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Architectural Marvels: 8 Temples to Wine in Napa and Sonoma

Sip and swirl in wine country's coolest structures.

Let’s face it: Most visitors to wine country come for the wine. Some, however, find themselves intoxicated by a very different aspect of the tasting experience—the architecture of the wineries themselves. A handful of wineries in Napa and Sonoma boast design that rivals the complexity of the very wines they produce. Here are eight worth a visit.


Sonoma County

Buena Vista Cave CREDIT Sylvain Gentile
Buena Vista Cave. (©Sylvain Gentile)

Buena Vista Winery, outside the town of Sonoma, is California’s oldest premium winery, founded in 1857. The stone buildings on property that now serve as the Champagne cellars and press house were built by the founder Agoston Haraszthy, and renovated to their original grandeur in 2012. This renovation involved an innovative retrofitting process through which stonemasons drilled cores through rock walls and placed reinforced steel through those cores, strengthening the existing walls. The effort was awarded the 2013 California Preservation Design Award for Craftsmanship and Preservation Technology.


Kosta Browne Winery
Kosta Browne Winery. (©Mitch Rice)

It’s no secret that Kosta Browne Winery has had a cult following of Pinot Noir fans. When the winery moved into new digs in Sebastopol in 2013, however, it garnered a number of architecture fans, too. The winery’s new home comprises a significant portion of The Barlow, an old-is-new-again, mixed-use locavore mecca along Highway 12. The agricultural-style facility had a former life as an apple processing plant; architects Archilogix and O’Malley Wilson Westphal teamed up to give the place new life. Corrugated metal roofing never has looked so chic.


Ram's Gate Winery
(©Ram's Gate Winery)

Howard Backen of St. Helena-based Backen, Gillam & Kroeger Architects designed Ram’s Gate Winery in Carneros, creating a modern reinterpretation of weathered farmsteads. Case in point: The main structure is an expansive barn that boasts an open-air courtyard, a grand tasting room (with collapsible walls) and an outdoor pavilion. Another tasteful touch: Wooden walls made of reclaimed snow-fencing from Wyoming.


Williams Selyem
(©Williams Selyem)

Don’t be alarmed if the winery building at Williams Selyem, near Healdsburg, reminds you of a wine barrel—architect Alex Ceppi of the D.arc Group designed it (on the back of a business envelope) to look that way. Another example of how the building reflects the winemaking process: The wood on the inside and outside of the facility is from old redwood wine tanks. Overall, more than 75 percent of what people refer to as “The Palace of Pinot” is tucked into the hillside—an effort to regulate temperature naturally, focus on the landscape and elevate the image of the winery as a whole.



Napa County

CADE Estate
(©CADE Estate)

Perched high upon Napa’s Howell Mountain, CADE Estate is the valley’s first organically farmed, LEED Gold Certified winery. Architect Juan Carlos Fernandez, from the Lail Design Group, worked with the winemaking team to create a state-of-the-art building with a simple, striking design that reflects a sustainable approach to winemaking. The result: a building made from 98 percent recycled material (including blue jeans for insulation) and hundreds of square feet of glass for a well-lit working environment that conserves energy.


Domaine Carneros
(©Domaine Carneros)

Domaine Carneros celebrates the past with design. The winery itself, completed in 1989, was inspired by the classic 18th-century Château de la Marquetterie in the Champagne region of France—home of Champagne Taittinger, the parent company. Taylor Lombardo Architects was the firm that masterminded these plans. The winery’s Pinot Noir facility sits just behind the chateau and was styled to resemble an old French carriage house.


Dana Estates
(©Dana Estates)

Yes, Rutherford-based Dana Estates sells some of the most expensive Cabernet Sauvignon in the Napa Valley, but the grounds are just as exquisite as the wine. The estate first was farmed and developed by German viticulturalist H.W. Helms in 1883, who built a stone winery that still stands today. When Korean businessman Hi Sang Lee bought the property in 2005, he hired Howard Backen to re-design the space and keep the “ghost winery” as the centerpiece. Today, the facility is quintessentially Backen—the ruins have become an outdoor courtyard, and original Syar stone is everywhere.


Hall Wines
(©Tubay Yaput/Hall Wines)

Signum Architecture’s design for the tasting room at HALL Wines’ new facility in St. Helena features two floors of floor-to-ceiling windows, offering stunning views from the second floor of the vineyards and the Mayacamas Mountains beyond. Opened in late 2013, the tasting room and visitor center are constructed of all-natural materials, a critical component of the design and one that ties the new contemporary structure with its neighbor, the historic 1885 Peterson Bergfeld building, which stands just 50 feet away. The design also complements the owners’ extensive art collection, displayed both inside the building and on the grounds.