Cowhorn Vineyard is an award-winning, biodynamic vineyard nestled in Southern Oregon’s picturesque Applegate Valley with a growing reputation as one of the best wineries in Oregon. When owners Bill and Barbara Steele looked to create a new 2,200 sf Tasting Room and Case Storage for their growing business, sustainability goals were high on their list of priorities. “Agriculture is extractive by definition,” says Barbara Steele. “But we do it in a way that leaves the land as good as, if not better, than the way we found it. We believe our buildings should follow that same philosophy.” Understanding that integrative design is crucial to achieving high sustainability goals, the Steeles hired Green Hammer, a unified design-build firm, to design and build their new Tasting Room and Case Storage.
Through early discussions, it became clear that the Living Building Challenge was the only approach to sustainable building that would achieve their goal of leaving the land better than the way the owners found it. Through an integrated design process with the Steeles, Green Hammer, Lovinger Robertson Landscape Architects, and 2Yoke Design, the Tasting Room and Case Storage was designed to be a reflection of not only the great wines produced on the vineyard but of the values at its roots. The single story, wood-framed building is set in the heart of the winery operations to allow visitors to experience the beauty of the vineyard while also learning about biodynamic farming and processing practices. The building’s small footprint houses a tasting room, prep kitchen, restrooms, an office, a case storage, and two wine libraries. Given the building’s compact footprint, the Tasting Room expands in good weather to include a large patio and a partially-covered wood deck to accommodate larger events and groups at the Tasting Room.
Using Passivhaus strategies for a well-insulated and air-tight building envelope, the project was designed to minimize energy loads and achieve net zero energy with a 10kW solar panel array. The project also benefited from partnering with the United States Department of Agriculture’s Rural Energy for America Program.
|Version of LBC
|Jacksonville, OR, USA
|Start of Occupancy
|Tasting Room and Case Storage
|Number of Occupants
|Bill and Barbara Steele
|Lovinger Robinson Landscape Architects, Solid Ground Landscaping
|True South Solar
01. LIMITS TO GROWTH IMPERATIVE
Cowhorn Vineyard and Garden is a Demeter-certified Biodynamic farm whose certification process includes honoring the environment of the farm by allowing natural functions to remain. There are three approaches to the landscape used across the entire site:
- Encourage the re-establishment of the native landscape
- Create more structured landscaped areas in spaces used by humans
- Create corridors for bugs and small animals to use as highways though the farm
The landscape surrounding the Tasting Room is an example of these landscape approaches. The existing conditions for the Tasting Room’s site included a gravel, dirt, and grassy area. The site was selected for its central location between the winery operations and vineyard to allow Tasting Room visitors an overview of the biodynamic operations during their tasting.
Given the Tasting Room’s central location, the more structured landscaped zone surrounding it creates a safety buffer between the Tasting Room and the physical work zone of the vineyard and winery. Here, the landscape design incorporates a wide range of native and naturalized species selected for their drought tolerance, minimal maintenance requirements, seasonal changes in color, food sources for birds, and layering of vegetation to create a ground cover, mid-level, and tree canopy level. Given Cowhorn’s biodynamic gardening practices and focus on agriculture, additional emphasis was placed on plantings used by Native Americans for functional purposes, such as Calycanthus occidentalis, which was used for basket weaving and arrow shafts, as well as medicinal purposes such as Sambucus racemose and Larix occidentalis. To help these plants establish, a highly efficient drip irrigation system has been temporarily installed. It delivers water directly to the roots with no evapotranspiration and is controlled by an evapotranspiration-based time clock and adjusts its watering based on weather data and site conditions.
Adjacent to the Tasting Room is an existing man-made irrigation canal. Here, plantings were selected appropriate to this wet microclimate and to encourage native grasses and flowers. The only landscape maintenance in this zone is the removal of invasive blackberries in order to allow more native species to re-establish themselves. Additionally, habitat breaks have been created throughout the farm, including perches that allow birds to travel from the mountainside to the river without harm.
