CASE STUDY JOSEPH PHELPS VINEYARDS

The process of bringing the original winery building at Joseph Phelps Vineyards into a new generation began after the harvest of 2012. The 1973 construction had held up well, but reflected a previous era of use and no longer met the needs of the growing winery and its visitors. The completed project represents a new level in wine hospitality. BCV, working with Don Brandenburger, transformed the original wine production facility into a series of unique, flexible spaces - allowing for a broad range of uses and rewarding the visitor with a new experience every time they visit Joseph Phelps. Here the old and the new add to and reinforce each other seamlessly.

HISTORY - STONEBRIDGE WINERY FIRST DESIGN

In the late 1960’s, Joseph Phelps was simultaneously running one of the largest construction companies in the U.S., Hensel Phelps Construction Company, and beginning to make wine for himself, when he won the bid to build Souverain Winery (now Rutherford Hill) located a few miles outside of St. Helena.

Working with local designer John Marsh Davis the team completed several projects in the area before turning attention to Mr. Phelps’s new career in winemaking, beginning with planning for a winery to be located in Napa Valley at Zinfandel and Silverado.

Stonebridge was the name for the proposed winery that Joe Phelps asked John Marsh Davis to design. The first scheme is a synthesis of elements from two Souverain projects (the second being Chateau Souverain) with a significant, character defining addition: a large bridge-like element at the top ridge of the roof which projected out over the building entry like the prow of a ship, aligned with the historic stone bridge across Zinfandel over the Napa River. 

The production facility is articulated as a stone building with large wood doors covered by a large Gambrel roof – which developed themes that had been previously explored at Souverain Rutherford. The roof slope is less barn-like – with its shallow slope it provides the counterpoint to the dramatic rooftop ridge/bridge which housed tasting rooms and offices. This bridge would end up being realized in a different form in the Joseph Phelps winery as it was ultimately built.

Among Davis’s archives is a single drawing labeled “Phelps 2” which appears to be a variant on the scheme – based on the character of the roof form. 

HISTORY - STONEBRIDGE WINERY SECOND DESIGN


Subsequent to developing the masonry scheme, Davis produced a design of a wood structure for the Stonebridge site based around a courtyard. This scheme is clearly for the flat site along the Silverado Trail, but it has many elements that would ultimately find their way into the Joseph Phelps Vineyards winery building.

The basic parti has two main wings, each with a head building mass that is linked by a bridge. In this way, the bridge of the first Stonebridge scheme is given real meaning as a connecting element, and creates a gateway into a landscaped courtyard.

Davis was very interested in landscape, and toward the end of his career would devote a substantial amount of his time to both landscape design and actual gardening. Here he introduces an ideal garden into the heart of his design.

The single elevation for the project shows Davis’s trademark layering of roof forms both as roofs and dormer roofs. The bridge form is an exploration of bracketed wood construction. 

HISTORY - SPRING VALLEY RANCH

In 1973 Joseph Phelps acquired the 600-acre Connolly cattle ranch in Spring Valley to the Northeast of the Stonebridge site and decided that it was here that he would build his winery and later his home.

The basic concept for the winery seems to have evolved quickly and the first drawings show a design close to the executed project. The parti is in many respects a synthesis of the prior schemes for a dramatically different site. Joe Phelps decided that he wanted a winery that would reveal itself to the visitor after a procession up onto a ridge overlooking the small valley. One comes upon the East side of the facility – a pair of barns linked by a bridge – almost by surprise after having driven around them. 

A 120’ trellis extends from the hillside through the break between the two barns, inviting the visitor into the complex and suggesting that the visitor continue west out to the view side of the property. Here the idealized garden is replaced by the ideal of nature. The Redwood forest on the hill above gives way to the mighty oaks overlooking a singular valley that is the heart of Joseph Phelps Vineyards.


Originally the North Building was the wine production and the South building barrel aging. The North Building had a small sales shop and access to the two upper levels – one in the building itself and the other in the Bridge level. A similar stair came down and through the South Building. The stair rise and run echoes the roof slope (7:12) which establishes the geometry of the diagonal paneling used throughout. This geometry is also found in the diagonals of the great entry truss. This repetition in proportion through different elements is a hallmark of John Marsh Davis’ designs.

The exterior of the building is sheathed in redwood board-and-batten and one’s sense of the building is one of a Redwood tour de force. In fact, it is an ingenious mixture of Redwood and Douglas Fir – where most of the structural members (excepting the trellises) are Fir and paneling is Redwood. Custom-made doors that feature diagonal infill are Fir with Redwood accent trim. Joe Phelps tells of using salvaged old-growth Redwood for the project that he obtained replacing a highway bridge in Sonoma County. 

