Nestled at the base of Sonoma Mountain this 160-acre site marks an eight-year collaboration of site evaluation, master planning, vineyard and orchard planting, ancillary structure development, and the most recent completion of the Main House. A strong agricultural vocabulary was developed, relying on the repetitious strength of patterned windrows, hedgerows, vineyards, and orchard grids. “Domestic landscapes” were developed as interventions within the greater agricultural landscape. The project represents an assemblage of buildings within a carefully modulated landscape, a modern villa framed in an agrarian setting.
The SONOMA VINEYARD project illustrates the “building” of an agricultural property in which our lead role as landscape architects was key to its success. Close collaboration with the Client, Architects and our technical team provided a project in which the eight-year collaboration resulted in a seamless expression of agriculture, the built and the un-built. The Main House is at the core of this entry submittal but its underpinnings are built on the foundation we established for the entire property.
Agricultural Development. The project site, situated in a renowned wine grape region, was purchased with the intent of continuing the tradition of grape production on the site. Its gently rolling topography and deep soils is well suited to grape growing, most specifically, red varietals. We provided early assessment and site planning for the vineyard development, collaborating with vineyard specialists and technicians as well as a pre-selected Vineyard Manager.
Soils were tested and assessed for specific varietal suitability. Vineyard layout patterns were developed and vine support structure types designed. Deer fence enclosures were researched to find the best product and installation technique on the market, bringing a specialist in from Australia that could span great distances, yet maintain an established aesthetic while working within some challenging topography.
The agricultural requirements greatly informed our master plan with the agricultural patterning taking precedent as project structures and elements were tested and sited. Maximum solar exposure determined vineyard directionality and layout. Required agricultural roads, equipment turning radii, agricultural building siting and vine terracing patterns formed the underlying structure of the project.
Language and Form. The “language” in which we approached this commission was determined early on in the project. Our interests were in maintaining an agricultural honesty throughout the site development. Our palette of materials was selected to expand and strengthen the power of this agricultural vernacular. The siting of the Main House and ancillary structures were conceived as insertions into this greater agricultural, patterned landscape. A deliberate soft hand was used in diffusing the native landscape and the agricultural patterning at their intersections.
Columnar windrows mark entries and define horticultural spines that traverse the architecture and extend into the site. Fastigate hornbeams were used as the “stitch” at both the Caretakers House and the Main House.
The Owner's interest in cartography influenced the Main House siting and other site elements, reflecting in a true-north house orientation, the windrows further reinforcing this axis.
Infrastructure. A project of this size and complexity requires new infrastructure to support the agricultural components: the Agricultural Building, the Caretakers House and the Main House. We took the lead in coordinating the development of the water supply, well testing and siting and pumping operations, septic and leach field development and their challenging layouts in close proximity to building and site-landscape amenity development. Drainage structures were designed throughout the site to channel and dissipate runoff appropriately, with great attention paid to protecting the vineyard’s terraced slopes and the property’s Foss Creek. Stone reserved during the vineyard excavation and installation was used to line swales and runnels with vineyard worker’s crafting stone drainage structures of great beauty and simplicity.
The Main House. The siting for the 14,000 square foot house required careful exploration. Collaborating with the Architects, we studied a number of suitable sites settling on it sitting at the base of Sonoma Mountain. Although challenged by the shadow patterns and proximity to the slope, this prospect provided that Client with expansive views of their vineyards and the mountain range beyond. The Client’s previous country home was sited on Lake Michigan; the expanse of vineyards gave them a familiar sense and comfort of a “sea”. The design of the multi-level house and its true-north orientation provides a discreet insertion of the house into the base of the hill. The glass and stone structure presents itself with its more “public” eastern face at the vineyard edge while the private bedroom levels are sited into the hillside. A quiet, yet sophisticated palette of limestone, Mariposa quartzite, corten steel, ipe, glass, metals, sandstones, gravels and concrete form the building blocks of the Main House and overall site development.
The entry sequence to the Main House begins at the main drive as one slips past the Agricultural Building and its stone walls. Approaching the house one moves through a landscape that diffuses the oak woodlands and agricultural boundaries, approaching the gravel car court the entry is flanked by stone walls. An intentional minimalism defines the car court. The garage is carefully concealed with elegant wood sliding doors, the passageway for its residents slips past the bamboo-stone court and crosses the “entry bridge”.
A rectilinear reflecting pool slides along the entire length of the house, interrupted only by the dining room. Hornbeams further reinforce the linearity of the house and reflecting pool. Exterior stone terraces extend both public and private interiors. Spa, pool and a dining terrace-lawn form the recreational elements with a more private “Moon Garden” off the upper level master bedroom. The vineyards are designed to meet the house directly, the vines being farmed without equipment, as “boutique” vineyard techniques are used. Pushing the boundaries of the vineyards further strengthens this relationship between the built and the agricultural landscapes. The designed landscape elements are diffused by newly panted meadows and native tree and shrub plantings as they merge with the existing hillside oak, bay and buckeye woodlands.
Site Elements. Within the greater agricultural and native landscape, we developed a series of landscape interventions, some programmed, others purely sculptural expressions. The “domestic” landscapes were developed as interventions in the greater agricultural and wooded environment. They materialized as terraced garden rooms on-axis with the central core of the Main House, viewed from afar, these “rooms” step down a hillside proven less suitable for grape production. The planting of a new cider apple orchard surrounds these terraced rooms, providing French and early American heritage apple varietals for hard cider production. The terraced garden rooms enclose potagers and are connected by a series of monolithic stone stairs that disappear into the vineyard.
The Caretaker’s House. The Caretaker’s House was developed as the Owners’ first place of residence while the Main House was designed and constructed. Sited on the original pad of a previous house, this site provided for expansive views of the new vineyards and mountains beyond. Its prospect also provided for optimum views of the entire property and site entry points, reinforcing a “gatekeeper” character. The agricultural language of windrows was first utilized with this project, as was the use of boutique vineyard’s direct engagement of the house site. A palette similar to the Main House was utilized here although with more restraint. Concrete stitched with limestone banding, gravels, dry-stack quartzite walls, rammed earth, corten steel posts and architectural concrete formed the building blocks of the house and landscape elements. Columnar hornbeams reinforce and “mark” the entry with yews,Taxus, with hedge baffles defining the car court boundaries. The entry courtyard is planted with Japanese maples, Acer griseum andunderpalnted with deer fern, Blechum spicant. A newly planted slope above the house marries native plant material to the domestic landscape, again blurring the lines between pre-existing woodlands and new work.
The Agricultural Building. This structure defines both the main entry sequence as well as its role as the functional core for the project’s agricultural activities. Sited parallel to the main entry drive, it functions as an entry portal, defining its siting and expression. Quartzite walls form the longitudinal aspect of the structure with intersecting dry-stack walls delineating both the barn courtyard and the main drive portal leading up to the Main House. Reserved grape stakes from the previous vineyard clad the exterior. Amenities were developed to provide agricultural workers with a respite for meals and breaks. The court was designed to withstand farm equipment, materials staging and heavy use during high season production periods.
In conclusion, SONOMA VINEYARD illustrates
a long-range, complex project requiring a depth of knowledge
in many aspects of the profession. Drawing on
a range of expertise and experience in large scale site
and master planning, infrastructure knowledge and agricultural
acumen, we applied our skills in client communication
and programming, horticultural expertise, detailing
and craft, resulting in a minimal, agriculturally rooted
MFLA Marta Fry Landscape Associates
Aidlin Darling Design
Cello and Maudru Construction
Architecture and Light
Ingraham DeJesse Associates
Hansen and Slaughter