Striking building; saving 150-year-old oaks
RUSSIAN RIVER VALLEY — John and Kathe Dyson acquired Williams Selyem in 1998 and nearly a decade later embarked upon construction of a facility befitting one of Sonoma County’s most exclusive wine brands.
Construction started in September 2007 and was completed in phases over the past three years.
The new winery provides more-efficient space for aging wine and more scenic venues for hosting visits or events for mailing-list members. Since the Dysons have owned the brand, production has increased from 8,000 cases a year to 15,000.
Some functions will continue to be handled off site. Grapes from the two estate vineyards and a number of longtime suppliers still will be crushed and partly fermented in leased space at Allen Ranch a half-mile north of the new winery. Williams Selyem makes mainly pinot noir, chardonnay and zinfandel wines starting at about $35 a bottle for 2008 “unoaked” chardonnay and pinot noirs from the Dysons’ Central Coast property and various Sonoma County vineyards. Most other wines start at $50 a bottle.
Four years ago, the winery outsourced fulfillment of its wine, limiting the need for a lot of warehouse space. New Vine of Napa had handled fulfillment until its ownership transition in June 2009. Now handling that function is Winetasting.com, also of Napa.
Various aspects of the winery project were designed to limit environmental impact.
“It was really important to John that we were keeping the trees and rocks that were part of the property,” said Bob Cabral, winemaker and general manager.
For example, the building was designed with a 15 degree right angle in the middle to fit between two oak trees estimated to be 150 and 300 years old. And to protect the roots of one of them, the winery’s concrete loading dock “floats” on carefully positioned piers.
The property and new winery have a number of recycled components, including glass, metal and wood. Stone tiles on the interior walls of the east entrance were fashioned from rock excavated since the first vines were planted on the property in 2001. The road connecting the new winery to Westside Road was covered several years ago with nearly 70,000 tons of gravel crushed from that rock.
Beside the zinc panels on the front arched roof, another prominent feature is redwood boards under the roof on the eastern entrance along the sides of the building, on the ceilings of the public areas and custom cellar doors. Those were milled from 50-year-old tanks purchased from the Almaden winery and stored at the Dysons’ Central Coast facility for years. To continue with the wine barrel design motif, the boards were installed in a specific matching order to resemble barrel staves.
A striking feature of the winery is the 45-foot-high eastern window wall. But beyond that there is another glass wall: gallon-sized olive oil bottles. The Dysons got the idea from oil production bottles seen in Tuscany, where the couple owns a winery and olive press.
The winery has a number of energy-saving elements. A rooftop garden improves insulation, foot-thick wall panels sandwich insulation between concrete, solar thermal panels heat water, photovoltaic panels are estimated to provide a quarter to a third of facility needs and trees were left to shade the sun-facing south side of the building. The 4,500-square-foot, four-room barrel cellar is set into the hillside for added insulation.
A major cost item was the floor coating throughout the winery. At $12 a square foot, it has grit to protect workers from slipping on wet floors and a bactericide also used in the wall coating.
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