02. URBAN AGRICULTURE IMPERATIVE
Biodynamic agriculture goes beyond organic farming, envisioning the farm as a self-contained and self-sustaining organism. In an effort to keep the farm, the farmer, the consumer, and the earth healthy, farmers avoid chemical pesticides and fertilizers, utilize compost and cover crops, and set aside a minimum of 10% of their total acreage for biodiversity. As a Demeter-certified Biodynamic farm, the farming method for the agricultural areas at Cowhorn is a holistic system in which all the elements of the farm are important: air, water, soil, rocks, daytime, nighttime, and animals. The growing of plants is seen as a transfer of energy from those sources to a single point – the plant – and the farming methods enhance the energetic plane in the farm to support the transfer of energy between forms. As these dynamic forces are strengthened, the dynamic and life-giving properties of the plant and earth are strengthened.
One of the key principles of biodynamic farming is biodiversity. To this end, Cowhorn is a perennial polyculture growing and harvesting more than a single crop, and those crops live more than one season. Currently, in addition to the vineyards, Cowhorn grows asparagus, cherries, a variety of heirloom fruit trees, artichokes, hazelnuts inoculated with Périgord black truffle, and a kitchen garden.
In addition to biodiversity, the backbone of Cowhorn’s farming program is its tillage practices. In the asparagus and artichokes, the soil is gently aerated, removing unwanted weeds, and helping break down cover crops which provide nutrients to the crops. In the orchards, they practice a no-till program. Through the use of cover crops, mowing and mulching, the web of underground life is allowed to evolve undisturbed by tractors and implements.
On a holistic level, the soil vitality is enhanced by application of biodynamic compost, compost teas, biodynamic preparations, and by habitat diversity. The compost program, which is based on organic cow manure and the farm’s own green waste, provides organic matter and nutrients to the soil and crops. Compost teas and vermiculture are used to control pests and to encourage complexity of the microbiological activity in the fields.
In the vineyards, there is also a focus on canopy management. During the spring and summer months, the vineyard canopy is managed by hand, allowing for the creation of individual spaces which optimize the conditions for fruit ripening on each plant. By the end of the season, these individual spaces, combined with a healthy vineyard floor, create a harvest of fruit that is uniform in ripeness, delectable, vibrant, and lush.
03. HABITAT EXCHANGE IMPERATIVE
Due to the small size of the project, the team opted to take advantage of ILFI’s Habitat exchange program, which ensures conservation efforts become more meaningful when combined.
Founded on their deep commitment to sustainable business practices rooted in biodynamic agricultural practices, the owners of Cowhorn Vineyard and Garden, from the very beginning emphasized the Materials Petal as their main motivation to pursue the Living Building Challenge. Many comparisons can be drawn between sustainable agricultural and sustainable building practices: from sustainable extraction of the world’s limited resources and the elimination of harmful compounds during production, to equitable labor practices and support of the local economy, and of course third-party certification to show true compliance and commitment.
Thus, the team set out with the deepest commitment and dedication to ensure all materials were selected with the utmost care and persistence.
That convincing manufacturers and suppliers to not only support the effort, but also show their commitment by disclosing 100% of their ingredients is a herculean effort is by now a well-known truism. This effort defies even the most savvy design or engineering. It simply relies on the persistence of the team, their creativity to pursue skeptical manufacturer representatives and to just tenaciously continue to educate at any planned or chance encounter.
Adding to this challenge was the size of the project. Needing close to the same number of distinct materials, fixtures, finishes and pieces of equipment, just much smaller quantities than projects many times the size of this small tasting room, but with a fraction of the buying power, could put a damper on any supplier’s initial enthusiasm.
“Yes, this particular product can certainly be manufactured without PVC and made available to you” a friendly sales agent might offer, “how many truckloads can I order for you?” At this point the team members would take a deep breath and muster all their authentic conviction, launching into the endeavor of convincing the manufacturer that even if the project only needed one box of the items, surely becoming a market leader is incentive enough to adjust the composition and supply clients with a healthier item…
Well, certainly sometimes it was, but more often than not the team had to resign themselves to the fact that their efforts weren’t able to change decade old practices at some companies – yet!
Of course, besides making this project a success, the team’s many inquiries and conversations have educated manufacturers about the market demand for transparency and toxicity avoidance in building products. The team was also successful in steering manufacturers toward ILFI’s Declare program.
10. RED LIST IMPERATIVE
The wide-spread use of PVC and the lack of available and affordable alternatives is still an unfortunate reality in the building industry.
Design teams can be creative where finishes and other material are concerned, primarily driven by owner criteria and design intent, but that creativity is quickly overshadowed by regulatory requirements on commodity items of which many building systems are comprised.
