“What we call the beginning is often the end,” T.S. Eliot once said, “The end is where we start from.”
Around 6.30 a.m. on February 2, 2006, fire trucks from across Napa Valley bolted to the Oakville, California, site of the oldest and most celebrated wineries in the country. The fire engulfed Bonny’s Chai, the 7000-sq.ft. dairy barn that served as Silver Oak’s original winemaking facility in 1972, the year Justin Meyer and Ray Duncan began their entrepreneurial journey with Silver Oaks Cellars.
Rise from the ashes
The founders and staff members of Silver Oak Winery channeled their grief into rebuilding an environmentally sustainable venue. After its completion, the project achieved LEED Platinum in 2016, the first production winery to gain such kudos. Opened to the public in 2018, Silver Oak’s 113-acre Alexander Valley wine-tourism temple is now certified as a Living Building by the International Living Future Institute (ILFI), making it the largest certified Living Building in the world. It is also the 25th project ever to meet the ILFI’s rigorous standards, and the second winery to do so.
For many of its loyal fans, Silver Oak is synonymous with Napa Valley. It’s interesting to note that Napa Valley represents only about a quarter of Silver Oak’s wine production. Moreover, Silver Oak is known for its Cabernet from Sonoma County’s Alexander Valley which can give tough competition to Napa Valley Cabernet.
Based in Napa Valley, Sonoma County, Anderson Valley and Willamette Valley, Silver Oak’s family of brands includes Twomey, Timeless Napa Valley, and Ovid Napa Valley. Spread across seven wineries and tasting rooms and nearly 500 acres of vineyards, Silver Oaks Cellars farm from Central California to Oregon.
A wine tourism temple
Designed by the san Francisco-based firm Piechota Architecture, Silver Oaks gently sits into the rolling hills east of Healdsburg, California. The architecture of the building is largely inspired by the area’s favored barn style. It contains a myriad of tasting rooms, production facilities, and a wine center, each topped by a metal gable roof.
“We are pleased to award the world’s first Living Product certifications to two companies who have diligently and passionately pursued a radical re-thinking of how their products are designed, sourced, manufactured and eventually reclaimed–ushering what we believe will be a new era of regenerative manufacturing,” said James Connelly, director of the Living Product Challenge for the Institute. “This is a first for industry: Owens Corning and SIREWALL have not only demonstrated leadership and innovative thinking, they have also engaged in an ‘open innovation strategy’ by sharing their journey to LPC certification with other companies engaged in the Living Product 50, a collaboration of leading manufacturers on the path to becoming Living Products.”
As with all projects that receive the Living Building status, Silver Oak’s winery in Alexander Valley had to undergo an arduous one-year audit to prove that the winery meets the ILFI’s net-zero energy, net-zero waste, and net-zero water requirements. The Alexander Valley winery sources its water from the on-site well as well as from treated wastewater. The winemaker treats wastewater resulting from its production of wine with an ultraviolet light system and a membrane bioreactor before reusing it for indoor plumbing, irrigation, and cleaning equipment. The winery achieves net-positive energy with 2,595 300-watt solar panels arrayed throughout the vineyard and an additional 404 panels on a nearby warehouse and shipping facility, generating 121% of the winery’s energy needs over the year’s audit.
Winery Become First Living Building
In order to reduce the winery’s carbon footprint, the structures use concrete comprised of 40% fly ash, salvaged redwood siding – all sourced from wine tanks used by the historical 1920s Cherokee Wine Association in Lodi, California., for building the building façade, and a lightweight steel frame, which decreased the on-site construction time.
To comply with Living Building Challenge Red List, which requires all building materials and products to be free of the ILFI’s extensive list of harmful chemicals. At Silver Oak’s Alexander Valley winery, the design team and engineers spent three-and-a-half years to test and vet each and every building material, exploring more than 3,000 products and materials before selecting 1,600 different products for the final project.
“We saw this as an opportunity to shift the paradigm in how we think about our most enduring artifacts as an industry: vineyards, wineries, and tasting rooms,” said Silver Oak sustainability manager Haley Duncan in a press release. “Symbolically, the winery is built to engender community relationships and also set a broader, global benchmark here in Sonoma County.”
The engineers write, "Material needs were very specific due to quality-control requirements in wine production and because the project area, which includes the vineyard, is so large. Thornton Tomasetti carried out a back check review of the energy model, compared against Silver Oak’s existing operating facility in Oakville, and assisted with reviewing the ongoing monitoring of energy use."