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Deconstructing Aperture Cellars

Sonoma winery’s architecture reflects owners’ passion for photography and wine

Aperture Cellars1 Aug21 Bldg Profile

Photo: Duane Gillette

Wine and photography meet at Aperture Cellars in Healdsburg, Calif. It is owned by Jesse Katz, son of renowned photographer, Andy Katz, and co-creator of the label. Having travelled the world with his father, the winery reflects their passion for both wine and photography.

Designed by Signum Architecture LLP, St Helena, Calif., the project consists of two structures, a large 20,000-square-foot wine production facility and a smaller, intimate 4,000-square-foot hospitality building to host curated tastings and events. Juancarlos Fernandez, IAAIA, partner at Signum Architecture, explains that the firm has done a number of winery projects, all of which are a reflection of the labels, the brand, winemaker and the site.

Completed in spring 2020, Fernandez says the design process was filtered through the exploration of the camera, and specifically the aperture of a lens. While the two buildings differ in both scale and massing, each design solution came from the exploration of the elements of an aperture, and the possibilities that come with playing and reassembling those elements.

Photo: Duane Gillette

Site Details

According to Fernandez, the goal was to represent the unique perspective of both father and son through its architecture, while also responding to its unique location in Sonoma Valley. The winery is a direct response to its location on the valley floor, to the east of the Sonoma Mountains, in an area with distinctive vantage points that capitalize on the rich soils of the creek-fed site, the fog-cooled microclimate and views of the mountains to both the east and the west. Situated along the less-travelled Old Redwood Highway, the site’s orientation and views are directed toward the Sonoma Mountains, a perspective directly opposite the wineries located along the more populated West Side Road.

One of the first design challenges with the production facility was how to make a large building not look so large. Fernandez says the location of the winery, near other industrial buildings, including a mill and other residential projects, made it important to keep the scale of the project smaller than the mill.

“Since the very beginning, we focused on the brand Aperture, and playing around with the idea of a camera’s aperture, the transmission of light and the controlling of light in and out,” explains Fernandez. “We used the concept of this aperture, and in this case, we took a hexagon with its six sides and started playing with that. We broke the building into four different buildings that were built together in order to break the scale of the project. So instead of having one massive building that’s 20,000 square feet, it looks like four different shapes together. And that’s how we achieved the goal of reducing the scale and reducing the impact on the site.”

Photo: Duane Gillette

Metal Building Benefits

While the hospitality building is wood-frame construction, Fernandez opted to use a metal building system clad with insulated metal panels for the production facility. CBC Steel Buildings, Lathrop, Calif., supplied the metal building system, which was erected by Soule Building Systems, Windsor, Calif.

“We have been doing a lot of projects with prefabricated metal buildings,” Fernandez says, “and we know that they’re efficient for installation, and efficient to build and also reliable on controlling the cost. When you’re designing wineries, there’s always a deadline, the next crush, the next harvest, and there’s no way to move that deadline, so we knew that we had to create a building that we could rely on within a timeline. With the frame of a prefab building, with that tight of a schedule, we knew exactly how long it would take to assemble it.”

Joshua Johnson, CFO, Soule Building Systems, explains that pre-engineered metal buildings are an excellent option for wineries. One reason is their ability to span large distances for open floor plans without interior columns. “The all-metal construction is ideal for the wet environment that wineries have due to the washdown and cleaning process,” he says. “When wineries are built using wood, the client has to take extra steps to make sure the wood doesn’t become saturated with water, which can cause issues. Metal buildings also excel in the construction phase of the project. The erection time of the metal building is far less than a wood building, and this decreases the duration of the project, saving time and money.”

One of the most difficult parts of the project were the multiple ridges and valleys of the roof line. By themselves they would not have been an issue, Johnson says, but when you’re connecting multiple buildings together and the ridges, valleys and wall lines are crossing each other and interacting, it makes for some very difficult trim work to maintain the project’s watertightness. “With the use of 3-D modeling [from Tekla], we were able to visualize all those areas and plan for the difficult transitions. Months’ worth of experienced detailing went into this project by my detailers to make sure everything would be correct when it hit the job site.”

Photo: Duane Gillette

Color Connections

When it comes to building wineries, Johnson says the insulation value is a key component. A total of 36,341 square feet of Vacaville, Calif.-based All Weather Insulated Panels’ OneDek RD1 insulated roof deck for the roof and Mesa (DM40) insulated metal wall panels for the walls, were used for the project. The insulated metal panels have a 22-gauge exterior skin, allowing the team to attach multiwidth standing seam metal panels from Metal Sales Manufacturing Corp., Louisville, Ky., in vintage galvanized and perforated Corten steel for the exterior finish.

“When you use an insulated panel, you are able to keep consistent temperatures in the building as well as maintaining the wineries’ ability to wash down,” explains Johnson. “The foam in between the two metal skins of the panel is a closed-cell foam so it will not absorb water.”

Fernandez notes that the Corten panels are one building component that he uses a lot on his buildings. “If you look at a vineyards’ end posts, in the old days they were Corten steel end posts, but now they’re just regular steel end posts that rust naturally. Every time you walk through the vineyards, it’s one of the materials that are out there everywhere, making it easy to take one of the natural materials that is everywhere and bring it to the building.”

He continues to say that the vintage galvanized steel is a reminder of an area in Sonoma with farm buildings and old barns with corrugated, galvanized panels. “The galvanized panels take on more of a dull patina after time, so it was easy to take those two materials and combine them,” he says. “Also, because we wanted to minimize the size of the building visually, we didn’t want to use just one material. Two buildings have one patina and two have the Corten, and when you blend them together, it keeps the smaller visual scale.”

Photo: Duane Gillette

Natural Light

Right through the middle of the four buildings is a breezeway that becomes the crush path during the harvest. The breezeway takes in the natural winds from the west, cooling the building, while also bringing in natural light. As Fernandez explains, this allows workers to work throughout the whole day in either the fermentation room, or in the crush and breezeway, without any additional light. “That’s one of the natural practices we bring into our buildings,” he says. “You can minimize the use of energy, through either lighting or mechanical systems.”

Also playing on this idea of aperture, Fernandez notes that in the main building where the tanks are features a polycarbonate wall from EXTECH/Exterior Technologies Inc., Pittsburgh. “It’s facing north, which brings in natural light. We controlled the natural light with a perforated standing seam metal panel that goes over it, and that’s our lens that controls the light into the tank building.”

“One of the features of this winery that I like the most is the polycarbonate wall in the tank building,” adds Johnson. “This hidden window allows light in during the day but remains hidden on the outside because of the perforated wall panels. When it’s dark out, the light coming through the wall is spectacular.”