Demands on safety and performance, combined with an economic decision-making framework that only accounts for short term savings and doesn’t include environmental and other social costs, all but makes alternatives to PVC unavailable for components used in Mechanical, Plumbing and Electrical systems.
For this small tasting room, attempting to eliminate PVC was the most difficult aspect of the Challenge.
Besides the prevailing, systemic issues of PVC, the other product category worth mentioning is interior doors.
Procuring FSC-certified interior doors was surprising difficult. Located in the Pacific Northwest, the project was fortunate enough to have access to many FSC-certified, locally-sourced products, but it seems there is not yet sufficient demand for FSC-certified interior doors.
11. EMBODIED CARBON FOOTPRINT IMPERATIVE
The design-builder has years of experience in minimizing petroleum-based products, allowing the project to rely on rapidly renewable resources like FSC-certified wood products and cellulose insulation for its high-performance envelope. The team designs and constructs durable assemblies based on sound building science to ensure the building will last centuries, further reducing future carbon emissions.
Materials were generally selected based on their local availability. Using natural, unadulterated materials doesn’t only reduce the carbon emitted in processing and refining material and the associated transportation, it also very likely reduces the potential for Red List ingredients typically associated with highly-processed products.
Simple, local and natural material is a premise that ensures low impact while reflecting the values of the owners and the building and, in this case, so elegantly underlines the beauty of the place and the process of growing grapes and making wine.
12. RESPONSIBLE INDUSTRY IMPERATIVE
The team is a huge proponent of the FSC certification standard and believes independent, non-profit multi-stakeholder organizations are a verifiable approach to create and uphold sustainable and equitable processes.
The other pillar allowing observation of sound and sustainable business practices is the utilization of local manufacturer and installers. Being able to, at least theoretically, visit extraction sites for raw materials like forests or quarries shores up confidence. Under the same token, engaging small, local contractors not only supports the local economy and thus “gives back” to the community, but it also makes labor practices auditable and inequitable treatment less likely.
13. LIVING ECONOMY SOURCING IMPERATIVE
Whenever possible, natural materials from the US Southeast (wood, uncoated metals) were selected to reinforce a sense of place and biophilic goals. Products were locally sourced (500 km radius for dense materials) and the vast majority of materials, like wood siding, zinc shingles, drywall, lighting, mechanical systems, appliances, and finishes are all US-made.
Complicated products were some of the most challenging to source, so the “complex components” clause was a helpful exception. As with the Red List, transparency remained one of the toughest challenges for appropriate sourcing. The proprietary exception was particularly helpful. Another invaluable policy was the fact that miscellaneous hardware was not tracked.
We struggled to find drywall within our radius that was not intentionally made of coal ash with traces of mercury. In the end, the manufacturer helped us by making a special custom edition out of natural gypsum.
14. NET POSITIVE WASTE IMPERATIVE
Still today, design and construction of high-performance buildings often relies on high-performance components and equipment not manufactured in North America. Highly efficient HVAC or kitchen equipment, at least as a commodity item suitable for small projects like the tasting room, is still easier to source in Asia or Europe.
Similarly, FSC-certified triple-pane windows or Red List free envelope components are still more prevalent in Europe than in the US.
On the other hand, being located in the Pacific Northwest and utilizing the design-builder’s years of experience, the project was able to source all FSC-certified wood products locally.
CONSERVATION AND REUSE
The project team had an excellent opportunity to spark conversations around material sourcing amongst patrons by choosing to fabricate the main tasting table from a beautiful, salvaged walnut log.
The log originated from an historic tree located in Woodburn, Oregon, which fell victim to beetles and had to be removed. It was carefully cut into slabs and seasoned over multiple years before being transformed into the beautiful centerpiece of the Tasting Room.
The 14-foot long table is located in front of the large window facing the vineyard where groups of tasters are seated to enjoy the wine. The live-edge beauty of the table allows the patrons to make a direct connection between the materials used in the building and responsible stewardship of the environment around the
16. HUMAN SCALE + HUMANE PLACES IMPERATIVE
The siting of the Tasting Room at Cowhorn Vineyard and Garden connects visitors not just to the beauty of the land and vineyard on which they sit, but to the sustainable (and very human) process of making great biodynamic wine. Located at the nexus between the vineyards and the production facility, views from the Tasting Room, depending on the season, encompass staff working among the vines or stomping grapes while expansive views of the vineyard and the surrounding valley bring a reference of scale into perspective.
