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Silver Oak Winery-Alexander Valley

On the 113-acre site where the Silver Oak vineyards now stand, Zinfandel vines have been grown since the 1880s. The former owners planted over 100 acres of grapevines, with other fields dedicated to apple trees and grasslands. The new winery is the second outpost of Silver Oak Cellars – a small, family-owned winery that produces a widely acclaimed Cabernet Sauvignon.

There were strong aspirations for the new winery to be outstanding in its field of viticulture, become one of the most sustainable wineries in the world, and not at the expense of making great wine. And there lies the challenge. How do you take an energy hungry monoculture and transform it into a sustainably diverse ecosystem? How do we encourage nature to co-exist with a vineyard without diminishing its ability to produce a consistent yield and provide a memorable, educational experience for visitors? Many of the solutions challenged tried and tested methods of farming but the project team were lucky to have pioneering clients willing to invest in creative, innovative solutions.

The landscape scope touched many aspects of the site, including vineyard layout and management, vehicular circulation and parking, events and visitor experience. To meet these different needs, the landscape design had to be functional and versatile, while delivering a sophisticated yet approachable outdoor space. To design a winery that would “frame the vineyards”, the Landscape Architects worked closely with the Architects on the careful integration of landscape and structure. Practical solutions soon became opportunities to create aesthetically bold and beautiful statements in the design.

The agricultural design vocabulary reinforced the identity of the land to create a dynamic interplay of light, shadow, reflection, and repetition. Natural ecologies on the site were preserved and enhanced with climate appropriate planting and an innovative water management system that includes a network of designed bioswales, a membrane bioreactor, and a 2.5-acre pond that serves as the main water source for the vineyard.

The reflecting pool that runs alongside the tasting room, recalls the exalted role that water plays in the region. Its central placement provides practical passive cooling and lighting effects, and, on sunny days, it reflects the landscape and architecture, bringing the project’s many layers of articulation – gravel, concrete, tree, siding, glass, grass, wood – together on a single plane. Hedgerows, allees, bosques and grass meadows define both the production and hospitality environments at Silver Oak. As part of the conservation effort and preparation for new planting, all non-native species were eradicated. Several existing native Oaks (Quercus agrifolia) on the property were retained and preserved, with one large specimen transplanted to a more prominent location at the barrel room entry bridge. Laurus nobilis, a low-water evergreen hedge, creates outdoor rooms and frames views to the surrounding landscape. At the entry road, bioswales are planted with Muhlenbergia dubia, a species well suited to summer-dry climates. At the Tasting Room and Production Building, Carex barbarae, Carex praegracilis, and Juncus effuses, all California natives, line the bioswales.

Insectary planting promotes the health of the vineyards and reduces pesticide use by providing habitat for beneficial insects such as bees, ladybugs, lacewings, and other pest-predators. The insectary palette includes a diverse range of native shrubs, flowering perennials, and wildflowers. Plants with insectary properties were deliberately chosen for other functional plantings across the site, such as traffic and wind calming hedge baffles, swales, and shade trees. Insectary plants were also integrated into the social spaces of the winery to modulate climate and provide a beautiful environment for people and nature to coexist. The combined mass of insectary plants create green corridors that promote local biodiversity and integrate the vineyard with nearby Sausal Creek, the pond and the surrounding natural environment.
The landscape architect collaborated closely with the winery owners and architects to create the most environmentally responsive winery in the US, attaining LEED Platinum and Living Building Challenge Certification to achieve the client’s goal in creating the only “zero net water and zero net energy” winery in the country.

Name of the project: Silver Oak Winery-Alexander Valley
Project category: Hospitality
Role of the entrant in the project: Landscape Architect
Project location: 7300 CA-128, Healdsburg, CA 95448, USA
Design year: 2014-2018
Year Built: 2018

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