cold here for six months in the year, so it had to offer protection from the weather and achieve a sense of intimacy. We wanted people to feel as though they were within a tactile, polished cabinet, as well as being a part of the landscape.”
The exterior is composed of rough-edged, stained cedar boards in nine different widths, laid horizontally. That animates the façades, and provides maximum contrast with the smooth, finely crafted diagonals of the interior. At the point of entry and on the terrace, the two treatments are juxtaposed. The architects modeled the building digitally and the design went through several iterations until Cloepfil felt he had found the right scale. As a light-frame building, rather than post and beam, it could be freely molded. The carpenters were then challenged to achieve the precise tolerances this angular geometry required and they rose to the test. The building feels bigger than it is because of the diversity of spaces and vistas, and—appropriately for a place that celebrates outstanding wines--it gratifies all the senses. It also achieves a high level of sustainability, thanks to the earth-sheltered structure, green roof, deep-set skylight, and cantilevered overhang on the south face. An on-site solar array provides all the power the building requires.
The tasting room has already fulfilled its principal goal, doubling the number of visitors in the first few months of operation. Says marketing director Michael Brown: “It’s an elegant and sophisticated facility that allows us to provide better service to a wider range of people than the old tasting room, but it has kept the comfortable, Oregonian feeling.”