OENOPHILES OFTEN SPEAK about a wine’s “structure,” how it is crafted
to withstand the pressures of time and develop its own distinctive profile.
Wine-country architecture shares many of these characteristics, deftly
combining heritage, functional purpose, and natural materials with a
modern sensibility. As Napa has become a world-class food and wine
destination, it has also become a place of architectural experimentation,
introducing aspects of wine-rich Mediterranean cultures and cutting-edge
modernism. These properties symbolize their founders’ determination to
create monuments as unique as their wines. Like their prized vintages,
these buildings, stories and reputations endure.
RINGED BY VERDANT gardens and walking paths, the venerable
Beringer Rhine House is still in active use as the hospitality center for
Beringer Vineyards, and, often, the site of special events and memorable private dinners. Solidly built of limestone, brick and redwood,
it boasts 40 glistening stained-glass panels that tell the story of the
Beringer family and its viniferous pursuits. Conceived by architect
Albert Schroepfer to mimic the Beringer ancestral property at Mainz-am-Rhein in Germany, the ornate gables, turrets and ornaments reflect
the high Victorian style of the time.
When the Beringer brothers Jacob and Frederick bought the estate in
1875, they commissioned nearly 1,200 linear feet of wine storage tunnels
to be carved into Spring Mountain, hand-chiseled by Chinese immi-
Robert Louis Stevenson’s notion that Napa is “where the soil has sublimated under
sun and stars to something finer; and the wine is bottled poetry ...” extends to
buildings and interiors of some of the grandest wineries. Clockwise from left: Castello
di Amorosa Winery’s medieval-style great hall; Dominus Estate winery’s building by
Herzog & de Meuron architects has rock-filled gabion walls; one of the last works by
Austrian artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser is a building for Quixote Winery.
grant workers. Frederick wanted to build his grand Rhine House on a
site already occupied by a more modest historic house originally built in
1850 for David Hudson, one of the founders of the California Bear Flag
Revolt. Hudson’s house was moved onto logs and pulled by horse to a
nearby site, where it sits today.
Chateau Montelena began in 1882, when Alfred Tubbs, having made
his fortune in ship rigging and mining rope during the Gold Rush, purchased 254 acres of rugged land at the base of Mount St. Helena just north
of Calistoga. After Tubbs’ first mansion and winery were destroyed by fire,
he commissioned architect Hamden W. McIntyre to build a massive stone
château, clearly fire-resistant, in fantasy-medieval French style.
At the turn of the 20th century, Chateau Montelena was one of the
most well-known and productive wineries in the valley. Prohibition and
neglect by subsequent owners caused the winery to fall into disrepair
until it was purchased by Yort Wing Frank in 1958. Frank’s Chinese
heritage inspired him to add a picturesque five-acre lake with pagodas
and footbridges, a charming conflation of aesthetic references and an apt
metaphor for the melting pot of influences that have converged in Napa.