Monday, September 09, 2013

It's New School (not Old School) at the NW Wine Academy

Pouring and selling the school's wine in the new NW Wine Academy tasting room prepares students for professional jobs in wineries and wine retail shops
Sunlight glints off of polished concrete floors. The ceiling soars two stories tall and light filters in through Solatubes - round skylights that drop sunshine through the roof and layers of insulation and into the main space. Near the back of the gracious room is a tasting bar - white Ecotop slab counters hovering above gabion cages filled with river rock. The rear wall of the room is wrapped in horizontal cedar planks - century-old reclaimed water tower walls, sanded and stained. Tucked into the cedar wall are sleek white cabinets, keeping glassware within reach but out of sight.

While this modern, elegant tasting room could be mistaken for a boutique winery in the Pacific Northwest, it’s not in Woodinville or Walla Walla or Yakima. This tasting room is the public face of the new, state of the art wine-teaching facility for the Northwest Wine Academy at South Seattle Community College - and it’s a beautiful face. 

The NW Wine Academy during demo and construction 
However, this new wine school had the humblest of beginnings. The facility is a simple metal building that was used for years as maintenance storage for the college. While these types of buildings are engineered with steel and intended to last for decades, they are poorly insulated - less than ideal for a winery, which requires minimal temperature changes. Additionally, to bring the building up to Seattle’s strict energy codes, and since the space will be inhabited by students, instructors, and wine lovers, insulating only the wine production and aging areas was not an option. Classrooms, tasting room, and offices also needed to be comfortable and inviting. 

Thankfully the school’s selected architects at Boxwood - the firm behind sustainable wineries for Carlton Winemakers Studio, August Cellars, and the internationally-recognized Col Solare - are also experienced at repurposing a metal building as a winery. They designed the remodel and expansion of Hightower Cellars on Red Mountain, which required extensive climate control to adjust for the temperature swings in the AVA. 

While some might argue that the school should have built a new winery, incorporating these architectural concepts from the beginning, project architect Joe Chauncey felt differently: “One must ask why should we repurpose or remodel an existing building. One of the answers should be because it saves embodied energy. This is the total energy it takes to create a building product – extraction of the raw materials, transport, manufacture, assembly, etc.” 

Incorporating sustainable design into wineries not only works to reflect the values of many winemakers and vineyard owners, but it makes fiscal sense in the long run, like lower energy costs to control temperatures, natural daylighting to keep electricity bills lower. But the embodied energy in existing construction is often the most compelling reason to choose remodeling over new construction.  “For this building made predominantly of steel, we saved enough embodied energy in the steel alone to power 70 average Seattle homes for a year,” said Chauncey.
The new NW Wine Academy at SSCC
A patio is under construction for the N end of the school

And thus, a very extensive gutting and reworking of the former storage facility began. The transformation, both on the interior and the exterior, is nothing short of remarkable.

Beyond the tasting room, fermentation and barrel rooms, laboratory, classrooms, and demonstration kitchen complement the program’s three certification options: Wine Making, Wine Marketing & Sales, and Food & Wine Pairing. The students are learning important elements of the winemaking industry in a fully-functioning, start-to-finish process winery. And with the school’s history of crafting award-winning wine year after year in its cramped facility across campus, Washington wine lovers should have high expectations for the Northwest Wine Academy’s upcoming vintages, which will be crushed, fermented, aged, blended, bottled, and sold at this new winery.

Boxwood designed insulated barrel rooms, keeping temps at 55F
From the tasting room, looking through glass overhead garage-style doors into the corridor and production area, two barrel rooms are tucked away, insulated from temperature swings. The walls are made of Faswall, a sustainable product of chipped-up wood pallets mixed with concrete and formed into giant building blocks. These insulated blocks are covered with
plaster on the inside of the barrel room to assist with temperature control, and the outside of the blocks are trimmed so that the individual splinters of wood are revealed.

The teaching and demonstration kitchen is used for wine and food pairing classes
Across the corridor from the barrel rooms is a multi-purpose demonstration kitchen classroom. Also accessible from the tasting room by glass overhead doors, this kitchen allows students to watch food preparation and learn wine pairing in an environment similar to what they might experience if they were working in the wine industry, preparing tastings at wineries or restaurants. The college also offers a culinary arts program, and frequently students from both academies work together to pair hors d'oeuvres and wines for special events and tastings.

The new fermentation room, still waiting on tank installation
The large fermentation area serves as the hub of the academy, with space for the school to produce 3,000 cases of wine. Another overhead glass door leads from the fermentation room to a covered concrete crushpad in the rear of the building, which can double as storage and outdoor space most of the year. At the rear of the fermentation room are two large classrooms and office space, above which is a storage mezzanine - wineries always need more storage.

The new laboratory classroom helps students learn about the science behind wine
Across from the tanks is a large laboratory, with 25’ long black counters complete with stainless steel spit troughs and water spigots - it’s enough to give you flashbacks to high school chemistry class. This room, however, is about the chemistry of wine and the only periodic table visible is the Periodic Table of Washington Wines, which was designed by the school’s architect. The firm originally formulated the chart of wine varietals for their branding client Wines of Substance, but the table is a teaching element for anyone interested in learning more about the types of wine grapes grown in the area. 

The flexibility of the facility is what makes it ideal as a teaching winery. The project manager, Jeremy Reding of Boxwood, explained it this way: “One aspect of maximizing the space was to provide visual connections between rooms so that students, faculty and visitors can feel connected to the overall process.  Large overhead glass doors were installed throughout so that you are continually connected to the different stages of the winemaking and education process.” A large landscaped patio next to the tasting room, slated to be complete in mid-September, will complete the school’s new reputation as an event space for fundraisers and special tastings.  

With a line of sight through most of the building, daylighting through oversized glass doors, carefully placed windows to reduce glare in classrooms, and skylights dropping light into most of the spaces, the facility can be used throughout the day without artificial lighting, which makes economical and environmental sense, as well as boosting the well-being of all who work and learn in the space. 

Large overhead doors allow all areas in the wine school to remain connected and bring natural lighting into the space
These new labels feature photos
by Orshi Kiss
To complement the transformation of the school, Boxwood also redesigned the school's wine labels, presenting a unified brand for their bonded winery while incorporating students' original photography, with a different image for each vintage. Several of the labels for their upcoming releases feature architectural details from the new winery, celebrating the school's new facility. 

The wine program at South Seattle Community College officially opened in 2004, and in less than a decade the school has grown to include certifications and Associates Degrees in Wine Making, Wine Sales & Marketing, and Food & Wine Pairing. The school's tasting room is open to the public most Thursdays and Fridays from 12:00 to 4:00, and on weekends for special events and seasonal wine releases. Check the school’s calendar for specific dates and times.


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