The Tasting Room itself is of an intimate scale, like that of a single-family residence, that allows for direct engagement with the owners and staff of Cowhorn and for learning about the sustainable agricultural practices at work. To capture the community-building energy that naturally flows from a shared bottle of wine, spaces in the Tasting Room were designed to accommodate a range of gathering sizes – including the intimate 2-4 person tasting bars, the 6-8 person outdoor cabanas under the trellis, an 18-person live-edge walnut table that creates a dinner party-like atmosphere, a 25- to 40-person deck to the east, and a large, south-facing outdoor patio that can accommodate upwards of 80 people at a time. This range allows visitors to connect on a variety of scales with the staff, the friends they come with, as well as the other tasters who share their affinity for a great glass of wine.
Building materials were selected in modules that address the human scale: 12” wide standing seam roofing that wraps from roof to wall, 24” x 36” cork siding panels, 1” x 4” cedar siding, and 2” x 2” juniper slats on the exterior trellis. Their scale also calls to mind the human hand engaged during construction, as one can imagine each piece being lifted and secured in place by the craftspeople who built the building. Interior materials reflect this same handmade sensibility with selections like the hand-charred wood at the tasting bars, curved walls, and the hand-plastered ceiling that wraps down the back wall of the Tasting Room. Additionally, both the interior and exterior of the building have a datum line (at 8’on the interior and 10’on the exterior) that brings the scale of the building down to human proportions.
Set in contrast to the small scale of the Tasting Room, the large 8’ x 20’ sliding glass window opens to views of the vineyard to the north. When closed, it provides stunning views down the full length of the rows of grapes to the mountains beyond, reminding one of the vastness of nature. When open, the window pulls the view into the small Tasting Room, transporting visitors into the heart of the vineyard itself.
17. DEMOCRACY AND SOCIAL JUSTICE IMPERATIVE
Similar to their reasons for creating a biodynamic vineyard, one of Bill and Barbara’s primary goals of designing a Tasting Room that meets the Living Building Challenge was the opportunity to show the world that sustainable practices and for-profit business are not mutually exclusive. As part of this, the project provides an opportunity to understand the business case for deep ecology when it comes to both our buildings and our agriculture – two industries that have had major impacts on the health of our planet. Opportunities have been created across the project site to allow the public to learn about and from the Tasting Room, both during and outside of the hours of operation.
Along Eastside Road, a meandering road along the Applegate River that is often enjoyed by cyclists, an accessible bench is located at the entry to the vineyard. Though typically not required for projects in the Transect L2, the project team opted to include this feature. It invites passersby to dwell and allow the project to present itself from a distance. Adjacent to the bench is informational signage about both the Tasting Room and the biodynamic winery. (include photo of bench and signage)
The building itself is open to all who come during hours of operation and does not require the purchase of a glass of wine. Educational signage throughout allows everyone to learn about the building. Braille is included to allow those without sight to still learn about and experience the building.
To make the building open to all, accessibility was seen not as accessory but as integral to the building’s design, place-making, and spatial flow. At the building’s main entrance, a concrete wall serves as both the edge of an accessible ramp as well as a formal element to ground the building to the site. To minimize site impact, the back patio event space is raised above the Tasting Room’s finished floor to more closely follow the existing grade. Access to this patio is only through a gently sloping ramp that allows all to access it equally while creating a soft transition from interior to exterior. Upon entering the Tasting Room, one’s eyes are drawn to the accessible portion of the tasting bar that also serves as a means to a more expansive sense of space at the entry by dropping the height of the tasting bar and opening up to the beautiful display space behind it. The other display spaces throughout the Tasting Room span from 2’to 7’ above the floor to provide visible interest to all who enter the building. (include photos of exterior ramp, accessible space at tasting bar, ramp to back patio, display space)
18. RIGHTS TO NATURE IMPERATIVE
Given the size of the property of Cowhorn Vineyards and Garden at well over 100 acres, the relative low building elevation of the new tasting room, and its central location on the property, it can safely be stated that the project will to no extent block any sunlight to other building facades.
