Some buildings are more than just structures. The special ones give you a sense of place, a feel for the heart of the people who live and work in them, a tactile sense of the terrain on which they are built. Just as a good wine makes us experience the world through our senses, tasting the earth, air and water from which the fruit came, to step inside an extraordinary building is to gain a deeper experience of the world around you. The Penner-Ash winery, completed in 2005, is such a place. Nestled into a hillside overlooking the Chehalem Valley, the building seems to spring from the land itself and reflects our values, spirit and winemaking philosophy.
Penner-Ash Pinot noirs and Syrahs are often described as “elegant and earthy, structured and thoughtful.” These qualities come from a fundamental notion of transparency. We make our wines with a desire to break down barriers and to expose the winemaking mystery - to do away with pretense and bring us closer to the source. We have built that desire for transparency and closeness to nature into our winery building. Embraced by 80 acres of land, the winery is stepped into the hillside on three levels and positioned to take full advantage of the breathtaking and expansive views of the Chehalem Valley bounded by the Chehalem Mountains to the north and the Red Hills of Dundee to the south. The surrounding property is planted with 15 acres of Pinot noir grapes and 2005 was the vineyard’s first harvest.
From inside the building, one has the illusion that the roof is floating, thanks to the wrap-around clerestory windows, revealing views of both Mount Hood and Mount Jefferson. Transparency also plays a large part in the layout of the winery design, built so the tasting room has a view of the winemaking space through the windows and to the outdoors. Everywhere, natural, diffused sunlight brings the outdoor beauty of Oregon inside. Designed by WaterLeaf Architecture and Interiors and built by O’Brien Constructors LLC, the winery celebrates the Northwest and its Pacific Rim location with local, natural materials and clean, simple lines. Visitors enter the winery through a large pair of beautiful handcrafted doors that lead to a generously-sized tasting room on the top floor.
Separated from a private dining room with a vaulted wood ceiling adjacent to an enormous, floor-to-ceiling fireplace, the tasting room overlooks the rest of the winery and its three production levels. The mid-level is devoted to stainless steel fermentation tanks and the lower level to barrel cellars. The winery is designed with growth in mind and will accommodate an 8,000 case production.
Every detail of the 16,000 square-foot building is designed not only to facilitate, but enhance, the winemaking process. Human ergonomics are combined with the requirements of the wine itself. The building’s multiple levels were designed to employ gravity to simply and naturally allow the fruit to flow from crush pad to fermentation tanks to barrels, avoiding the damage that comes from forcefully pumping the wine from one processing stage to another. Heavy lifting is abolished and worker health, safety and equality are protected by making the entire operation accessible by forklift and catwalks. Covered outdoor work areas keep workers out of the Oregon rain and hot summer sun. The building also was designed with noise abatement in mind, using concrete barriers to dampen mechanical sounds.
Additionally, energy conservation was a primary consideration. The winery’s clerestory windows capitalize on day lighting to enhance the work environment while reducing energy consumed for electrical lighting. These windows allow for natural ventilation, flushing the underside of the vaulted ceiling where warm summer air collects. The wine production and storage areas are carved right into the hillside, which minimizes swings in temperature and humidity and helps achieve the desired atmosphere for proper cellaring of wine in barrels and bottle. Natural building materials from local sources reduced energy expenditures from transportation.
The design process for the new winery was much like the way we make wine. In winemaking, hundreds of decisions need to be made and they come from a combination of experience, diligence and instinct. Individual wisdom and intuition dictates those decisions. We all worked with WaterLeaf in much the same way, allowing our internal wisdom and experience to guide us with same diligent care and attention to detail.