Eric Lemelson and I first met at his stunning 31-acre estate vineyard
overlooking the coast range near the town of Carlton, OR. He planned
to build a gravity-flow winery, and our firm would provide architectural
Lemelson immediately made his priorities clear: the focus was
to be on making top-quality Pinot Noir. He was not interested
in building a showplace, and he understood that true gravity-flow
facilities come at a premium.
Lemelson had selected the brow of the hill at the top of the vineyard
as the winery site. However, in addition to taking up prime vineyard,
any structure in that location, even one cut into the hill, would
have been extremely prominent. Based on what Lemelson had said,
he was not looking for something so conspicuous.
This site did have its advantages: Its views were striking, and
there was plenty of slope for a multi-level facility. However,
developing truck access would be challenging and would take up
even more valuable vineyard land. Across the road from the vineyard,
a pasture adjacent to a forested slope belonged to Lemelson and
offered what seemed an ideal site.
Because he had already done considerable clearing to plant the
vineyard, Lemelson was hesitant to cut additional trees. But if
the winery was nestled into an existing notch at the edge of the
woodland just at the transition from slope to pasture, we would
have the best of both worlds. It offered adequate incline for
multiple levels and enough flat ground for maneuvering large glass
Lemelson was not convinced but allowed us to proceed with schematic
plans on both sites for comparison.
The vineyard site proved an even greater challenge than anticipated,
requiring considerable excavation and retaining walls to support
the delivery access.
By contrast, the winery and access road plan seemed to fit the
pasture site like a glove. Orienting the 21,000 square foot facility
parallel to the slope would allow us to terrace into the hill,
taking advantage of the existing incline and maximizing usable
area on each level. Expansion could be accommodated simply by
adding on to the winery at one end. The only drawback was that
the vertical drop was limited. We were unable to develop a scheme
that accomodated all the desired levels.
An ideal gravity flow facility would have as many as seven levels:
1) grape receiving, sorting and loading, fermentors and presses,
2) fermentor unloading and pomace removal, 3) settling, 4) barrel
storage, 5) blending, 6) bottling, and 7) the dock for truck loading.
But in reality purchasing separate tanks for settling, blending,
and bottling would be an extravagance and so would building enough
levels to accommodate them. Clearly compromises were necessary.
Gentle handling is critical in the early winemaking steps when
skins, pips, and stems are still in contact with the juice. But
it wasnt as clear where, during the latter stages of processing,
extra expense would pay off in quality.
We needed help to determine where the use of gravity would be
most cost-effective and also to translate anticipated production
into the number of fermentors of each size that would be needed.
New to winegrowing but determined to come up to speed quickly,
Lemelson sought advice from several Oregon winemakers. Not surprisingly,
some of their advice was contradictory. I encouraged him to retain
one experienced winemaker who would be available on-call as a
consultant, and Eric Hamacher (Hamacher Wines, Carlton, OR) soon
joined the design team in that capacity.
Grape delivery dilemma:
Movable or stationary fermentors
We visited several Oregon and California wineries to research
the key question of how grapes are best sorted, destemmed, and
loaded into fermentors. We observed two basic methods: an array
of movable equipment, servicing rows of fixed fermentors (in use
at Opus One [Oakville, CA], Adelsheim [Newberg,OR], Domaine Drouhin
[Dundee, OR], Willakenzie [Yamhill, OR]), and movable fermentors
filled on a fixed crush pad (as at Robert Mondavis Carneros
facility [Napa, CA], Byron [Santa Maria, CA], Medici [Newberg,
OR], and Beaux Freres [Newberg, OR]).
The first method typically involves a hopper or bin dumper, a
sorting table, and a destemmer, which all must be moved and properly
aligned at each fermentor. Power drops have to be coordinated
to be within close range of each piece of equipment.
Many wineries utilize a mezzanine level just above the top of
the fermentors. These require removable guard rail sections and
splash guards for open-top fermentors. Facilities with single-level
fermentation rooms often employ an inclined conveyor in addition
to (or in conjunction with) a sorting table, adding to the challenge
of creating an efficient set-up.
The fixed crush pad has the advantage of not requiring alignment
of various equipment each time a fermentor is filled. But moving
large fermentors requires special self-propelled pallet jacks
and flat floors which obviate good drainage. As a result, clean
up becomes more tedious.
