by STIRworldJul 19, 2022
Architecture housing and treating wine has since time immemorial fostered a wonderful, pleasing potential of being spatially inviting and functionally charged, welcoming oenophiles, as well as wine manufacturers within. Embedded steady within an undulant, verdant landscape is one of the oldest wineries in Australia’s Yarra Valley, St Hubert’s, that recently reopened post a simple yet sensitive transformation by Melbourne-based practice Cera Stribley, chronicling oneness with nature and succinct architectural renewal.
Reacting and assimilating with the sloping topography, an intricate, slow beauty is explored within the low-lying, unhurried piece of contemporary architecture, resting under vine-covered hills with rows of grapevines stretching out at leisure. From afar, one witnesses a never-ending line of grass being gently lifted to reveal a subtle built form rendered in timber, glass and grace, that is open and intimate at the same time.
"Architecture is a large part of the attraction for this latest Yarra Valley destination, and (our) design response undeniably makes it so," relays Domenic Cerantonio, co-founder and managing principal of Cera Stribley, who led the architectural design of the project. The practice was successful in intensifying the quiet magnificence of the existing estate by installing an "eyelid" shaped, fresh cellar door that resurrects from the ground, as a cinematic preamble for the winery.
The hospitality architecture's main, unpretentious form rests under the earth, taking advantage of its prime location at the junction of Maroondah Highway and St Huberts Road in Australia, capturing the attention of people driving by. The newly added, “architecturally striking” cellar door rises up from the clean, natural landscape in one swift curve, as a dramatic arrival for visitors and at the same time, marrying itself to the site.
Pioneering winemaker and Swiss immigrant Charles Hubert de Castella established St Hubert’s in 1862, which went through a revival in 1966 following the Great Depression. It has long been considered one of the finest spots in the Yarra Valley for its portfolio of cool-climate wines, as a premium wine-producing region in the continent. In 2019, Ryan Hospitality Group, led by Gerry and Andrew Ryan, in collaboration with Treasury Premium Brands, commissioned Cera Stribley to rejuvenate the wine estate once more, elevating it to a much grander, ambitious entity. The Hubert Estate now comprises a family-style restaurant (Quarters), Indigenous art gallery (Hubert Gallery of Art), event space (Harriett), revamped St Hubert’s cellar door, all designed by Cera Stribley, along with a boutique wine store (Notes), designed by Landini Associates.
According to the Australian architects, the site offered a great opportunity to combine the history of St Hubert’s with the tenderly curving scenery to create a unique design that paid homage to its rural location, as an architecture devoted to nature. “We leaned into the fable of Saint Hubertus, Patron Saint of The Hunt, the namesake behind the brand’s renowned 'The Stag' wines, drawing inspiration from the concept of 'the hunt', which is expressed through materiality that is authentic and resolutely natural," they say.
According to Chris Stribley, co-founder and managing principal of Cera Stribley, who led the architectural delivery of the project, authenticity forms the heart of the design concept for the cellar as well, expressed in its materiality of natural wood-formed concrete. Visitors approach the winery by means of a paved pathway that runs between the two, glass-framed, exposed sheds – that now houses the restaurant and function centre, apart from outdoor tasting spaces – and the new cellar door, which from this perspective is camouflaged seamlessly within the landscape.
A monumental pair of board-formed concrete walls slice through the back of the grassy mound, directing intrigue and attention to a striking copper door that marks the entrance to the cellar door. Once inside, the sense of anticipation continues to build as one journeys through the warm, timber-panelled corridor, which is accompanied by solid, smooth, natural-edged timber benches for wine tasting, and aged, brown leather sheathed stools.
Integral to both the contextual design and the sustainability of the mostly subterranean form, the green roof was conceived as a way to embed the new cellar door within the surrounding landscape. A naturally existing mound on site was excavated in order to make way for the foundations of the new cellar door and amphitheatre. The excavated land was kept and then relayed over the eyelid-shaped roof of the new building, to provide a rainwater buffer, reduce the ambient temperature, and regulate the indoor temperature of the new building, which maximises sun exposure, resulting in generous, fuller-styled wines. A visually stunning stag sculpture urges visitors to pause inside, creating a space of contemplation that echoes the quiet yet thrumming power of the entire estate.
The existing branded shed was repurposed into a function centre with a convivial yet pragmatic interior design fitted with sliding doors that open onto a terrace overlooking the leisurely stretching vines. The restaurant 'Quarters', clad in charred black timber, is a divided servery and sectioned kitchen and restaurant, paralleled by various counters placed along the length of the building. A large pizza oven adorns one end, sculptured in copper-coloured mosaic penny rounds, while a similar toned bar conceals the service area. Contrasting green subway tiles feature behind with white and green at the front, complemented by a timber-clad bar and servery section.
Recycled timber and locally-sourced materials from environmentally-responsible suppliers were given preference over less sustainable alternatives. Strategic fenestration, the green roof, and the use of concrete slab for the base build material, all contribute to the passive thermal efficiency and sustainable design of the building. An existing dam on the site was utilised for all draining and water treatment, with provisions also to service the 80-room hotel and wellness centre planned for phase two of the development, rendering Hubert Estate self-sufficient in that respect.
Elegant, sincere and contextually aligned, the St Hubert’s vineyard building, tucked within the folds of the powerful, natural site, is both, a precise and symbolic immersion in the rich land and the estate’s much-beloved history. For all its grandeur, with the massive scale of the setting as well as its poignant history, the building has a relaxed, almost subdued setting that is reassuring, delicate, yet powerful. With plans underway to enhance and further the guest experience with the addition of a hotel and wellness centre (also by Cera Stribley), the enduring project essays the first stage of strengthening Yarra Valley as a world-class tourist and hospitality destination.