The construction of the new winery
Like the importance of understanding the unique terroir in determining which grape varietals to plant, we leveraged locally sourced materials in the building of our the facility to reflect our local terroir.
The site and context:
Completed in 2014, Fort Berens’ 9,500 square foot winery is situated on one of the property’s most prominent locations. It can be seen from most parts of Lillooet and from adjacent highways, attracting attention as a significant road-side attraction. While our winery itself is fairly prominent, the massing of the building and use of materials softens the form of the building on the landscape, distinguishing it from a rudimentary agricultural building and making it an inviting destination.
The winery is located so that the drive up to the building subtly heightens the visitors’ sense of arrival and interest by slowly revealing functional aspects of the winemaking operation. Fermentation tanks and piping can be seen behind the large glass doors on the north façade or bins of grapes waiting to be crushed might be seen on the crush platform. This draws the visitors close to the building and then into the entry. As the visitors open the oversize wood doors to enter, they step into a welcoming tasting room with a stunning view overlooking the Fraser River Valley, the mountains beyond and the vineyard below.
A 1,000 sf patio area is located adjacent to our tasting room overlooking the vineyard. Landscaping around the building was designed to provide an elegant lawn with one side gently sloped like an amphitheater. Other landscaping reflects the gentle scopes and dunes of the natural landscape and is planted with native plants found in the Ponderosa Pine Savanna. Trails lead visitors from the picnic area down to our vineyard so they can see how the grapes are grown.
Approach to design:
- Our overall goal for the building was to provide a functional design that conveyed the quality of the Fort Berens wine without being ostentatious.
- We wanted to convey a sense of authenticity of how Fort Berens wine is made and a connection to the landscape where it is made.
- We aimed to reveal functional aspects of the winery (with windows from the tasting room) so that visitors can see the process of creating the wine from grape to bottle.
- We designed the building to provide a modern and welcoming atmosphere as well as hospitality functions that encourage our visitors to linger and savour their visit to Fort Berens.
- The site, parking and size of the tasting room were configured to provide sufficient space for RVs and bus traffic.
- The overall goal was to provide as much functional winery in as compact an area as possible, allowing multiple uses of the same areas and thereby a highly space efficient building with a low net to gross ratio. The multi-level approach to design was used in part to provide a gravity fed winemaking process but it also allows for optimal use of outdoor spaces and separates major functions on different levels hiding large equipment (like semi-trailers and storage bins) away from views of our visitors.
- Two barrels rooms (one of about 1,500 sf and one of about 1,200 sf) were created to be able to cellar our white and red wines in different conditions. The barrel cellars are temperature and humidity controlled to ensure optimal aging conditions. Combined, the barrel cellars have the capacity to hold 300 barrels. After aging our red wines in barrel for 12 months, we generally age them another 12 months in bottle prior to release, so we needed a warehouse that could store up to 7,000 cases.
- A significant effort was made to place our 1,300 sf tasting room in the most optimal position for providing a simple ease of access for visitors, the best view of the valley and vineyards, as well as providing aesthetically controlled glimpses of the winemaking functions.
- Overall, our design goal was to provide a straight-forward modern-looking aesthetic typical of an agricultural / industrial building. Exposed materials like the Douglas Fir and steel beams, steel deck and concrete walls serve a structural function in addition to serving an aesthetic role.
- The ceilings of our tasting room are raised above typical room height to provide stunning views of the vineyard and Fraser Valley and also to make the room feel larger than it actually is. The “colder” modern materials (concrete, steel structure, and glass) are offset with “warm” materials like Douglas Fir wood beams, doors and trim. The walls are painted white and the tops of the wine tasting bar are also white to emphasize the warmth of the wood and to provide a neutral background to display our wines.
- The interior of the fermentation and barrel rooms is a combination of galvanized steel and exposed concrete to facilitate regular washing. Exposed concrete is used at lower levels as it is less vulnerable to impacts.
Commitment to sustainability:
- Our winery is a physically compact building to reduce surface to volume ratio.
