Green Design for Red Wine – Niner Wine Estates, Paso Robles, CA

Monday, August 29th, 2011

BY Tim Woodle, AIA, San Luis Obispo, CA

Green design is arguably one of the biggest trends of the upcoming decade, following intense growth within the viticulture sector in California. This concept was implemented in one of the newest wineries in Paso Robles, CA at Niner Wine Estates. Winemaking as a centuries-old practice has been combined with a state-of-the-art facility built according to “green design” principles.

Founded in 2001, Niner Wine Estates is dedicated to making the highest quality wines possible, using only estate-grown fruit. Owner Richard Niner’s fondness for Paso Robles and the bounty of its land springs from his early upbringing on a rural farm in West Virginia. Niner Wine Estates is known for red wines, including their flagship blend of traditional Bordeaux varieties called Fog Catcher.

In the spring of 2004, Richard Niner contacted Steven D. Pults, AIA & Associates to discuss design and construction of a winery that balanced environmental sustainability, innovative winemaking processes, and a world-class aesthetic.

In the initial meeting, Niner challenged the design team to work with the winemaking team on a process- based approach to winery design. The first step was to re-examine the fundamentals of a gravity-based red fruit sorting and delivery system.

The design focus then began with research into existing state-of-the- art facilities, and evolved to a discussion of what would work best on this particular site, considering the team’s winemaking goals.

Site design

The initial design effort was site evaluation and site master planning. The “L”-shaped parcel has frontage on two roads; one is Highway 46 West, a heavily traveled connection between Paso Robles and the coastal communities of San Luis Obispo County. The scenic highway corridor has become a mecca for wineries and tasting rooms.

The meadow site was selected for the hospitality center, for its location on scenic Highway 46 and the serene ambiance of the natural setting. In response to the character of the meadow, the architectural approach was to incorporate pure, simple, agrarian forms for the hospitality center.

North of the meadow are rolling hillsides newly planted with estate vineyards. An existing internal ranch road through these hills remained as a logical circulation spine through the property between the hospitality center and the production winery.

Winery support functions — including wastewater reclamation, rainfall catchment, fire suppression, and domestic and process water treatment, storage, and distribution systems — are accessed off of this road, allowing them to be located out of view from onsite visitor serving areas and neighboring properties.

For the production winery, the design team selected a location on the ranch that best fit environmental and functional criteria. Site analysis identified a location on an eastern slope as the coolest part of the property, with the least exposure to summer sun, sufficient natural topography to create a semi-subterranean facility with ambient conditions similar to a cave, and the least desirable land for planting vineyards. The same slope that allowed the winery to be partially underground also achieved the winemaker’s request for a gravity-based sorting and delivery system.

Green design features

SOLAR ORIENTATION – Solar animation studies were performed utilizing VectorWorks CAD software and they confirmed that the natural orientation, topography, and vegetation at this location would provide significant shading of the structure and fruit receiving area for much of the harvest.

Shading of the fruit receiving area helps preserve the quality of the incoming fruit. Shading of the build- ing in conjunction with appropriate roof slopes, materials, and orientation reduces solar heat gain, maintaining a stable indoor environment and using less energy for mechanical equipment.

LANDSCAPING – To reduce water consumption and respect the agricultural roots of the property, ornamental landscaping was minimized. Instead, the majority of the landscaping is comprised of vineyards and two additional agricultural crops.

A dry-farmed barley field occupies the foreground of the hospitality center, as viewed by travelers on Highway 46. Lavender is grown in a radial field between the tasting room and Heart Hill. The lavender field composes the foreground view of Heart Hill itself, for visitors within the tasting room.

WATER RECLAMATION – The Wallace Group (San Luis Obispo, CA), designed the winery wastewater reclamation and rainwater collection systems. The wastewater treatment system was designed to meet state-mandated Waste Discharge Requirements issued by the State Water Resources Control Board.

The design includes cost-efficient aeration of a facultative pond using Air Diffusion Systems (ADS) fine-bubble aeration system that is well-suited to the environmental concerns of the project. An ADS system operates at 25% of the electrical requirements required by an industry-standard surface aerator. A constructed wetland is utilized for final polishing of the water.

In a rainwater recovery and blending pond (designed by the Wallace Group), multiple water sources are blended including recovered rain-water from the winery roof, recycled process water, and well water. Onsite vineyards, other agricultural crops, and ornamental landscaping are irrigated from the rainwater recovery and blending pond. This water supplies approximately 15% of the estate vineyard’s water demand.

