A Builder's View

Chappellet’s Barrel Chai Blends the Art and Science of Winemaking

Posted by Tim McDonald

Mar 26, 2015 3:00:00 PM

Great winemaking requires a built environment that facilitates the complex blend of nature, art, and science.  Our story begins in the rugged terroir that is legendary for producing Cabernet Sauvignon. Situated on the rocky slopes of Pritchard Hill in St. Helena, Chappellet Vineyards envisioned a barrel chai that created a multi-sensory journey in winemaking and aesthetic appeal. Our team at Centric worked together with Chappellet to build a structure designed for wine storage and aging.


Envisioning A Barrel Chai To Support the Art and Science of Winemaking

While wine is perishable and capable of deteriorating, the science of aging wine involves complex chemical reactions of the wine’s sugars, acids and phenolic compounds (i.e. tannins) that alter the aroma, color, and taste in a way that may be more pleasing.  The art of aging wine is influenced by many factors including grape variety, vintage, viticulture practices, wine region and winemaking style. A wine’s controlled environment and storage conditions after bottling influences how well it will age over time. Chappellet Vineyards envisioned a high-functioning barrel chai to facilitate a controlled wine aging environment.

Designed With Little Environmental Impact and Built for Efficiency

The barrel chai naturally blends into the site’s beautiful, majestic surroundings in way that minimizes the impact to the environment. A majority of the structure is underground to reduce heat gain through exterior walls. The roof is insulated to R-48 and the aboveground exterior walls are insulated to R-42.  Approximately 77% of the roof is clad with solar panels, which help to cool the building by shading the roof. The chai achieves nearly zero net-energy use, due to high-energy efficiency and electrical production from the photovoltaic system. All heating systems are powered by electricity, not gas. The visible, aboveground portion of the building uses unfinished recycled-steel panels, which will eventually patina to blend in with the agricultural surroundings. 

Controlling Humidity and Aging Gracefully

The barrel chai has the capacity to store up to 4,000 barrels of wine under the right conditions for an extended period of time to ensure the development of complex flavors. It is comprised of latest technology in night cooling, fog systems, and barrel fill lines. The chai’s mechanical system includes twelve large units for cooling during the day and one large fresh air intake fan for utilizing the cool evening air. It should be noted that the mechanical units do not run for long, due to the building’s energy efficiency.


A high-pressure fog/misting system was installed to maintain the required high humidity levels for the barrels along with an aggressive air movement system to inhibit mold growth.  Additionally, the higher humidity levels in the chai result in less evaporative wine loss through the wood of the barrel. Two of the three rooms in the barrel chai have the ability to heat up and cool down to stimulate fermentation. Stainless steel wine lines were run from the adjacent crush and tank building to fill the barrels. Ultimately, greater humidity control will provide in greater results in aging.

There are many factors to consider in winemaking. Chappellet Vineyards considered these factors and raised the bar in designing and building a high functioning, energy efficient, environmentally friendly facility. It will be fun to measure and monitor the performance of the building over time.

Too many of these great winery facilities are left untold. If you know of or have participated in designing or building a high-functioning winery facility, please share your story with us in the comments section. 

Are you planning a new winery? Please feel free to pick our brains!

Centric General Contractors

Topics: Construction Case Studies, Winery Construction, Energy Efficiency