Sokol Blosser, a family-owned firm that helped launch Oregon’s Willamette Valley as a major wine-growing region 40 years ago, commissioned Allied Works to develop a master plan and design a new building for tastings and events. It was an inspired choice, since firm principal Brad Cloepfil, who has won acclaim for his art museums and opened a second office in New York, grew up in the area, and worked on his parents’ farm, before starting his practice in 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 Prize winners. 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 recalled. “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 6,600-square-foot 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 cooking 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 project, and we wanted the simple form to have depth and character, with a play of light and shadow,” explained 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 facades, 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 challenge. 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. Said the winery’s 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.”