A World Classic Revealed in Joseph Phelps New Guest Center


It’s hard to imagine that Joseph Phelps’ new guest center wasn’t the original design envisioned by legendary Bay Area architect John Marsh Davis, one of a cadre of architects who helped define California organic architecture. His residential designs in Northern California embraced redwood, natural light and flowing, open spaces. But as a commercial winery, Davis designed the original Phelps building in 1973 with an enclosed barn-like structure. A modest tasting room – lit by a couple of small windows – was added four year later to the western end of the building. In a complete re-design of the interiors, Baldauf Catton Von Eckartsberg (BCV) Architects took inspiration from Davis’ works to create a timeless light-filled guest center that resounds with the reputation of Joseph Phelps wines: World-class but purely California, transparent in expression and one with nature.

The footprint and redwood exterior of the former winery remains largely intact, the style being characteristic of Davis’ work of the period. Hans Baldauf describes it as “wood expressionism” with varying influences from Bernard Maybeck, Japanese temple construction and vernacular barn construction.

The eastern patio

The wood design is now complemented by extensive use of glass that opens the space from east to west. In total, the interior transformation added 4,500 square-feet of elevated hospitality space that augers a new era for Joseph Phelps Vineyards.

The former tasting room has been expanded into the Oval Room, a comfortable lounge for club members. It’s now flooded with natural light from floor to ceiling windows and French doors that lead to an expanded Terrace with spectacular views of the vineyards and mountains. Wood trusses add to the sense of soaring height while creating texture off the ever-changing light. Running along the perimeter of the room is a discreet shelf that displays Joseph Phelps’ collection of the classic wines of the world that served as quality reference points for the iconic Insignia wine.

An original trellis on a section of the western Terrace


On the east side of the building, the original massive but detailed trellis leads guests to an elegant reception area.

The transition from the intimate reception area to the Great Hall is breathtaking. This is the core of the building which leads to most of the private tasting rooms and professional kitchen. Interior and exterior glass walls and 20 foot ceilings add calming light, a sense of spaciousness and a natural, balanced flow. BCV riffed on Davis’ love of wood detailing by panelling the room with board-on-board rough sawn Douglas fir, and by adding double trusses which also serve as a visual continuation of the great entry trellis. They lead the eyes to the exclusive Barrel Room where VIPs can taste samples of future releases.

Guests won’t find a typical “tasting bar” at Joseph Phelps. Guest experiences are offered at the highest level with several distinct private tasting rooms. Baldauf likened it to designing a “gracious country house… with a series of rooms for different moods at different times of day.” In the Library Room, over 1,000 bottles of older vintages of Joseph Phelps wines are beautifully displayed. Guest can taste the evolution and complexity of these wines with the Library Tasting ($125 pp), or an Insignia Vertical Perspective Tasting ($150 pp).

The Insignia Room

Another compelling reason to visit Joseph Phelps is the ability to taste not only their Napa Valley wines, but their sublime 100% estate, far West Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir and Chardonnay wines. Joseph Phelps recognized the potential for this now popular wine region over 15 years ago, cultivating 100 acres of vines and building a winery in Freestone in 2007.

At the home ranch in St. Helena. All vineyards are sustainably farmed. Photo A. Hanami

A great opportunity to taste these truly expressive wines is with the Single Vineyards tasting ($100 pp) that includes Pastorale and Quarter Moon Vineyards (Sonoma Coast) Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, Hyde Vineyard (Carneros) Syrah, and Backus Vineyard (Oakville) Cabernet.

Joseph Phelps has always hosted top-notch food and wine events featuring renowned chefs, despite the limited facilities. The new guest center now boasts a much larger, state-of-the-art professional kitchen adjacent to the Dining Room, promising guests and members a broader range of gastronomic experiences in the future. Their popular Wine and Cheese Pairing ($125 pp) takes place here every Friday-Sunday at 11 a.m.

Joseph Phelps Vineyards visits are by appointment only. For more information on their array of specialized tasting experiences, check the website. 200 Taplin Road, St. Helena, California 94574