Canadian Architect


In Vino Veritas

A new winery in Ontario's Niagara region represents a major milestone in the evolution of Canada's wine industry.

October 1, 2001
by Marco Polo

Jackson-Triggs Winery, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario

Kuwabara Payne McKenna Blumberg Architects

Architecture and winemaking have enjoyed a long if spotty partnership, dating back to the economic expansion of France’s Bordeaux vineyards in the 18th and 19th centuries. During this time, long-established vineyards that had served local markets began to refine their products and to disseminate them to a wider audience. This was accompanied by the development of the concept of the “chteau,” which symbolized the quality, legitimacy and reliability of the vineyard it represented. Although the Chteau Haut-Brion at Pessac–the first chteau specifically constructed for the purpose of winemaking–was built in 1525, it was the later expansion that led to a blossoming of architectural approaches to this new building type, mostly in the form of an elegant neo-classicism.

In his preface to the catalogue that accompanied the 1988 exhibition Chteaux Bordeaux (Mitchell Beazley Publishers, London, 1989), Jean Maheu, President of the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, noted that despite the continued quality and reputation of the region’s wines, there had been “an absence of outstanding new architecture since the beginning of the 20th century.”

In large part, this had also been true in the New World, where wines markedly improved over the course of the 20th century but where parallel architectural culture has only recently begun to emerge. In California’s celebrated Napa Valley, Michael Graves’ postmodern Clos Pegase made a splash when it was completed in 1987, followed a decade later by Herzog and de Meuron’s Dominus Winery, an austere black bar that recedes into the surrounding landscape. This last project in particular breaks the pattern of neo-traditional design intended to endow New World vineyards with Old World legitimacy, representing the coming of age of a winemaking culture confident enough to develop its own architecture.

A recently completed winery in Ontario’s Niagara region suggests that Canadian vintners, too, are reaching a similar maturity. Designed by Kuwabara Payne McKenna Blumberg Architects of Toronto, the Jackson-Triggs Winery in Niagara-on-the-Lake has established a new standard that will undoubtedly influence the design of subsequent wineries.

The Jackson-Triggs Winery draws on the traditional notion of the terroir, which refers to the inherent characteristics of a place–its soil, climate and orientation–embodied in the wine it produces. Taking these basic elements as its primary cues, the resulting winery is not what vintner Donald Triggs refers to as “a chteau on the fake,” but a straightforward and frank response to its site and to both the touristic and the agro-industrial realities of contemporary viticulture and winemaking.

As such, the majority of the building is devoted to production areas at the western end, housing fermentation tanks and barrel cellars. A smaller portion at the eastern end is devoted to public spaces that include a retail store, caf, tasting rooms and wine bars, as well as offices on the upper level. Between the two, a double-height Great Hall both divides and bridges the two spaces and provides a cross-axial view through the building to the vineyards beyond.

The winery is sited to maximize the area of arable land and to align parallel to the Niagara Escarpment and perpendicular to the north-south axis of the vineyards. A curving drive leads visitors from Old Niagara Stone Road (Highway 55) through demonstration vineyards to a long axial walkway aligned with the gap between the two major program components, offering views through the Great Hall to vineyards to the south. In mild weather two enormous barn-like sliding doors can be opened up to transform the Great Hall into a covered outdoor space, allowing breezes to blow through and establishing a more immediate sensory relationship–not just a visual connection–to nearby vineyards.

The organization of the winery is best understood by following the process of winemaking itself, which begins at the building’s western end. A large service area accommodates trucks delivering the fruit for crushing, the juice being pumped up to fermentation tanks on the second level. This allows the remainder of the process to function by means of gravity flow, eliminating the need for pumping. The production area is treated as a large industrial shed, with gleaming stainless steel tanks and intricate systems of catwalks and piping establishing their own architectural order within the larger enclosure.

Beneath the production areas, a series of barrel and storage cellars are designed to benefit from the heat sink effect of the surrounding earth, which maintains the necessary cool and consistent environment. Poured-in-place concrete barrel vaults on tapering concrete columns create an updated version of traditional caves, and carefully integrated low lighting accentuates the warmth of French oak barrels against the earthy grey of concrete and river stone. A fundamental part of the winery tour, the cellars need to be evocative as well as functional, and the strategy here is an effective one.

The matter-of-fact nature of the production areas is contrasted with the more refined design of the public areas, which bear the mark of KPMB’s signature standards of material selection and detailing: white marble tasting counters that provide a neutral background against which to view the colour of the wine, oak millwork that refers to the barrels downstairs, earthy plaster finishes and polished concrete floors. The floor slabs already have noticeable cracks that raise questions about the execution of the pour, but that in the forgiving context of the winery add a welcome rustic touch that mitigates the more refined finishes of the public spaces and relates back to the industrial character of the production areas.

The most important unifying element in the project is the roof, whose full-span wood trusses and unfinished steel deck create a huge floating plane that constitutes the winery’s fundamental architectural gesture. The architects explain that the roof was originally intended to be constructed of wood deck, but budget constraints necessitated the use of metal. In the end, this enhances the reading of the building as a true industrial shed, where the wood might have come across as a romanticized, somewhat precious reference to traditional agricultural buildings. Besides, the strong contrast between the timber trusses and the deck helps the reading of the complex patterns created by the trusses more clearly against the neutral background of the metal. Cement-board exterior cladding and rubble stone walls contribute further to the building’s rustic, agrarian quality, but the detailing and composition are unmistakably high design, like a pair of denim overalls sewn by a Savile Row tailor.

The architects also make claims for the building’s low energy requirements and high environmental performance, and the cool temperature in the naturally ventilated production areas on a hot July day support this. In a further reference to the notion of terroir, building materials are left in their natural state. This is true not just for inherently self-finished materials like wood, stone, and stainless steel, but extends to more mundane materials like hollow metal doors and frames, which are left unpainted and simply sealed, emphasizing a consistent conceptual approach and providing a variety of textures and sheens, from highly polished to coarse to patinated.

Although this is just one building among many notable projects by the celebrated Toronto firm, the robust little winery seems like an important one for KPMB. The Latin dictum in vino veritas usually refers to how wine can loosen tongues so that they speak the truth. In the case of the Jackson-Triggs Winery, it can be invoked to refer to a degree of architectural truthfulness–in the rigorously organized production areas, the unembellished materials, the knowing relationship to site and context–that eludes most contemporary projects.

Client: Vincor International Inc.

rchitect team:
Marianne McKenna (partner-in-charge), Bruce Kuwabara (partner), Mitchell Hall (project architect), Chris Beamer, Rob Beraldo, Kelly Buffey, Deni DiFilippo, Christine Levine, Glenn MacMullin, Karen Petrachenko, Katie Triggs

Structural: Blackwell Engineering

Mechanical: Keen Engineering

Electrical: Carinci Burt Rogers

Landscape: Janet Rosenberg & Associates

Lighting: Suzanne Powadiuk Design

Building Code: Leber Rubes Inc.

Building Envelope: Brook Van Dalen & Associates

Costing: Vermeulens Cost Consultants

Civil: Kerry T. Howe Engineering

Soils: Agra Earth & Environmental

Contractor: Merit Contractors of Niagara

Area: 4,200 m2

Budget: withheld at owners’ request

Completion: July 2001

Photography: Design Archive/Robert Burley unless noted

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