From gantry crane to Lunar
Lemelson and Hamacher worked on the capacity/timing puzzle dictated
by the need to process separate vineyard lots. From this, we would
learn the necessary fermentor mix and the resultant barrel capacity,
which would dictate square-footage requirements.
My design team focused on design of the grape-delivery system.
We initially investigated an equipment array mounted on a track
that would keep everything aligned. It seemed to make the most
sense to install this at the top of the fermentors. Unfortunately,
we didnt have the site topography to devote a level to this
purpose and still have the other floor levels that were important.
We knew that there must be a way to accomplish fermentor loading
by gravity (using a forklift) without building an extra level
for that purpose alone.
Dean Fisher had designed and built a sorting platform with the
crush pad at Medici Vineyards, Newberg, OR, with input from Hamacher.
It incorporates a sorting table with an integral bin dumper at
one end and a destemmer at the other, all elevated to allow a
forklift to shuffle small bins underneath for unloading.
I had also admired the simplicity of the fermentation room at
Domaine Leroy in Burgundy, France, with its crane-rail-mounted
punch-down device. Why not combine the two and put the sorting/destemming
equipment array on a gantry-type crane, supported on the outside
walls of the fermentation room? It would be quite similar to gantry-type
cranes used in steel fabrication facilities.
One challenge was how to overcome the potential danger to someone
on the catwalk if the moving rail spanned from wall to wall. At
Domaine Leroy, the tanks were accessed from ladders, rather than
a catwalk. In any case, punch-down and fermentor loading would
certainly need to happen simultaneously, requiring two separate
Using a punch-down rail centered over the tanks meant that the
crane rails could not overlap the center of the fermentors. We
could support them on a series of columns located between tanks,
but adding that many columns would create a sanitation nightmare.
Then, in one brainstorming session, we conceived combining all
of the sorting/destemming equipment onto a 12-foot tall self-propelled
vehicle a self-contained, mobile, sorting platform.
The idea was intriguing but many problems needed to be worked
out. How would it be steered? How could it access fermentors on
both sides of the room? How would people get on and off? How would
it be powered? How and where would it be cleaned? Finally, who
could build it?
We considered equipping the vehicle with a steering gear or using
a cable guide, but chose to put the vehicle on flanged railroad-type
wheels that run in a track formed by the edge of the trench drain.
We had difficulty resolving the question of how to feed fermenters
on opposite sides of the aisle. One option was to take the entire
platform outside and simply turn it around. But taking the unit
out for a walk between lots didnt seem practical.
The idea of using a sorting conveyor that could run in either
direction was also considered but this would have required a second
destemmer. Finally we realized that we could mount the entire
mechanism on a turntable, which would allow it to swing into position
over fermentors on both sides of the room.
At first, getting on and off the platform seemed a simple issue;
we thought we would install a ladder at each end of the room.
Then we realized wed have a problem in a power outage. We
considered attaching ladders to the legs, but we wanted to leave
maximum clearance for forklift access. The solution is a retractable
ladder that can extend down to the catwalks.
We involved the electrical sub-contractor in discussions of how
to power the equipment. Again the problems seemed myriad: dragging
a long, thick extension cord wasnt practical. Plugging and
unplugging the machine every few fermentors didnt seem a
safe option, either, given the wet environment.
The electrician suggested using a trolley system to suspend loops
of cord overhead. At the fabricators suggestion, this was
changed to a conductor bar. It resembles the third rail of a subway
train, but in this case, is mounted on the ceiling trusses. However,
the conductor bar wouldnt work in exterior applications,
so if we wanted to move the unit outside for cleaning we were
back to needing an extension cord.
Cleaning was the next challenge. We assumed that the machine would
have to be taken outside to wash it. However, the only area available
to bring the machine outside was directly adjacent to the main
building entry. Issuing raincoats to visitors was not an attractive
I had visited the new Kirkland Winery (Napa, CA) and saw Steve
Cornishs stainless steel fabrications there. I was impressed
with his workmanship and especially interested in the clean-in-place
system he used for fruit conveyors. We contacted him, and he agreed
to take on the project.
