News Brief

Winery Becomes Largest Living Building to Date

A team entirely new to Living Building Challenge successfully molded what is usually a water-intensive production facility to meet the highest of performance standards.

An aerial view shows reflecting pools on one side of the tasting room and a garden on the other. These were key biophilic elements for the project’s LBC certification.

Photo: Silver Oak Cellars
The International Living Future Institute recently certified the largest Living Building yet—the Alexander Valley Silver Oak Winery in California. This 109,000-ft2 facility consists of tasting rooms, a wine cellar, and production facilities, making it a relatively complicated project compared to others that have pursued the Living Building Challenge (LBC).

Trust over experience

By conventional wisdom, it shouldn’t have even been possible. The owner did not decide to pursue LBC until halfway through design, according to Daniel Piechota, of Piechota Architecture, and no one on the team had previous experience with LBC projects. Piechota himself had never designed a winery. And the project was on a strict schedule to open in time for the grape harvest, Michael Cello, of Cello & Maudru Construction Company, the project’s contractor, told BuildingGreen.

The team pulled through by having a clear goal and a “really close working relationship,” said Cello. “The client had a really strong vision for pushing the boundaries of sustainability, and never backed away from that commitment.” Many of the players had previously worked together, from the plumber to the electricians. “That helped from a relationship perspective and really paid dividends for navigating roadblocks,” according to Cello. “I have never been part of anything else quite like it.”

Material Petal challenges

There were some roadblocks to navigate. Given the scale and different uses of each space, there were hundreds of products to vet for Red List chemicals. Haley Duncan, the Safety and Sustainability Manager at the Silver Oak, estimates that she and the team reviewed 3,000 products. They started by simply trying to vet all the materials that the architect would normally specify, substituting where needed. But so few products met the requirements that they realized they needed to work from the other end. Duncan would present materials that she knew were Red List free, and the team found ways to make those work aesthetically, said Piechota.

When it came time for construction, Cello tasked a finish carpenter with ensuring no substitutes were used by the subcontractors. “Every sub would eventually pull out something that was not approved. We had to say, ‘Look, we are really serious about this. Go get the right product or don’t come back.’” Duncan was doing the same “beat cop” routine from the Silver Oak side, said Cello. “On a normal project, you might worry that might get contentious with the client being so involved on site. But we found it worked to have an open, transparent process.”

Unique features

In the end, the project met all the performance requirements for LBC and is gorgeous to boot. The project is net-positive energy, thanks to solar panels on the roof of every possible building and a solar canopy over the water storage tanks. (The team explored a ground-mounted system, but regulations required that the land be kept in agricultural use.)

Net-positive water was achieved by installing a membrane bioreactor to treat wastewater generated during winemaking. Once disinfected, the water is used for toilet flushing, tank washing, equipment washing, and landscape irrigation. An onsite domestic well provides potable water. The team estimates that stormwater infiltration features and sanitary sewage subsurface drip irrigation have boosted groundwater infiltration by more than 12 million gallons per year.

In terms of design choices, the materials that the team labored so hard over ended up taking center stage. The winery’s exterior is clad in wood siding repurposed from 1930s wine tanks from Cherokee Winery. Oak is used throughout the interior, sourced from trees that died in the Valley Fire of 2015. And a stairway in the production department is built from repurposed wood from oak wine barrels—red wine stains still visible. Metal planter boxes are allowed to rust and show their age in the garden. Shade screens break up expanses of metal and glass to lend a more randomized appearance.

For more information:

Silver Oak LBC Certification Binder

Published June 8, 2020

Pearson, C. (2020, May 20). Winery Becomes Largest Living Building to Date. Retrieved from

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