BEAUTY + INSPIRATION PETAL
19. BEAUTY & SPIRIT IMPERATIVE
Given the small square footage, the design of the Tasting Room incorporates beauty and delight not as something separate but as something integral to the form and building materials.
Akin to the wine it houses, the Tasting Room at the Cowhorn Vineyard and Garden is a physical expression and celebration of the local site and regional character of the Applegate Valley and Southern Oregon. While most tasting rooms focus primarily on the vineyard aspect of wine, the Tasting Room at Cowhorn Vineyard and Garden is sited at the juncture between the vineyard and the winery to underscore the importance of both aspects of making great wine.
“Grapes know how to become wine – they’ve been doing it for thousands of years! However, if left to themselves they might not become great wine.”
Owner, Cowhorn Vineyard and Garden
The form of the Tasting Room and Case Goods Storage expresses this duality through two folded roof planes. One, the Case Goods Storage, is oriented to the Winery courtyard where the processing and creating of great wine occurs. The other, the Tasting Room, is on axis with the vineyard, providing expansive views down the rows of grapes and across the valley.
The exterior material selections of unfinished cedar siding and Cor-Ten metal roofing reference the historic barns that dot the landscape and serve to root the building and its visitors in the Applegate Valley. A third exterior material, cork, is used as a siding material at the intersection between the Tasting Room and the Case Goods Storage. An uncommon siding material, the cork brings a delightful surprise in its reference to wine.
The exterior materials were also selected as a physical representation of the dynamic nature of wine changing while it ages. The untreated Cor-Ten has already begun to take on the rich, burnt sienna jewel tones and organic character that comes from exposure to the elements while the unfinished cedar is silvering gracefully with age. The cork also lightens in color over time, allowing the imperfect texture of its surface to become more legible. All three become a visual connection to the passage of time and serve as a reminder that a great bottle of wine is worth waiting for.
The sculptural form of the building, in addition to being an expression of the program, serves as an integral water feature that celebrates the rainfall necessary to grow the grapes. The seamless transition, from roof to wall, of the metal panel allows the rain runoff to create a cascading waterfall down the face of the building at both the point of arrival as well as the back-patio event space.
To express the forms of nature in the design of the building, the eastern trellis is made of juniper posts and beams that have been allowed to maintain their unfinished edges while the ends of the 5”x5” milled beams still express the circular form of the trees from which they came. On the interior, rounded walls create a soft transition between spaces and bring the curved forms of nature inside to generate feelings of biophilia while also serving as a reference to the form of a bottle of wine. Additionally, a large, live-edge walnut table made from an urban reclaimed tree is the centerpiece of the Tasting Room. Seating 18 people, the table serves as the de facto dining room table in a celebration of the coming together of community over a glass of wine.
Viewing craftsmanship as a form of art, the team selected hand-hewn materials for the interior surfaces to celebrate the craftspeople of southern Oregon. Hand-troweled plaster ceilings and walls reinforce the folded planes on the exterior of the building while the charred wood slats of the Tasting Bar and Case Storage entrance express the dramatic beauty of combining Earth’s natural resources with an ancient man-made craft.
In contrast to these man-made finishes, niches of back-painted glass serve as display spaces for objects related to the biodynamic process and history of the vineyard such as an actual cow horn. The largest niche of back-painted glass is located across from the large sliding window that looks out to the vineyard, allowing for a beautiful reflection of the view and creating a kind of watercolor image of the vineyards themselves.
With this glass, the spectacular view of the vineyard is available from any vantage point in the Tasting Room, whether facing the actual view or its water-like reflection.
20. INSPIRATION & EDUCATION IMPERATIVE
Just as the placement of the Tasting Room at the juncture between the vineyard and the winery underscores the importance of both aspects of making great wine, the tasting room staff is placed at the intersection of Cowhorn’s inspirational values and approach to sustainability and the visitors who come for the wine. Bill and Barbara Steele have ensured that their staff is well educated about biodynamic farming practices as well as the sustainable strategies in use at the Tasting Room. Nearly every wine tasting moves from musing about the wine itself, to Cowhorn’s approach to wine making, to the beauty of the building, its features and intentions, and the Living Building Challenge. Visitors who came just for the wine leave with a renewed sense of connection between the places we inhabit, the nourishment we enjoy, and the environment from which it all springs.
View the project website: