October 1996 Daily Journal of Commerce, Construction Magazine

Builders, architect respond to crush of winery work
By Patricia Mertz

With the fall harvest and crush in season, Oregon wineries continue to reap rewards befitting their status as a niche market in the state's agribusiness industry.

Oregon's wine country is attracting international attention with award-winning pinot noirs, investors from the Burgundy region to Napa Valley, and thousands of tourists each year. Oregon's wineries also have attracted the attention of many Portland area design and construction firms.
The Autumn Wind Winery / Photo by Strode Eckert Photographic

If it seems as though more Oregon wineries are being built or expanded, they are. According to several sources, Oregon's wineries are in a growth mode to meet both instate and out-of-state demand.

Sue Horstmann, the executive director of Yamhill County Wineries Association notes that in 1987, there were only 890 acres of vineyards. Today, there are 2,083 acres, an increase of 235 percent. Wine production during this time also has increased significantly from 2,427 tons in 1987 to 4,423, for a gain of 183 percent.

"As an import from the Napa Valley, I've been fascinated watching the incredible growth in wineries and also in the quality of the product," Horstmann said.

Statistics from the Oregon Wine Association list Oregon as ranking fourth in the US for wine production. The number of Oregon wineries in 1985 was 43; in 1995, there were 113 wineries, 33 of which are in the Yamhill area. An estimated 400,000 visitors tour the Yamhill County wineries each year.

The art and process of winemaking, or enology, is complex enough that it warrants a design and construction team who understand the priorities of this project type.

"Wine making techniques are the tail that wags the dog," explained Larry Ferar, an architect who has worked with several Yamhill wineries and just completed the design for the new Adelsheim Winery.

For Adelsheim, Ferar was asked to design a gravity feed process for the bottling room to avoid the use of pumps, thereby enhancing the quality of the product. In addition, the new winery used a European-inspired design of underground barrel rooms with gravel floors in order to maintain temperature consistency.

"Winery facilities are not just typical warehouse spaces with four walls and a floor. The floors must support the tremendous weight of the tanks, and all the walls and floors must be scrubbable to comply with state food processing requirements," noted Tom Kreutner, owner and winemaker of Autumn Wind Vineyard.

Kreutner, a former CFO of Oregon Bank, established his vineyard in 1984 and opened his winery in 1987. Using the design build process, he recently added a new crushing and tank room to double Autumn Wind's capacity.

For Kreutner, the key to successfully expanding his operation was finding a contractor who understood the winemaking operation and could complete construction before the crush began. He hired Colamette Construction not only for their expertise with local wineries, but also because of owner Jim Hirte's 10 years of experience building winery facilities in California's Napa and Sonoma wine country.

Together with his brother Ed, the two operated Hirte Brothers Construction in California and worked on more than 18 wineries, including Acacia and Carmenet wineries.

"Autumn Wind was very focused on getting the space technically right and Colamette did an excellent job," Kreutner said.

"Certain aspects of winery facilities, such as the concrete work, drainage systems, the special curing of the floors to protect it from corrosion, and even the permitting process can be unique," Jim Hirte explained. "Our recent jobs have been design build and we use that process to really assist our clients by balancing value engineering with design and fee constraints."

Marketing trends run from small wineries that are not open to the public to large ones that sponsor outdoor concerts, book weddings and other special events, and have extensive retail rooms.

"The design and space varies in its importance as related to the particular marketing strategy of the winery," said Kreutner, whose Autumn Wind vineyards have produced award-winning chardonnay and pinot noir. "Consequently, we don't have a public tasting room as some wineries do, but find that many wine lovers from areas such as Napa Valley enjoy tasting in the crushing and bottling area."

Lynn Penner-Ash, president and winemaster of Rex Hill Vineyards which is known for its pinot gris and pinot noirs, also sees a diversified approach in marketing Oregon wines.

"There are different levels of wineries in the area. Some are focused on the local market and others, like Rex Hill, are expanding to out-of-state markets to maintain their growth," she explained.

Penner-Ash also described a new coalition called the Oregon Wine Marketing Coalition, whose purpose is to promote Oregon wines around the country through public relations campaigns and special events.

"The coalition is really expanding our reputation," she said.

To meet the demand of wine lovers in and beyond Oregon, Penner-Ash and owner Paul Hart decided to expand Rex Hill's bottling and crush operation to include a fully covered crush pad, one of the first in Yamhill.

"I originally had worked with Ed Hirte in Napa and I found out that Jim Hirte was also doing construction in Portland," she said. "We hired Colamette and used the design build process to construct a 22,000 square-foot facility for a cost of $750,000. Colamette beat the weather and had the facility completed just in time for the 1995 harvest, which also happened to be one of the rainiest crush seasons in years."

In addition to providing protection from the elements, the new facility is also a great multipurpose area to house barrels and wine bottles, and a fun space for special events, she said.

By most accounts, the future for Oregon's wine industry is rich and ripe for future growth. In Yamhill County, arguably the center of Oregon's wine country, some vintners say they haven't even hit the apex of the growth curve.

Hirte, who is also a wine enthusiast and Yamhill County resident, views wineries as a good source of ongoing and new projects for architects and contractors.

The biggest challenge? Competition.

"The wine industry is very mature and trends happen very slowly," Kreutner said.

However, in addition to its reputation for premium wines, Oregon's winery owners also have earned a reputation as friendly competitors.

"The industry is wonderful —we all try to help each other in our grapes, harvest, and even buildings. I have an excellent group of peers and we enjoy drinking and critiquing each others' wines," Penner-Ash said.

Hirte agrees. "Even though it is a very competitive business like the construction industry, Oregon's wine industry is led by a very caring group. Owners go out of their way to help each other and work to everyone's collective success. As a client group, they are rewarding to work for and bring a sense of enthusiasm and camaraderie for their business into each project."

And, if you're looking for a recommendation on a good wine, look no farther than Oregon. In addition to the quality wines mentioned above, another Oregon wine won kudos from the August issue of Wine Spectator. The reputable magazine, a national, New York publication for wine consumers and the industry ranked Ken Wright's 1994 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir a "Spectator Selection" in its top picks of new releases.

Patricia Martz is the owner of Mertz & Company, a marketing and communications consulting practice.

Reprinted from the Journal of Commerce, Portland, Ore., Construction Magazine, October, 1996.

return to journal section