“It is a low-energy, low-maintenance system that required some capital input,” explains Rob Miller (Wallace Group). “It is the same theme as their wastewater processing system — Invest up front, and over time, you get payback.” The rainwater catchment is also a gravity-based system, except final pumping to the storage reservoir.

The rainwater catchment system is calculated to offset 100% of the domestic and winemaking process water demands for the facility. The winery roof area is approximately 58,700 square feet. Rainfall in the area varies, averaging 23 inches annually at the site.

In the winter of 2009/2010, a year with higher than normal rainfall, the catchment system flow meters recorded 800,000 gallons of captured rainwater. Total winery demand for water averaged 8.6 gallons per case, resulting in a system that has captured quantities greatly exceeding the facility demand, even at full anticipated production (50,000 cases). The wastewater and catchment systems contributed to the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification of the project.

Fruit processing

Working with winemaker Amanda Cramer and Niner project manager Tom Bower, P&L Specialties (Santa Rosa, CA) designed a red fruit handling system to be extremely gentle on the fruit. Half-ton bins of whole cluster fruit come into the facility on an upper floor mezzanine from the fruit receiving area.

The bin dumper delivers fruit to an inclined whole cluster sorting table, destemmer, materials other than grapes (MOG) removal machine, and berry sorting table, and then to crush-rollers that gently crush the fruit. “We adjust the rollers at the start of each lot of grapes to break the largest berries, while letting through about 30% whole berries,” explains Cramer.

The fruit passes through an opening in the mezzanine floor and is delivered to fermentation tanks via a rotating conveyor. The conveyor is suspended from the underside of the mezzanine and pivots in a 330 degree arc to fill tanks. There are four circular arrays of tanks, each with identical conveyor delivery from the mezzanine.

The four tank arrays have a total of 55 red fermentors with capacity of 3, 6, 12, or 18 tons. Each conveyor is 18 inches wide, 17 feet long, and sloped downward at 8 degrees to span from the opening in the mezzanine to the top access port of each tank. Under Bower’s direction, P&L Specialties coordinated and produced process engineering, final design, and implementation of the fruit delivery, sorting, and material flow systems.

Utilizing gravity to move fruit though the facility preserves fruit quality by using softer, natural forces, rather than pumps and pressure that push and macerate the fruit. Harnessing gravity reduces the energy needed to transfer the grapes, as pumps and additional conveyance equipment are not necessary, and it reduces the risk of growing spoilage organisms.

Structural design

To avoid any structural obstructions to the rotating conveyors, conventional compression-based support columns below the mezzanine were not included in the design. Instead, Artisan Engineering (Arroyo Grande, CA) designed tensile columns to suspend the sorting/ crush mezzanine from the main roof girders, creating a dramatic and very functional floating work area above the fermentation room.

The cast-in-place concrete slab of the mezzanine weighs more than 650 tons (plus equipment, fruit, and personnel). The tensile columns supporting the concrete slab include an adjustment mechanism that permitted the slab to be pulled slightly up off the forms during initial construction, to achieve an appropriate slope for proper drainage.

Structural design for the shell of the production winery had to focus on constructability and performance. Tilt-up concrete walls, which have both an interior structural panel and an exterior aesthetic panel, were sized first and foremost on the ability of an available crane to lift and maneuver them into place.

The main steel girders (83 feet long and 6 feet deep when assembled) were shipped in pieces and bolted together on site. The roof diaphragm, constructed from diagonal pipe braces, had to include sufficient strength and ductility in addition to ample adjustment to accommodate the inherent inaccuracies in the fabrication and erection of the oversized wall panels and roof girders.

A fundamental feature of any sustainable structure is its thermal envelope that became a primary driver of the structural design for the production winery. ThermomassTM (a thermally insulated, cast-on-site concrete wall system), was selected.

The tilt-up wall system described above is a composite of an exterior concrete architectural shell, an interior concrete structural and thermal wall, and a closed cell Dow insulation core sandwiched between the two.

By placing the structural wall inboard of the insulation, the winery interior has a huge thermal flywheel, or thermal mass effect. This allows the building to perform thermally at an extraordinarily high level, While the steady state R-Value of the wall system is approximately R-18, the effective value approaches R-30. The end result is a very efficient structure, particularly given the fact that it is also largely subterranean.

