Several weeks ago we spent some time in northern California and as far as we’re concerned Joseph Phelps Vineyards is the most well designed winery in all of Napa valley. Sure there are many noteworthy wineries in Napa and the surrounding areas; Turnbull Wine Cellars is a beautifully modest structure, Sterling Vineyards is striking and iconic, the exclusive Dominus Estate is pure and forward thinking and Opus One is grand and impressive. But none of the wineries in Napa have an inconspicuous quality that Joseph Phelps achieves. Wine is loved for its subtle, delicate and intricate qualities, and so it is surprising to us that the wineries so rarely take the same values into consideration when it comes to architecture.
Paramount to the experience is the approach of Joseph Phelps Vineyards. Driving the winding road through the vineyards, it is not until you are at the front entry of the winery that you’re even aware that a building exists on the grounds. Strategically cloaked in trees and vegetation the structure seems tucked into the hillside; a massive wood trellis leads the visitor into the reception area then out onto a sequence of exterior terraces where tastings are held. All the while the trellis is present above, protecting from the sun and reminding the visitor that the winery is yet another important part of the landscape here.
Designed by the late John Marsh Davis Jr., this building has a sense of belonging yet isn’t pretentious about it. It is a humble but proud building constructed with intention and craft. Nature is allowed to play its role here; the morning fog and afternoon sun have colored and conditioned the board and batten siding, the vines wrap around the trellis claiming the structure.
Putting your palate to task here on a clear, sunny afternoon is breathtaking. While the winery cannot be seen from the road, the terraces offer sweeping views over the grounds and distant hills. The staff is unpretentious and the wine is excellent. Joseph Phelps is known for their Insignia Blend, said to be elegant and restrained which is exactly how we could describe the winery itself. In the world of design it is entirely refreshing to see consistency between method, product and interface. If you’re an architect, a designer, or simply design-minded put Joseph Phelps on your agenda should you find yourself in Napa – we think you’ll thoroughly enjoy the experience.
[All photos by BUILD LLC]