Architects: Chris Kelly, Architecture Workshop
A winery ascends in pinot noir country.
Central Otago is one of the world’s newest and most spectacular wine regions, and surely one of the unlikeliest. It’s not just the region’s mountainous topography, remoteness and latitude – 45 degrees south, just about the closest grapes come to Antarctica – that make its recent viticultural emergence so surprising. There’s also the complete lack of any local precedent for wine production.
Central Otago's history of European settlement had a hectic start – prospectors descended on the region in droves when gold was discovered in the mid-19th-century – but then it settled down to a long period of uneventful development based on high-country sheep farming, fruit growing and alpine tourism.
The region's potential for viticulture was first recognized around the turn of the 20th century, when Italian oenologist Romeo Bragato – invited by the New Zealand government to assess the country's prospects for winemaking – pointed to Central Otago's continental microclimate of hot dry summers and cold winters. But his findings were ignored for 70 years.
Perhaps that was fortunate, though, because the development of winemaking in Central Otago in the past few decades coincided with the explosive rise in the global popularity of pinot noir, which, as it turned out, the region excels in making. It also coincided with a rapid evolution in the relationship between winemaking and wine marketing. As far as the marketers are concerned, what’s in the bottle is only a part of the story, one component of the brand.
Another thing that can support the brand is a building. A consequence of Central Otago’s late entry into the winemaking game is that there’s no shortage of imitable architectural styles or models available to the region’s winemakers. Should they go Tuscan – as many New Zealand wineries did in the 1990s – or should they go functional? Cape Dutch, or pseudo-château? What about vernacular? Before the wineries came along, the signature Central Otago rural building was a shed – either small, for humans, or big, for animals – walled in local schist.
The owners of Peregrine, a winery sited in the beautiful Gibbston Valley that produced its first vintage in 1998, didn’t look back or abroad for architectural inspiration. Instead, they and their architect, Chris Kelly, of the New Zealand practice Architecture Workshop, looked up. Peregrine, after all, is named after a native falcon – which the Maori, New Zealand’s first inhabitants, called the kârearea – and the mountain-ringed Gibbston Valley is between 200 and 400 metres above sea level. Cutely, Peregrine, a pinot noir specialist that also produces riesling, pinot gris, chardonnay and sauvignon blanc, declares that it makes “wines with altitude."
Taking the hints from site and brand, Kelly designed a winery building distinguished by its roof plane – a long, thin, subtly twisted blade that looks as though it is about to break free of its moorings and soar away on the thermal updrafts above the valley floor. The translucent canopy floats above the main winery structure, which is partially submerged, and shelters a concrete platform that can be used as an event venue.
Kelly, who worked for a number of notable European architects, including the acclaimed Italian Renzo Piano, before returning home to New Zealand, tends not to do things the easy way, and the simple-seeming roof over Peregrine winery is beguilingly complex. Against the stunning backdrop of the surrounding mountains, it is a very graceful architectural gesture. You could say it’s a case of geometry saluting geology.