The hipped ends to the barn roofs pull the composition together as one sees the two buildings as halves of a complete whole. The paneling in the entry – which was composed of 1x6 boards with projecting 1x1 trim with plywood panels – is characteristic of his work at the time. 

Like his other winery projects, the working drawings were done by Keith & Associates and his client in this case was the contractor. Joe Phelps tells of having set up a special shop on site to custom build all the doors and windows. Bill Phelps, son of Joe Phelps and current President of the Winery, worked on the construction crew.

Joe Phelps added to and modified the winery over the years, including projects he did on his own – the oval room and expansion of the North Building and with Davis the new sales room and tasting facility in the South Building. This project, designed in 1995, reflects the later period of Davis’s work. It is more refined in its use of highly finished redwood paneling, which reveals his ongoing fascination with the work of the Greene brothers.

LANDSCAPE AND ENTRY

The current project is situated almost entirely within the 1973 building shell and it was the desire of the Phelps family to preserve the existing finishes as much as possible. While much of the original materiality on the exterior remains, a new outdoor tasting area has been added to the east side, along with new entries and views of the interior, including the Founder’s Room and Great Hall.  The balanced blend of old and new is evident upon viewing the east side exterior from the parking area and entry path.

Spring Valley is part of Napa Valley, but not situated on the main valley floor. Set on the side of the eastern hills guarding the valley, and protected from main roads by a series of oak-covered knolls, Joseph Phelps enjoys views that are almost entirely of surrounding vineyards or unspoiled California landscape.

The project team, including Smith + Smith Landscape Architects, saw an opportunity to create a new path of entry from the parking area to the winery that would create a stronger connection to its hillside site and embrace the full drama of John Marsh Davis’ original entry trellis. The new pathway leads visitors through a copse of trees and under the trellis, toward views of the fountain, terrace tasting areas and the Mayacamas Mountains across the valley. 

RECEPTION

Passing underneath the grand trellis, guests enter the winery and are greeted by Joseph Phelps staff at a desk custom designed by the architects. Here, wines are available for purchase and to select for tastings at one of the winery’s new tasting areas, including the Backus Room and the Great Hall, visible just beyond.

An array of Joseph Phelps vintages take center stage here, illuminated in floor-to-ceiling casework, including climate-controlled storage behind the desk.

GREAT HALL AND BARREL ROOM

The Great Hall was formerly used as the fermentation cellar and has been transformed to offer a variety of areas for guests to relax and enjoy the wines during their visit. It also serves as a multi-functional space for groups of various sizes and special events. 


In the Barrel Room at the end of the hall, a mural-sized photograph of the ranch’s estate vineyards celebrates the Phelps family’s passion for photography as well as creates a strong sense of place in the room. 

The interior trusses on each side of the Great Hall are integrated into the structural system of the building, referencing John Marsh Davis’ original entry trellis and leading guests from the entry through the hall to the Barrel Room.

WINE LIBRARY

Located between the Great Hall and Oval Room, the Wine Library is a unique tasting experience for visitors. The Library was developed to tell the winery’s history in a setting that celebrates the four decades of the vintages of Joseph Phelps Vineyards. Custom climate-controlled display cases offer guests a visual catalogue of renowned wines.

The library can display over 1,000 bottles, with each bottle displayed in the proper storage position and with each label legible, giving the winery the ability showcase nearly all of the wines it has ever produced while preserving flexibility for future growth. The Library will also be used for private tastings, where guests can enjoy the experience of sitting in Joseph Phelps’ private cellar. 

THE OVAL ROOM

The Oval Room was added to the winery by Joe Phelps shortly after the construction of the original building. It was the most iconic room in the original winery. It has been re-envisioned here with new connections from the interior and exterior, and maintains the majority of the historic oval-shaped oak aging barrels that gave the room its name. 

Located on the western side of the building, the Oval Room offers a relaxing tasting environment that includes expansive windows for enjoying views of the surrounding vineyards. Phelps Preferred members are treated to an exclusive lounge appointed with custom furniture and positioned with commanding views of the winery’s estate. 

The design provides for continuing the tradition of displaying significant bottles of wine from wineries around the world that have been drunk in celebrations at the winery. These bottles epitomize the Phelps Family’s understanding that to make great wine, one has to know great wine.

VINEYARD DINNERS

Joseph Phelps has a proud tradition of hosting renowned chefs to create unforgettable dinners on special occasions throughout the year. This was accomplished in the past despite a residential-scale kitchen with limited space and storage. 

In recognition of the growing role of food as an integral part of the Napa visitor experience, new kitchen improvements more than triple the space and capacity of the Joseph Phelps Vineyards culinary program, creating the opportunity to provide a world-class dining experience.

FINAL DESIGN