Back in 2009 former Dwell senior editor Sarah Rich made a short report on a visit to Napa Valley's Hourglass Winery's Blueline property. I had a chance to visit this past weekend and wanted to share a few more photos and a chat I had with Hour Glass honcho Jeff Smith. San Francisco-based architect Olle Lundberg of Lundberg Design, Smith, and his wife Carolyn Duryea got construction underway in 2007, and now this decidedly modern winery--which you can visit by appointment only--is one of the rare modern gems in a region largely populated by erstatz chateaus and tawdry Tuscan revival architecture.
The winery itself is secluded from the road--the Napa thoroughfare Silverado Trail--but once you wind up the small hillside vineyard it reveals itself in all it's agro-industrial modernist splendor. After a two-year search for another property for Hourglass, Smith found what would become the Blueline property. He told me that he "tripped along this property by accident. I was actually coming back from the dump." He bought it in 2006 and got underway with construction in 2007.
There is no tasting room, no visitor center, and none of the typical physical embodiments of the Napa wine tourist trade. Instead the idea was to expose the manufacture of the wine in a modernist idiom. "I'm about modern Napa Valley," Smith said. "I always thought that Tuscan architecture or chateau style was a borrowed paradigm, a borrowed aesthetic. I think this building is more authentically Napa."
True to that vision, the large concrete pad out front houses all kinds of wine-making machinery, like this massive press.
Smith kept referring to the "knuckles" of Blueline Estate's production, talking about all the processes and apparatus of making wine. I loved the repetition of the forms of these big tanks. They evoke the long rows of grapes, the undulating plastic roof above, and the barrels in the cave.
Though most of the structure is build into the hillside--the result of 45 days of blasting into the rock--the dramatic roof overhang is made of the plastic panels you might find on the side of a greenhouse. I quite liked that the materials and language of agrarian design take the lead aesthetically. Even more impressive is the surrounding landscape. "Olle kept saying as we were designing, 'Let's make the property the hero.'"
We climbed up the hillside and Smith showed me that a UV coating on the plastic roof not only helps filter out the heat while retaining the light, but also has a faint purple cast. That gentle color, especially when taken with the green hillside on that misty morning made for a wonderfully ethereal feel.
There are two entrances to the underground cave. Each has this circular portal with heavy-bottomed wine bottles surrounding the door.
Jeff lets us in.
I couldn't resist this juxtaposition of the space-age Big Green Egg cooker and the very old-school wine press.
The 7000 square feet of cave space is marked by long, low rows of barrels. At present there are about 300 barrels in the cave, though Smith said that it could accommodate about 1000 if they were stacked three high. The walls are made of shotcrete, as are the retaining walls outside.
Though I took the wine bottles embedded near the door to be an oenophilic touch from the outside, once I was inside I got the full import of the design. They glow like stained glass, giving the door to the light outside a numinous quality on that chilly Sunday morning.
The most impressive part of the cave--beyond the wine we tasted straight from the barrel--was this room. A Tord Boontje design hung from the ceiling and a few lights shone up on the walls giving this place the feel of some subterranean banquet hall. Smith said that he and his family had had meals in there and that he's planning to make it into a kind of bar and lounge space. I can't wait to come back to see that all finished and enjoy another glass of Hourglass's excellent wines.