After nearly four years of planning and delays, construction of the new Hall winery, designed by architect Frank Gehry, officially kicked off with a groundbreaking ceremony last week in St. Helena. The event, hosted by estate co-owners Kathryn and Craig Hall, also welcomed about 300 guests, including Gehry and partners from his Los Angeles-based firm, Napa County officials, former California governor Jerry Brown and Robert and Margrit Mondavi. The cost of the construction, which is slated to take about three years, was not disclosed.
Groundbreaking ceremonies at Napa wineries don't usually attract such a high-profile crowd, but this project generated intense interest from its inception. Part of that is due to the owners. Craig Hall is the chairman of Texas-based Hall Financial Group which, according to the company website, has a $1 billion portfolio of stocks, bonds and venture capital; his wife, Kathryn, is the former U.S. ambassador to Austria. But most of the attention was a result of the participation of Gehry, 78, best known for his design of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, and considered by many to be the world's most prominent architect.
"These guys pick whatever projects they want to do around the world. I'm sure they don't have a promotions department," said Kathryn Hall.
Gehry also designed the recently opened Marquès de Riscal winery and hotel in Spain. Explaining why his firm accepted the Hall project, Gehry said, "First of all, I like the people who approached me. We worked on [Le Clos Jordan] winery in Canada that never got built. A lot of my friends, like Michael Graves [who designed Clos Pegase in Calistoga] and [Jacques] Herzog [who designed Dominus in Yountville], have done wineries and I didn't think I'd ever be asked."
Gehry's reputation actually worked against the project in the beginning. A number of local residents worried about another destination winery situated along Napa's Highway 29, which is already often congested with tourists. The new Hall winery, like many others along that route, will be open to tourists. But locals also feared that Gehry's modernist designs didn't belong in Napa Valley.
The controversy came as no surprise to Margrit Mondavi, who remembered something of the same during construction of the Robert Mondavi Winery in 1966. "It's par for the course here," she said. "To me, it's a wonderful idea to have one of the greatest architects in the world design something for wine."
But after encountering initial local resistance, the Halls and Gehry Partners revised their plans. At the ceremony on Friday, guests could peruse the revision process in the form of blueprints and 44 models of the site and hospitality center. Upon completion of the project, the 33-acre property will contain six buildings covering 130,000 square feet, as well as about 20 acres of vines. Until the new winery opens, Hall will continue to use its existing St. Helena facility and another winery in Rutherford completed in 2005.
The Halls own 490 acres of vineyards on six properties, of which five are in Napa Valley and one is in Alexander Valley. Cabernet Sauvignon comprises half that acreage and Merlot one-fifth; Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Petite Verdot, Syrah and Chardonnay account for the balance. About 250 additional acres at the properties will be planted with mostly Bordeaux red varieties.
In 2006, Hall crushed the equivalent of 40,000 cases, with some of that likely to be sold to other vintners. They bottle mostly Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc under two brands: Hall and Kathryn Hall, their reserve bottling. Prices range from about $16 for the Hall Rosé Napa Valley up to $90 for a reserve bottling of Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.