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The varied architecture of Napa Valley’s wine country
Wine country

The varied architecture of Napa Valley’s wine country

From the Napa Valley Wine Insider Digest: Oct. 2, 2021 series
  • Updated
Joseph Phelps - the Great Hall

Joe Phelps, the patriarch of Joseph Phelps Vineyards, was a builder that first came to the Napa Valley to build another winery. John Marsh Davis was the architect on that project and he and Joe hit it off instantly. Davis would then design the Phelps family faciltiies.

When the Peju family first moved to Napa nearly 40 years ago, they found that their new home was the true definition of farm country. The grape-growing properties in the area were called ranches, not vineyards, but over time this cow-town perception would change as tourists flocked to the area.

“We’ve watched orchards transform to vineyards and wineries emerge across the valley and into the hills,” said PEJU’s Christine Lilienthal. “With this growth, property values escalated and landscaping became more manicured … However, the sense of community and agriculture remain at the core of this beautiful valley.”

Work done by the The Napa Valley Ag Preserve has ensured the preservation of the valley’s wine country through zoning ordinances and perpetual conservation agreements, but that is not to say that development has been insignificant.

From a handful of commercial wineries in the mid-1800s to the 400-some that exist today, the Napa Valley terroir has since hosted plenty of intriguing, intentional and innovative buildings, each with their own goals in mind. Futuristic fortresses, underground operations and everything in between seems to have a place in Napa Valley, whether they sit highway-side or are tucked away from the main stretch of road.

The Design

As with many wine families, the Groths of Groth Vineyards & Winery also came to the valley before many commercial entities had staked their claim on the surrounding property. After a successful career at Atari Corporation, Suzanne Groth’s father Dennis uprooted the family to start up their very own winery, working alongside architect Robert Gianelli to bring the business to fruition.

Drawn to the style of the Spanish missions along the El Camino Real here in California, Gianelli and Mrs. Groth worked together for about eight years to design and obtain the proper permits for the winery. In 1990, the light pink (now peach) mission-style winery was finished, complete with a tower, paneled ceilings and the iconic curved roof.

Will Jarvis, inside the caves

Son of William and Leticia Jarvis, Will Jarvis is now at the helm of their cave winery in Napa. 

“I always attribute them being raised here in California and going to school in the public school system as part of their reason for choosing California Mission as the design,” said Groth. “As they were meeting with an architect and trying to figure it out, what was on their mind was California, and if the state were to have a type of architecture, they felt like that was it.”

The inside of the winery building is colorful and bold, filled with Groth’s paintings, interesting furniture pieces found by the architect, and is stacked with large, circular windows overlooking the estate vineyard and courtyard.

“The missionaries were bringing in the townspeople and having gatherings, and they would put these courtyards in place a lot of the time,” said Groth. “They would just use whatever they had on hand, so that’s why you see all the clay roof tiles, the pillars, the adobe archways … it really took them by hold as a young couple.”

Similarly, the Jarvis couple and their son William also took up residence in Napa and began pursuing their own winery in the post-Judgment of Paris '80s, and ultimately broke ground in 1990. An ambitious endeavor, Jarvis started tunneling into the mountainside and was able to construct an underground cave space large enough to encapsulate the entire winemaking process.

“It was intended to supplement the winemaking by giving you very controlled and consistent temperature and humidity conditions,” said the now-grown William Jarvis. “We’re really trying to control every aspect as much as possible, and this was an extension of that.”

The cave’s main tunnel makes a full loop around the winery, passing by the winemaking lab, crush and storage facilities and tasting rooms in one rotation.

“One of the main reasons for that was so that the winemaker is never more than maybe 150 yards away,” said Jarvis. With a shout, you can hear just about anyone you need to inside the Jarvis caves. That is — if the underground waterfall isn’t running.

“As they were tunneling into the mountain, we ran into a natural underground stream,” said Jarvis. “That gave us the inspiration to have this waterfall and stream running through the caves.”

Jarvis says this also helps regulate the cave’s humidity, as these higher levels tend to result in less lost liquid in the aging process. Just a few steps outside these seemingly rustic caves though is the “Crystal Chamber” filled with amethyst and quartz treasures, and if you look up at the ceiling, will find Jarvis’ dad’s addition of a fiber optic chandelier.

Quixote Winery - Model Design

The original model for Quixote Winery still sits inside the building. 

“My parents have always been very hands-on in the wine-making process, and I’ve followed in their footsteps,” he said.

Less traditional than the wine cave model is the Seussical architectural work of Friedensreich Hundertwasser, which is on display on Silverado Trail’s Quixote Winery. Marked by its vibrant hues and funky stature, Quixote is the brainchild of Carl Doumani, who owned and restored Stags’ Leap Winery from 1970-1996.

You won’t be able to find a single straight line, even floor or uniform pattern at Quixote, as Hundertwasser made it a point to ensure that nothing was perfect. After the winery was completed, he even went in with a hammer to crack any floor tiles or columns that seemed too good to be true.

Because of the absurdity baked into every room and walkway at Quixote, the building took 10 years to complete, but ultimately stuck pretty closely to the original modeled design. Mosaic tiles round out the structure, with a stupa-like metallic topper popping out of the roof.

Ten miles northwest is the also-eccentric tasting room for Flora Springs, which emulates the cave style of Jarvis with the asymmetry and playful nature of Quixote. Right alongside Highway 29 at the gateway to St. Helena, Flora Springs certainly grabs the attention of those driving by. A striped mound-shape, the tasting room differs significantly from the surrounding bistros and minimalist exteriors.

“We wanted the building to feel like the entrance to a wine cave built into a mountainside, so we used bent plywood to give the structure its curvature and painted the outside to represent the natural geologic striations of the earth,” said founder John Komes. “The name Flora Springs combines the name of Flora Komes, my mother and our matriarch, with the natural springs that run in the western hillsides, so we wanted to capture the natural energy of the springs as well.”