For the hospitality center, an Insulated Concrete Form (ICF) wall system was installed. The ICF walls consist of large-scale, modular, expanded polystyrene units filled with structural concrete that assemble quickly and provide high thermal efficiency. Roof envelopes for these structures use metal roofing and high R-value insulation systems. The roof was designed for exemplary thermal performance by a combination of thermal mass, a well-insulated envelope, and materials that reduce heat gain.

Mechanical and Refrigeration systems

Project mechanical and refrig- eration design was provided by Brummel-Myrick & Associates (San Luis Obispo, CA) and Applied Process Cooling Corporation (APPCO, Belmont, CA). One of the more challenging aspects of designing a mechanical system for a medium-size winery project is to provide maximum flexibility of performance for current operations and future requirements.

Flexibility is designed into every aspect of the refrigeration system at Niner Wine Estates, from providing 28oF glycol for cold stabilization in fermentation tanks to heating a barrel storage area for malolactic fermentation, or doing both simultaneously. This flexibility provides whatever environment may be required at any given time during the year. A Johnson Controls Building Automation System ensures efficient management of all mechanical systems in all areas of the winery.

Mechanical systems were designed to meet today’s efficiency expectations while minimizing the amount of maintenance those systems will require to operate consistently at peak efficiency. High-efficiency air-cooled chillers utilize environmentally friendly R-410A refrigerant to provide chilled glycol and water for process and comfort cooling. Efficient and clean-burning boilers were specified for both space heating and process hot water systems.

Variable frequency drives were incorporated into air handler fans and hydronic pumps to provide turn-down during periods of partial load to maximize energy efficiency. Night cooling systems, which are an inexpensive way to utilize temperature changes at night to naturally cool the building, were incorporated into all process and storage areas.

The mechanical systems as a whole are comprised of components that provide dependable, highly tunable environmental and process control with low emissions and high turn- down capability. This combination results in minimizing the impact that Niner Wine Estates will have on the environment.

Lighting design

Lighting design was a significant part of the project. From the minimalist chandelier above the tasting bar to the highly efficient production lighting, aesthetic qualities, performance, and efficiency played key roles in the comprehensive lighting design.

Lighting control systems are manually and automatically tunable. Occupancy and daylight sensors play a key role in energy management. All major spaces, except barrel rooms, have been designed with daylighting.

Daylighting is an important part of the LEED certification process, and was evaluated room by room. The production winery has 56 skylights (a total of 590 square feet) that provide natural lighting of most of the work- ing spaces within the facility. The sky-lights are Velux fixed curb mount with laminated, low emissivity glazing and are spaced in regular intervals to provide uniform lighting.

Clerestory windows (120 linear feet) allow natural light to enter the production winery without additional heat gain due to overhang protection on the outside wall above these windows The clerestories have PPG Solarban z50, 1-inch low emissivity insulated glazing.

Lighting fixtures are equipped with daylight sensors that are calibrated to automatically turn the fixture on or off depending on lighting needs within the space. Daylighting contributes to, and in some locations, completely satisfies lighting demand, resulting in reduced energy consumption.

In addition, Niner Wine Estates purchases green power generated by renewable sources, such as wind and solar, and plans a future photovoltaic installation to assist in meeting energy needs.

The hospitality center is designed to bring the outside into the space by large windows that allow natural light into the tasting room and other adjacent areas and provide dramatic views of the property. In addition, the flooring extends from the inside of the tasting room out onto the terrace, creating a seamless connection between the interior and exterior spaces.

LEED certification

Environmental stewardship, energy efficiency, and appropriate material selections were integral to the design from the beginning, but it was not until the latter stages of design that LEED certification was discussed. In Balance Green Consulting (San Luis Obispo, CA), evaluated the project to determine if there was potential to pursue LEED certification.

The initial assessment determined that certification was feasible, which served as a valuable tool to refine the design in many areas. In Balance Green Consulting navigated the LEED process and performed all of the required evaluation, monitoring, documentation, and commissioning associated with the project’s LEED certification. The project has received Silver level LEED certification from the U.S. Green Building Council in the first half of 2011.


The journey has been an incredibly satisfying one for the entire design team and winemaking team, and most importantly, Richard Niner, owner. The Niner Wine Estates project is a testament to the feasibility of integrating sustainable concepts and innovative design to improve processes and enhance user experience throughout a new facility.

