An Architectural Tour of Napa Valley

    If you’re an architecture buff, few places offer as many diverse styles within such a small territory as Napa Valley wine country.

     A recent article in the San Francisco Chronicle, authored by the newspaper’s urban design writer, John King, took readers on an armchair tour of more than a dozen estates that feature noteworthy – good or not-so-good  – architectural features.

     Here’s a list of some of them, accompanied by excerpts from King’s Chronicle feature…

     ROBERT MONDAVI WINERY. “Even after 40 years it remains alluring – an unashamed homage to some mythical Spanish mission past, complete with a bell tower, but done with such elegance that the result is a genuine landmark on its own.”

     DOMINUS ESTATE. “It’s a container made of containers. The feeling that unfolds inside is something else, a hypnotic exercise in efficient restraint and low-key contradictions.”

     CLOS PEGASE. “…The winery tries to be ironic and awe-inspiring at once, a pompous spoof of classicism that includes a single enormous column at the entry.”

     QUIXOTE WINERY. “[A] low building engulfed by a tree-covered roof, with walls of bright meandering tiles and a gold dome that rises from a brick-accented roofline that slips and slides from north to south.”

     DOMAINE CHANDON. “Great architecture?  No. But better than most of its rivals, and the stripped-down forms and rhythmic scalloped roofline make up for the marketing frills inside the visitors’ center.”

     OPUS ONE. “It is designed, emphatically, to make a statement:  Approach the front door and you’re engulfed by creamy limestone in a colonnaded plaza. The plaza, meanwhile, is cradled by grassy wings that slide up from out of the earth. Inside there’s a spiral stone stairway leading down to the cellars, a salon off the left filled with antiques and more carved stone than you’ll find in Venice. The architectural guide available at the door uses the phrase “subtlety and grace” to describe the architecture. Hardly. But at least it doesn’t skimp.”

     PLUMPJACK WINERY. “I’m no fan of the ‘whimsical’ statuary or the San Francisco Marina vibe, but ignore all that. It’s a dusty quadrangle of wood and stucco structures built between 1880 and the 1930s, shaded by mature oaks  -rustic California at its weathered best.”

     CAKEBREAD CELLARS. “You see clean forms and modern lines that draw on the past without trying hard.”

     FROG’S LEAP. “…Simple red barn from 1884 has evolved into a snug compound with the restored structure flanked by a respectful imitation and a visitors’ center designed to look like a modest Victorian residence. The buildings… are appropriately restrained, and arranged in a way that suggests the grounds evolved naturally.”

     NICKEL & NICKEL. “The grounds include a restored farmhouse, a barnlike structure where the wine ages – and a 200-year-old barn from New Hampshire. When its owners learned the barn with its red hemlock planks and white pine beams was targeted for demolition, they purchased the structure sight unseen, then had it dismantled and shipped to St. Helena.”

 MONTICELLO. “It’s a short step from the sublime to the ridiculous – and outside of Las Vegas, it’s hard to imagine a landscape where so many buildings try so hard to make you think you’re somewhere else. This isn’t a new trend in Napa – Jay Corley’s replica of Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello opened in 1984.”

     DOMAINE CARNEROS. “…[A] lavish knockoff of an 18th century chateau.”

     CASTELLO DI AMOROSA. “Vintner Darryl Sattui’s 107-room, 121,000-square-foot would-be medieval castle that comes with five tower-like battlements, one of which looks like it endured an artillery barrage. When naysayers compare it to Disneyland, they’re missing the point. Imitation was never so sincere…”

     DARIOUSH. “It has layers of Persian-themed opulence, such as the 16 freestanding stone columns topped by two-headed steeds.”

     If you’re planning to simply drive around the valley and soak in the architectural scenery, just fill up the ol’ gas tank and knock yourself out. However, if you’d also like to taste wine at all of these estates… bring money. Lots of it.

     How much would it cost to sample the vinous wares at all of the aforementioned wineries? You’ll find the stunning answer to that question in this year’s edition No. 12 of “The Grapevine,” the official newsletter of the wine clubs of Vinesse.


Posted in Our Wine Travel Log
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