- Approximately 75% of our building, including the lower level of the winery as well as the warehouse, are sunk into the ground to passively control the temperature and humidity of the interior spaces and reduce our energy costs.
- The building is oriented and also provides a west facing overhang to reduce heat gain and to take advantage of natural light inside, while at the same time providing the best views of the property around the building.
- Our glazing units are double paned, sealed units with low-e coatings for maximum energy efficiency.
- We used locally sourced materials (Douglas Fir beams and concrete) from Lillooet. In addition, we used local contractors, tradespeople and general labourers wherever possible. We also purchased a number of landscaping items from the local native species nursery.
- We utilized long lasting materials that are well suited to the extreme physical environments in Lillooet and that reduce the need for maintenance.
- On an ongoing basis, our biological waste is recycled for use in the vineyard.
- Waste and process water are treated on site and the effluents are returned to the soil in a continuous cycle.
Our new winery building including tasting room, warehouse and surrounding guest patio and picnic areas was completed over a period of about twelve months at a cost of approximately $3.5 million. This takes the committed investment into Fort Berens to $8 million to-date and is reflective of our owners’ confidence in Lillooet as a highly perspective new winemaking region in BC.
The new Fort Berens Estate Winery was designed by collaborating architects David Agro from Toronto and Richard Newell from Vancouver and was built by Okanagan-based Greyback Construction. It was a collaborative process between the architects and Greyback, Rolf and Heleen, plus Harry McWatters, Christa-Lee McWatters Bond and Tom DiBello. The iterative process employed by our team created a successful design, similar to the team approach we use in making our high quality wines.
David Agro, Architect
David J Agro Architect Inc., Toronto
Richard Newell, Architect
The Colborne Architectural Group Pacific Inc., Vancouver
Matt Kenyon, General Manager
Greyback Construction Ltd.
About David Agro:
David J Agro is a Toronto-based architect with a long-standing interest in design projects which combine social, cultural, environmental and educational perspectives. His interest in environmental issues has led him to work on several major educational and interpretive design projects including the Bird Studies Canada Headquarters at Long Point, Ontario, the award-winning Ashbridges Bay Treatment Plant Site Design Project, a series of ecotourism/educational facilities in Latin America including the Rainforest Discovery Centre adjacent to the Panama Canal, a world heritage tourism project in lowland China, the Canadian Museum of Inuit Art in Toronto and the Tropical Forest Science Center and the Tupper Campus Site Design for the Smithsonian Institution in Panama. David is currently working on a renovation to the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 in Halifax.
About Richard Newell:
Richard graduated from the University of Waterloo´s environmental design/architecture program in 1992 following an undergraduate degree in Fine Arts from UBC in 1984. After working for several architectural firms in Montreal during the late 1990´s, Richard first joined CAGP in 1993, working on a number of UBC projects. Richard went on to spend 5 years with another Vancouver firm working on a variety of institutional and commercial design projects before re-joining CAGP in the spring of 1999. He became an Associate of the firm in 2000 and a Principal in 2010. Richard has been responsible for pre-design feasibility studies, conceptual design, design development, contract document production, and construction administration for large and small projects including high-rise office buildings, research laboratories, schools, heritage projects, commercial interiors and private residences.
About Greyback Construction:
Greyback is a premier general contracting firm based in the Okanagan. They are problem solvers, adapting to change and rising to challenges as they present themselves from project to project. Specializing in concrete and proudly completing their own work with in-house crews, they are able to fully control their quality, budget and scheduling. Greyback’s pro-active management team includes engineers, building technologists and Canadian Construction Association Gold Seal Certified Project Managers, Estimators and Superintendents. Multiple-award winning Greyback has completed a variety of other projects including: the William R. Bennett Bridge, South Okanagan Secondary School, the new HNZ Top Flight Helicopter School and Hanger, Nk’Mip Winery, Sonora Dunes Golf Course, Kal Tire Head Office, Nk’Mip Golf Course and the Osoyoos Indian Band Health Centre.