Working from our schematic drawings, Cornish transformed our utilitarian
platform concept into what one Oregon wine writer called a
man-size transformer-toy worthy of Rube Goldberg himself.
Our office dubbed it the Lunar Landing Module, but
it proved itself functioning beautifully throughout the
1999 harvest of 70 tons of grapes.
Due to the continuous, even feeding of the grapes through
the destemmer, the percentage of whole berries and the lack of
stem pieces was unbelievable, recalls Hamacher. I
have never seen anything that even came close. The fruit was so
clean in the fermentor after destemming, it looked like hand-picked
Use of the clean-in-place system on both the sorting table and
within the Delta E-2 destemmer eliminated the need to take the
platform outside for cleaning. The entire destemmer could be lowered
by means of a cable winch for changing the basket and servicing.
The system requires a dedicated 300-gallon tank and a pressure
pump, and cleaning occurs between the grape receiving entry and
the smaller fermentors.
The platforms catwalk grating still requires considerable
effort to clean. Once its washed down, workers must dodge
drips from the platform above as they clean up the residue left
on the floor. Retrofitting a solid platform floor with a downspout
system would avoid this annoyance.
While not inexpensive, this sorting platform effectively eliminated
the need for construction of a mezzanine level, which would have
cost more, leaving money in the budget for other wine-quality
In the fermentation room, fermentors line both sides of a center
aisle. There is a range of fermentor sizes from three to eight
tons to accommodate various vineyard lots. Fermentors are equipped
with jackets for cooling or heating.
A large door, which accommodates delivery to the sorting platform
and tanks, services the press end of the room for efficient processing
of white grapes. The sorting platform can also be used to load
white grapes as whole clusters into the press. A second door to
the east allows for flow through traffic. Grapes arrive
from the vineyard on pallets of 40-lb lug boxes. These can be
stockpiled, out of the rain, under the large canopy.
The pallets are forklifted to the sorting platform (see photo).
A shaker table meters the fruit onto the variable-speed sorting
conveyor. The belt is solid, rather than mesh, with a pan to catch
runoff. Two people at the loading end alternate: one dumps lugs
until the pallet is empty, while the other sorts, then they switch
jobs. As many as three additional people per side can sort the
fruit before clusters spill into the destemmer and finally into
fermentors. The tops of all but the smallest fermentors are level,
so the destemmer just clears the rims, minimizing fruit maceration.
Settling and blending occur on the next level down. After fermentation,
red wine is drained by gravity into settling tanks on this level
through fixed stainless steel wine lines. The winemaker can simply
connect to the permanent lines, open a valve before leaving at
night, and come back to wine settling the next morning. The lab
is also located on this level, midway between the barrel and fermentation
Separating the fermentation room and the settling/blending tank
level is a three-story circulation spine which introduces
natural light from several large skylights into the lower cellars.
With a two-story stair, interior windows, and catwalk bridges,
this eight-foot wide hall connects both visually and physically
all the major spaces in the building. Transfer lines are concealed
in three buttresses that cross through the space. Two openings
are provided from the catwalk level of the fermentation room into
the settling/blending tank level to facilitate communication between
the workspaces. Because these openings connect more that two floors
vertically, building code required the addition of doors that
close automatically in case of fire.
Four vaulted barrel rooms are below the fermentation room to accommodate
Pinot Noir production. Each room is 36-feet square and 16-feet
high. Twelve-foot high ConSpan pre-cast concrete vaults (pages
5463 PWVMay/June 1998) set on five-foot high, cast-in-place
stem walls form the cave-like spaces. This combination gives the
rooms a height proportional to their width and permits the future
use of steel barrel racks. The fourth cellar temporarily serves
as case goods storage.
The ConSpan pre-cast vaults were designed originally for bridges.
They are very strong, conveniently pre-fabricated off-site, compare
favorably costwise with cast-in-place concrete structures, and
are aesthetically pleasing.
Another 20-foot by 56-foot cellar for Chardonnay is located below
the settling/blending level. The size of the fermentation and
settling/blending rooms is a function of the number of fermentors
and tanks required, balanced with the necessary barrel capacity
of the cellars directly below them and the limits of the Conspan
units. Because of trucking weight limitations, the 36-foot ConSpan
units are available only in six-foot wide units.
