By Claire Dickey
Anyone who knows me knows I love wine. In graduate school I designed an urban winery for my thesis project, and one day I hope HESTIA will develop an extensive portfolio of amazing winery projects.
Given my love of all things fermented grape, it’s an exciting time to be in Middleburg. When I completed my architecture thesis in 2013, there were about 100 wineries in the Commonwealth, but according to Visit Virginia that number has now grown to over 300. Just in Northern Virginia alone there are 88 wineries, and as of 2012 Middleburg was recognized as a distinct viticulture area, the Middleburg AVA (American Viticulture Area). It’s no wonder I’ve seen this area referred to as the “Napa of the East Coast.”
Of course, it goes without saying that I love studying winery architecture too, and luckily Northern Virginia has some good examples. My two favorites are RdV Vineyards by Neumann Lewis Buchanan Architects and Boxwood Estate Winery by Jacobsen Architecture, LLC. These two wineries were both built new to be wineries–unlike many other local wineries that are in converted historic houses, renovated barns, or more industrial pole barns–and they are both architectural gems.
At first glance the two wineries’ appear similar: neither building is overly large; they are both bright white with some stone and immediately draw the eye on the approach; and they are both standalone monuments surrounded by vineyards and rolling landscape. However, closer examination reveals that they relate to their contexts in almost completely opposite ways and provide very different visitor experiences.
RdV Vineyards is inspired by Virginia farming buildings and is designed using simple agricultural forms, but they are arranged with sophistication and elegance. The central hall of the building is a tall, translucent silo, and then three white wings clad with board-and-batten siding splay outward at equal angles around it. The three wings are not all the same length, and each of them is dedicated to one of the winery’s primary functions: winemaking, wine bottling, and wine tasing, with caves for aging wine barrels below grade. Numerous tall windows provide plenty of views out to the stunning Virginia foothills, and from inside the building the connection to nature feels warm and celebratory, with views that turn one’s attention out of the building to reinforce the idea that these special hills are where the estate’s premium wines are grown and produced.
The building materials used in RdV’s processing areas are easy to clean and durable to withstand the wear and tear of the wine production process: mostly cast-in-place concrete and stainless steel, while the finishes used in the public areas are more like what one would see in an upscale country residence: wide-plank wood floors, a large fieldstone fireplace, and exposed wood and metal trusses supporting the tall ceilings. The design details are simple and unfussy, but lovely. The overall impression given to visitors is of a luxurious manufacturing facility with a strong emphasis on personalized hospitality. Visits to the winery are by appointment only, which means the building is never crowded or loud. Guests are welcomed at the door with a glass of award-winning Virginia sparkling wine and spend an hour and more being led on an educational and thoroughly enjoyable tasting tour.
Boxwood Estate Winery was founded with the intent of producing wines in the French Bordeaux tradition, and there is something about the architecture of the building that feels distinctly European. I was initially reminded more of an Italian trullo than a French chateau, but I think that may have just been my own coincidental observation. As noted by the architect, the building is laid out in a cruciform plan, which was an intentional decision to strengthen the notion that winemaking is a sacred process. The geometry of the building is crisp and modern, and the use of building materials is simple and sharp. Material choices were informed by historic building materials used locally: field stone, metal, and glass.
From the crush pad, the grapes then follow a linear progression through the building that is driven by the steps of the winemaking process. Winery visitors in the central tasting room have a view into each of three surrounding rooms, which each contain one part of the winemaking process: fermentation room, barrel storage cave, and bottling plant. Unlike RdV, there are few views from inside the building to the surrounding vineyards. The lack of windows seems to indicate that the human winemaking process is the main focus of the building, and that is where visitors should focus their attention, but tall glass cupolas in the roof allow daylight to illuminate the interiors so the building doesn’t feel dark.
For centuries winemaking was purely seen as an agricultural process. The idea that wineries could be tourist attractions didn’t really exist until California basically invented the industry in the 1970s, but according to a recent study by Wine America, in 2022 there were 49.1 million winery tourists in the US, and they spent almost $17 Billion. In Virginia, there were almost 1.5 million winery tourists who spent more than $492 Million. Other countries around the world have been slower to capitalize on winery tourism than the US, especially those where winemaking has a longer history, but as time goes on more wineries are looking to tap into those dollars.
Great winery design is a physical manifestation of a winery’s brand. By studying the architecture one can learn something important about the wines made there and the local terroir. Part of what makes both RdV and Boxwood so great is that their owners embraced the notion that the building design could influence the way people perceive their wines, and that drinking those wines could be a better experience than simply sipping at home. Of course, not all wineries see the value of having a fancy tasting room or can afford to build one, but for those that have gone that route there are some truly special examples.
To end this post I thought it would be fun to share a few recently-completed wineries around the world that show a wide variety of winery design styles. Click the links to check them out. Cheers!
Silver Oak Winery by Piechota Architecture in Oakville, CA. Photos by Joe Fletcher.
Quzika 1865 Winery by PL-T Architecture Studio in Quzika, Markham County, Tibet. Photos by Jianfeng Wang.
Bell-lloc Winery by RCR Arquitectes in Palamos, Spain. Photos by Eugeni Pons.
Alton Winery by GO’C in Walla Walla, WA. Photos by Kevin Scott.
Te Kano Estate and Cellar Door by Mason & Wales Architects in Bannockburn, New Zealand. Photos by Simon Devitt.
Levantine Hill Estate Winery, by Fender Katsalidis Architects in Coldstream, Australia. Photos by Willem Dirk Du Toit, Image Play.