Architectural Articles

Temples for Wine

Did you know that wine grapes have been grown in Monterey County, California, since the Franciscan padres in 1770? History buffs will be interested to learn that according to Ken Rauh (Taste of Monterey), varietals such as Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc grapes were planted in 1919 and are still growing! In the year 2000, there were about 45,000 acres in local production yielding 170,000 tons of fruit valued at over 200 million dollars.

Wine aficionados will find an interesting breakdown of acreage and tonnage each year at the Monterey Country Vintners and Growers Association's website ( Did you know that there are seven distinct growing sections in Monterey County called American Viticultural Areas or "appellations" identifying the wine grape's place of origin? It was a surprise to me to discover that Monterey County has supplied grapes (Chardonnay mostly) for wineries outside the county since the 1960's. According to Rauh, 80% of the local grape production is shipped to processing facilities throughout the state, primarily to the North Coast. Local growers provide grapes to Mondavi, Coppola, Sutter Home and other wineries. This situation is quietly but dramatically changing as new processing facilities are being planned and constructed.

Two impressive examples are Morgan Winery and Estancia Winery, both in the Salinas Valley. The website for Morgan Winery explains the uniqueness of Monterey County as a growing region: The combined effects of the sea, sun, and fog produce a climate ideal for the cultivation of wine grapes. The cooling breezes and fog of the Pacific Ocean temper the long, warm growing seasons. The Gabilan and Santa Lucia Ranges border the Salinas Valley to the east and west, and on the slopes of these mountains are some of the best vineyard sites in the world. Dan and Donna Lee opened Morgan in their spare time in 1982, making their first Chardonnay while Dan was still making wine full time at Durney. For the next two years they operated the winery from their home until moving into a state-of-the-art facility in Salinas in 1984.

In 1984 Sauvignon Blanc was added to the portfolio, and in 1986, Pinot Noir. Currently the winery is working with Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, Syrah, Pinot Gris, and a new, southern Rhone type red table wine known as "Cotes du Crow's." Total production is 40,000 cases. Over the last year, Dan Lee has been consulting with Ausonio Inc. (Castroville, California) to construct a two-phase expansion on the west edge of Salinas Valley on River Road in Gonzales. Lee would like to relocate from Salinas to the vineyard site to make the fruit processing more efficient. By being closer to the grape source the need to truck fruit to town will be substantially reduced. The first phase will be a 29,000 square foot storage building for barrels, tanks, and case goods, plus a crush pad. This "big barn" as Lee calls it, will be a "concrete tilt-up" building. Just as the name implies, the concrete walls will be formed, poured and cured on top of the new floor slab and then tilted up by cranes. This construction method yields an extremely durable facility that will withstand the rigorous use of a winery. With its thick concrete walls and high vaulted insulated roof, the building requires minimal humidity and temperature control. The roof on this building type can be constructed of wood, steel, concrete or a combination of materials depending upon the needs of the user, such as the desire to reduce interior columns. According to Mog Cabatu at Ausonio Inc., the new building takes advantage of the sloping topography and will be set into the hillside on two levels, allowing gravity to do some of the work in-lieu of pumps. The barrel storage will have three sections. Attached to the concrete barn will be a smaller wood-frame addition for offices and a laboratory. Lee says that the new barn and office will have a pitched metal roof with roof dormers and a cupola on top to resemble "a French or Italian style." The next phase will add a two-level extension for a tasting room, kitchen, and conference room on the ground floor with business offices above. They hope to start construction in 2003.

Recently, the Morgan Winery was awarded certification as an organic vineyard, the only one in the Santa Lucia Highlands. This means that Morgan has meet new uniform standards established by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Estancia Estates in Soledad is part of Franciscan Estates, a larger family of wineries in several counties to include Quintessa, Simi, Franciscan, Mount Veeder, Vermonte, and Ravenswood. In the Salinas Valley, they have planted vineyards in varying micro-climates, which are described on Estancia's website:Our Monterey vineyards are located on the Santa Lucia Highlands, with the Gavilan Mountains to the east and the Santa Lucia Range and Pacific Ocean to the west. These ranges create a channel through which cool sea breezes from Monterey Bay, combine with warm Salinas Valley air to create one of the world's most ideal climates to grow high quality Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Our first vineyard in Monterey, Estancia Estates Pinnacles Vineyard, planted with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, is just west of the famed Pinnacles National Monument. We have added two more ranches to our Monterey vineyard properties.

Stonewall Vineyard, on the benchland within the Santa Lucia Highlands is devoted to growing Pinot Noir, and Kingsley Vineyard near Arroyo Seco has been planted entirely with Chardonnay. Last year, Estancia processed ten thousand tons of local grapes. Ken Shyvers, Senior Winemaker for Estancia Estates is planning a massive expansion at its Soledad facility totaling 180,000 square feet over the next three years. He expects the new winery to handle up to one million cases of wine each year. Because of his experience at the Robert Mondavi Winery, he has brought in architects and contractors from northern counties with whom he had worked on previous projects.

They are currently constructing a large state-of-the-art barrel storage building. The next stage of growth will add a two-story administration building, a production facility, and a visitors' center. After that, a warehouse for case goods is planned at the same location. Simple metal structures (steel frames with metal siding and roofing) are being used for the fermentation building. Pinot Noir is stored in a covered building where temperature-controlled tanks are protected from rain and wind. The new 60,000 square foot barrel storage building is designed as three voluminous "caves," as Shyvers calls them, to provide "the right temperatures, at the right time of year, at the right level of humidification." All of the caves can be independently controlled for temperature and humidity to allow each varietal to be treated differently. Wine will age in wood barrels from eight to twenty-four months. Shyvers chose to erect an all-concrete structure with a concrete floor, walls and a roof. The fact that the massive building resembles the thick adobe walls of historic missions is an aesthetic bonus. He goes on to explain that, in his experience, metal shells are more difficult to insulate to maintain interior temperatures when outside temperatures vary widely in day and night cycles. He also worries about corrosion in a metal building where humidity control is an issue.

To Ken Shyvers, the barrel room is the "temple" at their winery. His goal was to build a quiet, almost reverent storage space. He chose the top-of-the-line heating, ventilation and air conditioning equipment. Less noise means less vibration and he believes that makes a difference in the aging of wine. It is part of Shyvers' philosophy to gently shepherd the wine through the entire process from field to bottle. By increasing volume while relying on traditional techniques that minimize the handling of grapes, Shyvers likes to think of Estancia Estates as being the biggest "boutique winery" in the county. I can imagine a Franciscan father turning over sod with a hand-made shovel, carefully planting young grape vines adjacent to his adobe shelter. But I doubt that he could have ever envisioned the state-of the-art facilities now being planned in the same valley to grow and process world-class wines.

Published in Coastal Grower, Summer 2002

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