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Winemaking is all about good chemistry. The art of enjoying a velvety Syrah or striking chardonnay relies on scientific principles, precise techniques and a team of people passionate about the craft. So when it came time to design Coursey Graves winery and residence, the owners sought a similar sense of chemistry, tapping a team helmed by award-winning architect Charles Stinson to create an experience unlike anywhere else in Sonoma County.

Owners John and Denise Graves have strong Minnesota ties and first saw Stinson’s work while on a boat cruise on Lake Minnetonka. The subtle yet impactful nature of his architectural style was just what they had in mind for their burgeoning, boutique vineyard in the Bennett Valley. If anyone was up to the challenge of creating a cohesive language between multiple structures on the Sonoma site, it was Stinson. “How often do you get a chance like this?” recalls the architect upon first hearing about the project. The 40-acre estate features 13 acres of hillside vineyards and needed to host the operative aspects of the winery as well as a comfortable and inviting primary residence. Stinson likened the experience to creating a “small village” – one that shares a common design language and complementary functionality among the winery and tasting room, barn and barrel area and the abode. “The more we got into the project, the more it kept growing,” he says.

Photography by Corey Gaffer

On Stinson’s first site visit, he was struck by the elevation and immediately envisioned the home peeking out of the knoll above the valley with the vineyard coming up right underneath it. From the front gates to the hilltop house, every aspect needed to be systematically designed. “As soon as we drove up [to the site], we understood the brilliance of Charles’ architecture,” says home builder Jeff Jungsten. The prominent Marin County builder met Stinson on another California project where they shared affinities for thoughtful design and craftsmanship. The partnership was an instant fit.

Once through the Coursey Graves gates (emblazoned with the winery’s logo – also designed by Stinson) each layer reveals its unique purpose. At the base, you’re met with the functional elements of the winery where the magic of “vine to wine” unfolds right before your eyes. Here you get the first glimpse of Stinson’s architecture. The modern tasting room is counterbalanced by a curved roof and stone exterior which gives it an organic feel. As you ascend 1,500 feet above the valley to the residence, you’re immersed in what feels like a real-life Monet painting. The award-winning landscape, designed and managed by Matt Ripley of Inspired Landscapes, was influenced by legendary Dutch designer Piet Oudolf. To give the space a Sonoma County twist, Ripley incorporated native California plants that highlight the area’s majestic, year-round beauty. Just as summer flowers begin to fade, golden-brown colors catch the light and usher the landscape into autumn. “The garden is beyond my wildest dreams,” shares Denise Graves. This captivating tableau also includes a small pond, which features an iconic footbridge and boat handcrafted by her husband.

Impressionist painters like Monet have historically focused on the light and color of the outdoors to capture its variations throughout the day; Stinson’s architectural approach does the same. Prioritizing the panoramic views, Stinson did his best to “get the architecture out of the way” in the most elegant way possible. The resulting 6,500-square-foot structure is encased primarily in glass and framed by horizontal planes. Even in hallways, panes of glass nearly reach the ceilings, allowing for natural light in places most people wouldn’t think to optimize. Whether you’re enjoying the sweeping vistas inside the home or outside on the soaring decks, the windows celebrate how the view changes throughout the day and the seasons.

A hosting haven, the main gathering space includes the kitchen, dining area and living room, which connect seamlessly to the south-facing soaring decks and infinity pool. The family’s personal spaces sit on the other side of the house for more privacy. Stone is a common thread throughout and was a pivotal first selection. Working in tandem with her sister-in-law and interior designer Jyl Graves, Denise Graves intentionally chose a pattern that echoed the linear design of the architecture but also brought in an array of sizes and natural textures so it “didn’t feel too perfect.” That set the tone for the whole house, rooting it in a neutral greige palette that provided a warmer, more dynamic feel than traditional gray. The expansive use of stone makes the space feel like it was carved directly into the hillside, a fluent exchange between nature and artistry. The floors are a European white oak and the ceilings are finished in a stained cedar that radiates an earthy feel. And there’s perhaps no better display than the floor-to-ceiling application in the stairwell, punctuated by floating wood steps. Its sculptural appeal can be appreciated, especially at night, from the base of the mountain – a tower of glass with an inviting glow, framed by a raindrop-style chandelier by Studio Bel Vetro.

“Charles and Chuck [Thiss] made the project seamless,” recalls Jyl Graves, noting the complexity of designing the property in Minnesota and executing it in California. The firm partnered with artisans from both locations, giving the Graves complete confidence in the entire team. Darrell Otto created a specialty metallic plaster for the fireplace surround that provides a striking backdrop for a stunning cottonwood art piece. The fireplace connects the living room to Denise’s favorite area – the covered porch. The team took care building in heat protection and wind screens to keep mountainous gusts at bay without interrupting the views. “It’s like art and nature working together in a functional, productive way,” remarks Stinson.

A true harvest table brings family, friends and staff together to celebrate the end of crush season. Sitting here, washed in natural light and supported by Stinson’s intentional composition, it’s impossible not to feel connected to the very ground that the Graveses and co-owner Cabell Coursey worked to revitalize. “To create a masterpiece…it’s absolutely a collaboration and it can’t happen without every single thing working together,” says the architect.

Read this article as it appears in the magazine.

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