Komes has a background in construction, so he wasn’t too hung up with the building process and was sure to incorporate a laid-back meeting space outside on the backside of the facility.

“Beautiful wine caves have and always will be a draw for guests to the Napa Valley, so it’s nice to be able to offer a sense of that with our tasting room, but our outdoor patio and rooftop deck have a different sensibility,” said Komes.

The materials

In construction, the materials you are working with are just as important as the architectural design. For the sustainability-driven CADE Winery — owned by Gov. Gavin Newsom, Gordon Getty and John Conover — this meant incorporating materials like recycled steel-concrete mixed with fly ash, a coal by-product that reduces the use of cement, cork flooring, recycled insulation and the like.

Flora Springs Tasting Room - Outside View

With a striking pattern and shape supposed to emulate the traditional wine cave model, the Flora Springs tasting room grabs the attention of those driving by on Highway 29. 

As Napa Valley’s first organically farmed, LEED Gold Certified estate winery, CADE worked with architect Juan Carlos Fernandez to be as “least intrusive as possible” to the surrounding environment during construction, which was completed in 2009.

“When we first built, we only removed two trees from the entire property,” said Conover. “We wanted to sort of blend in, embrace the steep hillsides and forest surrounding us … We loved the impact of the astonishing view of the entire Napa Valley below, and wanted to design an experience around that for guests who visit from all over the world.”

The result is a sleek, futuristic, almost-hidden winery building that curves alongside the mountain. At the highest point is the tasting patio and salon building with an infinity pool overlooking the vineyard, and at the deepest is the cave where all the winemaking magic happens. Wherever you are at CADE, you are surrounded by the natural environment.

“The way that Juan Carlos was able to capture that with the framing of the long concrete wall and the tasting salon building, as well as the infinity pool’s ever-changing reflection, is really the breathtaking factor that moves our guests on a daily basis,” said Conover.

In the vein of sustainability also is the principle of reuse and restoration, something that the family behind Joseph Phelps Vineyards understands all too well. Initially built in the early '70s, the Joseph Phelps historic building has been renovated multiple times since construction, with the largest update taking place between 2013 and 2015. However, the towering ceilings and wooden beams persist.

“We really tried to stay true to our heritage in terms of style and architecture while making updates and more modern innovations as time passes,” said third-generation Phelps, Elizabeth Phelps Neuman. “We tend toward ageless aesthetics, but it is always fun to see where we started, and how looks cycle back into style, such as 1970s fonts used on tasting room materials and wood beams.”

“Joe Phelps, our father and grandfather, is our foundation,” she said. “So while we are now thinking ahead to our next 50 years, it is so important to us to preserve and honor our past, including the redwood used from the original winery building and much of the original design.”

The details

Every winery has its own sense of style, with different artwork lining the walls or patterns lining the floors. But some Napa Valley entities take these details up another notch, like Fibonacci sequence Easter eggs tucked throughout the Mira Winery property or the emblematic “To Kalon” archway and bell tower at Robert Mondavi Winery.

Rutherford’s PEJU is one of these over-achievers. Back in 1981, PEJU patriarch Tony Peju was roused by the Los Angeles River and Garden Center — then known as Lawry’s California Center — designed by architect Calvin Straub.

Groth Vineyards - Exterior

The California mission style architecture was key to the design ideas of Dennis and Judy Groth, who would complete their family winery in 1990. 

“Tony reached out to him, and although Straub was near retirement, he agreed to design the present tower at PEJU and the remaining second tower that the winery plans to build,” said Lilienthal. “Tony and Herta (HB) Peju are also both avid gardeners, and to help offset the hard work of starting a winery with very meager funds they turned to planting and growing as a source of relaxation and joy.”

Peju had an entire vision for how his winery’s visitors would walk through the gardens, all oriented around three specific design features. First, guests would enter through the sycamore tree-lined drive and wind to the parking lot, and from there would walk through the willow creek to a koi pond before meandering through a second gate called “Balanced Movement.”

“Guests take in the shimmering water fountains, [and] they then cross a bridge to enter the 50-foot-high tower topped with a copper roof,” said Lilienthal.

Inside, a German stained glass piece depicts three muses in a garden. Outside, sculptures are scattered throughout the grounds.

“Tony Peju has always been drawn to beautiful images,” said Lilienthal. “He met sculptor Welton Rotz and was captivated by the beauty of his work and decided to add them to the gardens.”

Rotz’s work was taken from Greek mythology and the stories of Demeter and Persephone, and Lilienthal says it was mostly done in Carrara marble.

“Tony suggested to Rotz that the works could be enhanced with a water feature, which was incorporated into all three pieces at PEJU,” she said. “The other important artist is Phillip Dizick, who mostly worked in bronze.”

Dizick’s work at PEJU includes the winery gate, a sculpture of a woman sleeping on her side, bronze nymphettes, a mythology-inspired carving of a PEJU’s leading lady pouring wine, and a functional bench. The property is also home to Grecian pillars depicting Athena and Aphrodite, a copper roof and vintage light fixtures for the tower.

“The Peju family believes beauty and artistry, including the physical setting, form part of the overall wine tasting experience,” said Lilienthal. “It also makes the experience of visiting and tasting wine in Napa Valley more approachable to the connoisseur and the novice by offering more to see and do ... the presentation is about engaging all the senses.”

Jennifer Huffman's Uncle Dave has created an extensive model train layout in the basement of his St. Louis-area home. "It's a medium-sized" layout, he said modestly. Take a tour of his miniature railway, and city, here.

You can reach Sam Jones at 707-256-2221 and

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