As we step into the new decade, Niner Wine Estates can serve as a benchmark for using “green design” to address many red winemaking challenges.

© Practical Winery & Vineyard Journal, 2011

Designs on Wine

Friday, February 24th, 2006

Architectural firm has quietly built a reputation for innovative buildings that have shaped the look and feel of the county’s wine industry

By Janis Switzer
Special to the Tribune

San Luis Obispo County has seen an explosion in the number of new wineries and tasting rooms in the past decade.
Many of these wineries “Bianchi Winery, Robert Hall Winery, Justin Winery, and Baileyana Winery” feature some of the most innovative, creative and striking architecture on the Central Coast. Behind the architecture of these new structures is one firm: Steven D. Pults, AIA & Associates of San Luis Obispo. A Cal Poly graduate, Pults started the firm out of his second bedroom in 1980 after working as an architect for three years in Santa Maria. Initially focused on commercial, industrial and office building projects, he eventually got into medical facilities and residential design.

In 1986, Pults hired fellow Cal Poly graduate Tim Woodle. A native of Sonoma County, it was Woodle who one day would lead their “winery team,” catapulting the firm into the winery-design business. “We first started about 12 years ago,” remembers Woodle, “with a small Santa Maria project for Kendall-Jackson.” The success of that project led them to design Kendall-Jackson’s huge new winery south of Salinas in Monterey County. A cover story in Practical Winery magazine about the project put the architectural firm front and center in the winery design business.

Pults and Woodle have been partners since 1996, and the firm employs 16 people, mostly Cal Poly graduates. The list of winery projects completed by the firm in the past 10 years is impressive. About 20 winery projects have been completed, including: Domaine Alfred, Orcutt Road Cellars, Edna Valley Vineyards and Alban Vineyards in Edna Valley, and Bianchi Vineyards, Justin Winery and Robert Hall in Paso Robles. “With all the buildings I’ve built in Minnesota and Arizona,” Robert Hall says, “I realize we are so lucky to have a firm of such quality and integrity right here in this area. “I would recommend them for anyone who needs a lot of creativity and a lot of hard work.” The Robert Hall project included a winery, 19,000 square feet of caves, and a recently opened hospitality center that includes a large tasting room, dining room, 200-person amphitheater and winery offices.

Pults and Woodle have a staggering 27 winery projects in the planning process. Some are simple tasting rooms, while others, such as the Vina Robles project on Highway 46 East in Paso Robles, are huge. The four-phase Vina Robles complex includes a 14,000-square-foot tasting room with banquet facilities, an 85-room high-end hotel, a state-of-the-art winery and a spa. Construction is to start “any day” on the tasting room, with the winery plans starting this spring, and the hotel starting in the next four to five years. According to Hans R. Michel, president and managing partner at Vina Robles, the complex will have “mission- and hacienda-style architecture.” He also praises Woodle as “very good to work with.”

Other projects under way by the Pults firm include major facilities at Linne Calado Winery, Niner West Estates, Opolo Winery, Rotta Winery and York Mountain. The firm does no advertising and relies on word of mouth for gaining new business. “We’ve been extremely fortunate,” Pults says, “the more work we do, the more opportunities we get.” Pults and Woodle estimate that they have worked on 80 percent of the county’s winery projects in the last 10 years. One advantage Woodle brings to his winery clients is his own understanding of the winemaking process. Making wine himself at his Templeton home, Woodle has a unique appreciation of his customers’ needs. “Architecture is an extension of their personality and the personality of their wines,” Woodle says. A winemaker’s “architecture is one of their marketing tools.” Woodle notes that, in the case of Justin Winery, the wines, labels, marketing materials and building carry the same look and theme.

Beyond the design of a building itself, Pults and Woodle also focus on the mechanical winemaking facilities inside the structure, from presses, pump systems and conveyor belts to fermentation tanks and waste water ponds. The pair believe they are most successful when they are pulled into a project from the beginning, so they can be involved with the design of the winery, inside and out. Regarding future design, they say the importance of “green building” in which the focus is to reduce energy reliance and maximize renewable and eco-friendly resources, is the way of the future. Talking of both design and function, Woodle says “as residents of this county we feel we have a responsibility to do these (winery) facilities as well as can be done,” adding “we take design very, very seriously.”

© The Tribune 2006