Designs on Wine

Architectural firm has quietly built a reputation for innovative buildings that have shaped the look and feel of the county’s wine industry

By Janis Switzer
Special to the Tribune

San Luis Obispo County has seen an explosion in the number of new wineries and tasting rooms in the past decade.
Many of these wineries “Bianchi Winery, Robert Hall Winery, Justin Winery, and Baileyana Winery”¬†feature some of the most innovative, creative and striking architecture on the Central Coast. Behind the architecture of these new structures is one firm: Steven D. Pults, AIA & Associates of San Luis Obispo. A Cal Poly graduate, Pults started the firm out of his second bedroom in 1980 after working as an architect for three years in Santa Maria. Initially focused on commercial, industrial and office building projects, he eventually got into medical facilities and residential design.

In 1986, Pults hired fellow Cal Poly graduate Tim Woodle. A native of Sonoma County, it was Woodle who one day would lead their “winery team,” catapulting the firm into the winery-design business. “We first started about 12 years ago,” remembers Woodle, “with a small Santa Maria project for Kendall-Jackson.” The success of that project led them to design Kendall-Jackson’s huge new winery south of Salinas in Monterey County. A cover story in Practical Winery magazine about the project put the architectural firm front and center in the winery design business.

Pults and Woodle have been partners since 1996, and the firm employs 16 people, mostly Cal Poly graduates. The list of winery projects completed by the firm in the past 10 years is impressive. About 20 winery projects have been completed, including: Domaine Alfred, Orcutt Road Cellars, Edna Valley Vineyards and Alban Vineyards in Edna Valley, and Bianchi Vineyards, Justin Winery and Robert Hall in Paso Robles. “With all the buildings I’ve built in Minnesota and Arizona,” Robert Hall says, “I realize we are so lucky to have a firm of such quality and integrity right here in this area. “I would recommend them for anyone who needs a lot of creativity and a lot of hard work.” The Robert Hall project included a winery, 19,000 square feet of caves, and a recently opened hospitality center that includes a large tasting room, dining room, 200-person amphitheater and winery offices.

Pults and Woodle have a staggering 27 winery projects in the planning process. Some are simple tasting rooms, while others, such as the Vina Robles project on Highway 46 East in Paso Robles, are huge. The four-phase Vina Robles complex includes a 14,000-square-foot tasting room with banquet facilities, an 85-room high-end hotel, a state-of-the-art winery and a spa. Construction is to start “any day” on the tasting room, with the winery plans starting this spring, and the hotel starting in the next four to five years. According to Hans R. Michel, president and managing partner at Vina Robles, the complex will have “mission- and hacienda-style architecture.” He also praises Woodle as “very good to work with.”

Other projects under way by the Pults firm include major facilities at Linne Calado Winery, Niner West Estates, Opolo Winery, Rotta Winery and York Mountain. The firm does no advertising and relies on word of mouth for gaining new business. “We’ve been extremely fortunate,” Pults says, “the more work we do, the more opportunities we get.” Pults and Woodle estimate that they have worked on 80 percent of the county’s winery projects in the last 10 years. One advantage Woodle brings to his winery clients is his own understanding of the winemaking process. Making wine himself at his Templeton home, Woodle has a unique appreciation of his customers’ needs. “Architecture is an extension of their personality and the personality of their wines,” Woodle says. A winemaker’s “architecture is one of their marketing tools.” Woodle notes that, in the case of Justin Winery, the wines, labels, marketing materials and building carry the same look and theme.

Beyond the design of a building itself, Pults and Woodle also focus on the mechanical winemaking facilities inside the structure, from presses, pump systems and conveyor belts to fermentation tanks and waste water ponds. The pair believe they are most successful when they are pulled into a project from the beginning, so they can be involved with the design of the winery, inside and out. Regarding future design, they say the importance of “green building” in which the focus is to reduce energy reliance and maximize renewable and eco-friendly resources, is the way of the future. Talking of both design and function, Woodle says “as residents of this county we feel we have a responsibility to do these (winery) facilities as well as can be done,” adding “we take design very, very seriously.”


© The Tribune 2006