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  • Writer's pictureCRAIKER

The Design Competition that Changed the Wine Country

Chris d Craiker AIA

In 1984 Jan Shrem, a businessman and art collector, with his wife Mitsuko moved from Paris to California with the desire to build a world class winery, envisioning an uniquely beautiful environment to live and work. The Shrems choose a Calistoga site with vineyard lands and a scenic hilltop for a private residence. The grounds in front of the hill fronting Dunaweal Lane was ideal for a production and art-oriented winery. After a casual conversation with Henry Hopkins, Director the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the idea of a world class competition to choose an architect was hatched to design the Clos Pegase winery.

Jan Shrem has a most interesting background. Born in Columbia, Jan, now 93, worked his way through UCLA selling encyclopedias. Moving to Japan, he parlayed his experience into a multimillion-dollar publishing business. He and Mitsuko had a passionate love of art, architecture and wine which became their life focus. A State-of-the-art new winery would be just the ticket to show-case both art and wine.

One unusual requirement of the competition was the stipulation that each architect work in concert with an artist, most unusual in the 80’s. 96 architects submitting qualifications but only five young finalist architects were chosen to provide final proposals. Of the five architects chosen, Graves/Schmidt was selected, based on the completeness of their ideas and thoroughness of presentation.

While almost 40 years ago, the cluster of buildings that Michael Graves produced still provide dramatic uniqueness to the site. While it included traditional and regional concepts, historic nuances and radical design, it was considered highly romantic while very functional. Edward Schmidt’s interior murals exhibited the ageless cycle of winemaking.

There are two components of the winery itself: The grand entry portico provides access to one side for wine production and the other side for wine enjoyment. Within the winery are 20,000 square feet of caves, including the Cave Theater for celebrations and special events. On top of the rear volcanic mound is the private residence where the Shrems lived until shortly after Mitsuko died and Jan sold the winery to Leslie Rudd in 2013.

This design ushered in an era of high stakes investments for winery design. The Michael Graves winery concept had a sense of timeless, charm and unique character and was ground zero for the launching of a new architectural style. Known as Post-Modern, it was a reaction to the then popular International Style that dominated American architecture from 1945 to the mid 60’s. The International tended to be hard edged and devoid of human connections or geographical links. Post-Modern was a movement to connect architecture with historical motifs in form and detail. This style hit its peak in the 1990s however, the International is returning after learning important lessons from Post -Mod to mirrored social issues, regional characteristics married with sustainable, renewable materials.

America’s first monument to wine……

According to House and Garden Magazine, Clos Pegase "has raised two ancient arts - architecture and winemaking- to a height that resonates with echoes of the ages" The national press has been generous in its praise as well, describing Clos Pegase as "a place of pilgrimage" and "America's first monument to wine ..."

Michael Graves was known as the “King of Post-Mod” architecture where the style dominated American architecture at the end of the last century. Interestingly, he tackled the consumer market with his retro-designed everyday household products, like 1930 style tea pots and retro- light fixtures. It’s said the total sales around the world was over a billion dollars. As I’ve often said, Architecture is a gateway to bigger ideas.

Chris d Craiker AIA/NCARB believes architecture and wine should reflect the setting

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