Cellar floors are gravel, open to the soil below, with concrete
walkways equipped with an in-floor heating and cooling system
consisting of rows of polyethylene tubing embedded in the concrete
walkways at approximately six inches on center. Heated or chilled
glycol is pumped through this network, gradually radiating the
heat or cooling to the cellar. This is similar to the system used
at Adelsheim Vineyards (Newberg, OR).
Each barrel room can be heated or cooled independently. Stainless
steel wine lines connect each barrel room to the settling/blending
level. Additionally, capped six-inch PVC sleeves are provided
for hose drops directly from the fermentation room above.
Each barrel room is equipped with a fresh air snorkel
(18 inches in diameter rising seven feet from the barrel room
ceiling to vents above grade) to provide ventilation by natural
chimney effect. Should passive air movement prove inadequate to
counter mold growth, provisions have been made for addition of
variable speed fans within the fresh air ducts.
Each barrel room is also equipped with a pair of recessed barrel-washing
wells. Ozonated water can be used for barrel washing. Because
of corrosion potential, stainless steel piping was required to
accommodate the ozone-treated water.
Bottling / Glass staging
/ Case goods
The bottling area is arranged in a U for efficient
material handling. Glass staging is along one leg with the bottling
line along the opposite side. Pallets for bottles are brought
across the aisle to the bottling line, loaded and transferred
directly into case goods storage. The loading dock access is directly
opposite case goods storage.
The loading dock is built into a porch extension, which allows
access in and out of the building, even while a truck is parked
at the dock. There is ramped forklift access off one side and
a true dock off the other side. Allowing truck traffic to circulate
around the entire building precluded the need for a large truck
turn around. A driver simply approaches alongside the building
and backs up to the dock.
Construction of gravity flow wineries typically starts
with massive excavation followed by construction of a very tall
retaining wall. Lateral (earthquake) loads increase dramatically
with depth. As the retaining wall gets taller, the concrete required
to hold back the lateral forces increases exponentially, especially
if the slope rises on the back side. This is the primary reason
that gravity flow winery facilities are more expensive.
In an effort to minimize the massive amount of concrete required,
the pre-cast vaults at Lemelson Winery have been used as buttresses,
stacked in the direction that provides the most stability to supplement
the 21-foot high retaining wall. Just as a brace is more effective
if its attached higher on the wall its supporting,
the shoring effect was increased by placing the pre-cast vaults
on top of stem walls.
Providing for safety issues
To prevent CO2 poisoning, a combination of active and passive
systems has been utilized. If CO2 is detected where it shouldnt
ordinarily be, an alarm will sound and an exhaust fan immediately
comes on to purge the area. In unoccupied spaces, CO2 buildup
might conceivably be desirable, to kill fruit flies, for example.
Where CO2 might normally be expected, such as in the fermentation
room or the Chardonnay barrel room, warning lights are provided
at all entry points connected to manual exhaust switches. This
allows the room to be purged manually before people enter.
Plans call for a second phase of winery construction to include
a dining room served by a small commercial kitchen. For larger
events, the space is expandable through French doors to the entry
court and two interconnecting terraces. The lower terrace overlooks
the estate vineyard and is conceived as an outdoor room complete
with a fireplace and overhead trellis.
Connecting the office and hospitality area to the rest of the
winery is a stair that wraps around a central light well topped
by a large skylight. Overlooking this interior tower
are windows from the entry lobby and offices, and a balcony just
outside the lab. The stair-tower culminates in a small tasting
area which opens directly into the Chardonnay barrel cellar.
Build it, and they will
A recurring topic of discussion in planning the winery was how
much to build in for expansion. Fortunately, this project coincided
with reform (aided by Hamacher) of Oregon laws governing winery
licenses, allowing multiple winery licenses within a single facility.
Lemelson was able to build in enough extra capacity to accommodate
two additional winemakers until he expands his own production.
Lemelson Winery is the achievement of a successful collaboration
between an owner determined to keep the focus on quality, a knowledgeable
winemaker interested in exploring new approaches, and an experienced
architectural team. We all worked together to raise the
bar for production of quality Pinot Noir.
Laurence Ferar is the principal architect and landscape
architect with Laurence Ferar and Associates, Inc., a Portland,
OR firm established in 1983 specializing in winery design. Tel: