Architectural "Tasting" in the Napa-Sonoma Wine Country; Many New Wineries Are Worth a Visit for Their Building Style Alone. Here's How to Plan a Tour

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Architectural "tasting' in the Napa-Sonoma wine county

Seeking to imprint their identity in a proliferating marketplace, many California wineries have turned to architecture as a form of packaging. Nowhere is the resulting range of styles and shapes more visible than in the Napa-Sonoma wine region.

Here, more than a hundred new wineries have been built in the last two decades. Their architecture spans a spectrum of images, from rustic barns to manor houses to sculptural statements. The region has become a sort of eclectic chateau country, worth touring for its building styles alone.

To start you on your own winery design tour, we asked for recommendations from a number of experts, including architecture critic Allan Temko, architectural historian Sally Woodbridge, and wine-book author Bob Thompson. From their suggestions we've culled a baker's dozen of wineries built within the last 20 years.

They're grouped loosely in three categories. Barn-like buildings clearly take their inspiration from the region's rural tradition. Manors of various scales range from mission-style hacienda to French chateau. Modern designs use bold geometric forms to achieve sculptural effect. For a day's winery touring with maximum architectural contrast, you could choose to visit one from each category. You're also bound to make discoveries of your own, as more new wineries (like Clos Pegase, shown on page 14) break ground.

If you time your visit during spring, you'll avoid summer's heavy traffic and see the vineyards flush with new green leaves and wildflowers. Tours at many of the wineries listed here are by appointment only; get directions when you call. Most tours last 30 minutes to an hour.

Barns

Cakebread. Four dormers and a diamond-shaped chimney skylight punctuate this simple barn. Inside, ranks of barrels flank a central aisle to form a robustly proportioned wine hall running the length of the roof ridge. This hall intersects another grand room containing stainless steel tanks. The building, designed by San Francisco architect William Turnbull, won an honor award from the American Institute of Architects.

Cakebread specializes in Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon. Tours by appointment; tasting 10 to 4 daily; (707) 963-5221, (415) 832-8444.

Fisher. The board-and-batten simplicity of this small gabled winery gives it an indigenous 19th-century quality. Double-hung, wood-sash windows underscore the farmhouse look. One eave extends to become a trellis sheltering the loading dock. Inside, a single soaring volume rises into the gable past a network of big honey-colored wood trusses angling into the roof, turning structural necessity into architectural sculpture. Designed by William Turnbull, this winery has also received an honor award from the American Institute of Architects.

Specializes in Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. Informal tours on weekdays by appointment; occasional tasting; (707) 539-7511.

Joseph Phelps. Through an elaborate trellised gateway, you glimpse a long board-and-batten barn appearing to float over a sea of grapes. Closer inspection reveals a monumental X-braced wisteria trellis defining the entrance and leading visitors toward the vineyard view. The timbers came from an old bridge, giving the vast arbor the look of a trestle. Sausalito architect John Marsh Davis did the design.

Makes a wide range of table and dessert wines. Tours by appointment Mondays through Saturdays; tasting room; (707) 963-2745.

Souverain. Hipped roofs of hop kilns provided the inspiration for the large towers at each end of this imposing, heavily timbered structure, winner of an AIA award in 1974. The dominant roof shapes recall rustic lodges in national parks. You could call it both a barn and a manor. Also designed by John Marsh Davis.

Makes a wide range of table wines. …

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