Eco Friendly Building Resurfacing project at the Winery in Elmira
When Doug LaVelle decided his winery and tasting room in Oregon’s southern Willamette Valley needed an upgrade, he worked with his builder and the owner of a local custom sawmill business to design a unique approach to the project.
An old, steel-clad structure that housed the winery was transformed in appearance over the course of a few months into an elegant “Oregon-lodge-style” attraction without significant disruption to winery operations and for a fraction of the cost of more traditional approaches.
The result, LaVelle said, was entirely satisfactory in nearly every respect. Equally important, he was able to act directly on the environmental ethic he espouses, achieving documentable environmental enhancements at almost every stage of the project. LaVelle Vineyards inherited the distinction as the oldest bonded winery (1972) in the southern Willamette Valley in 1994, when LaVelle acquired the existing license, the winery and a 16-acre vineyard from the previous owner, Forgeron Vineyard. Using knowledge gained during 30 years in the corporate world, LaVelle began to build the kind of wine business he’d always envisioned as a post-corporate career pursuit. By 2008, LaVelle Vineyards’ 25-acre property included not only the 16-acre vineyard, the winery and the tasting room, but also a terraced garden and the Club Room wine bar and bistro at the historic Fifth Street Public Market in downtown Eugene. LaVelle said he was especially pleased in 2008 when his son, Matthew, who’d been acting as operations manager for the firm while learning winemaking, stepped up and formally became LaVelle Vineyards’
What LaVelle did not have in 2008 was a destination winery and tasting room appropriate to the image he created for the business. The winery structure, in its fourth decade of service, hadn’t agedbeautifully. By 2008, the industrial pole building’s siding had become sun-bleached and parts of it were beginning to corrode. The LaVelles decided it was time to upgrade their facilities to match the quality and image of their product. “We are locally focused", LaVelle said. “We produce premium wines priced so local people can enjoy a glass every day.” The current lineup ranges from an $18 white table wine to a $32 cabernet sauvignon, and the winery’s annual production ranges from 5,000 to 8,000 cases per year. An early step was to contact one of LaVelle’s contractor friends, Robert Stolle of Ordell Construction in Springfield, for brainstorming sessions. After some research, the men decided to investigate options other than tearing down the structure and constructing a new building. Starting over presented problems. The winery would face extended down time and would need to operate at an alternate location for the duration of construction. “From an environmental standpoint,” LaVelle said, “removing the existing structure and putting up a new one would have created a good deal of waste. Recycling the old building was clearly a more attractive option.” Possible alternatives included removing the old steel from the building and replacing it with new metal siding that emulated a stucco look, and resurfacing the building with stucco. A fourth option presented itself when Pony Boy Gilbert joined the discussion.
The meeting came about when LaVelle inquired about the impressive new façade installed on his physician’s building, and was directed to Long Tom Custom Sawmill, Gilbert’s company. Gilbert is Native American and, according to LaVelle, possesses a boundless enthusiasm, a dedication to practical environmentalism – and a portable, thin-kerf sawmill business. The solution Gilbert put forward was to mill some grand old incense cedar logs that would otherwise be chipped into pulp, into boards usable in recladding the existing LaVelle winery. “The idea was immediately appealing,” LaVelle said. “I had been focused on creating a Tuscan look for the winery, an architectural theme that is commonly used in our business because it evokes an Old World ambiance. But we don’t live in Italy, we live in the Pacific Northwest, and I really preferred a solution that used local materials and fit comfortably into the Northwest landscape. Pony’s proposal got us thinking about an ‘Oregon lodge’ look constructed from cedar and stone. ”Stolle was familiar with Gilbert’s expertise and thought the idea might have merit. At LaVelle’s behest, he took the concept and began to play with the possibilities, figuring out how to affix lumber to the old building and costing out the alternatives.
A COST-EFFECTIVE ALTERNATIVE
“We were surprised by the costs for the various options,” LaVelle said. “Although I didn’t keep all those numbers, using lumber milled by Long Tom Custom Sawmill cost approximately 40% less than resurfacing with steel would have cost, and steel was roughly 30% less than the stucco option.” According to Stolle, a 40% estimate for the lesser cost of milled lumber vs. wood purchased at a lumber yard is probably quite conservative, if difficult to quantify, because Gilbert could mill lumber to exact specifications. “Traditional supply channels typically provide only standard dimensions,” Stolle said. “With Pony milling the wood on site, we were able to get exactly the sizes we wanted, including the thicker, rough-cut boards the owner preferred. We were able to obtain precisely milled specialty sizes without the extra cost of specialty milling, so both cost and waste were minimized.”
The decision was made to move ahead with the innovative solutions, and work began on upgrading the existing structure. Ordell Construction poured a new footing around the structure to support the weight of the wood. The original metal building was left intact, albeit attached to and surrounded by a new façade separated from the old building by an 8-inch space. Logs were delivered and milling began.
Long Tom used a portable, thin-kerf sawmill (kerf is the thickness of the cut taken when a saw blade passes through a log). First broadly marketed some 25 years ago by Wood-Mizer Products of Indianapolis, Ind., the mills allow one- and two-person companies to recover very high-end lumber from trees that might otherwise be land-filled, under-utilized or simply left in the woods to rot and release the greenhouse gasses stored in them. Today, 20,000-plus businesses such as Long Tom provide service to builders, architects and individuals in virtually every area of North America.
The LaVelle effort, according to Gilbert, is a case study in demonstrating that carefully considered environmental approaches to construction can also be profitable. "LaVelle deserves huge credit for his commitment to environmental sensitivity,” Gilbert said. “He put his money where his passion is by taking a chance on an unfamiliar approach, based on my assurances that this could not only result in the construction of a beautiful facility, but also provide important environmental enhancements. Those enhancements are real and documentable. “First, wherever an old building can be effectively reused, it should be. It’s a terrible waste of resources, both natural and financial, to rip something apart just to replace it with something new, when viable options are available.” “Next,” he continued, “the wood was harvested within 15 miles of where it was used, so the emissions and other environmental impacts of transport were minimized. We wanted to use incense cedar to demonstrate how environmental sensitivity can be practiced on a project like this. It’s a beautiful wood, often piled up and sold for making chips as a byproduct of harvest.
“The LaVelle building is, I believe, an outstanding example of how local and typically underutilized species can be put to their highest and best use. Now, landowners throughout central Oregon can visit the winery and see how resources on their own lands can be responsibly and sustainably utilized to optimize value and reduce waste.” Gilbert added that the sawmill he used to mill lumber for the LaVelle building provided additional environmental enhancements. The very thin cut taken by his Wood-Mizer means that approximately 30% more lumber is recovered from a log than is typical in a conventional sawmill.
“That means the carbon contained in that additional 30% continued to be trapped in the wood for decades, and it means 30% more trees are left standing and still scrubbing climate-change gases from the atmosphere as a result of this mill,” he said. “A thinner blade also requires less energy to produce the lumber. This is waste reduction, recycling and reuse at its best.”
“This has been a wonderful project for us,” LaVelle said. “We know that periodically staining the cedar will require more maintenance than steel, but the opportunity to live our environmental ethic, achieve our goals regarding the aesthetics of the winery, and still be financially conservative is rewarding beyond what we thought possible when we conceived this project. How many times in business does a single solution represent the lowest cost, the highest quality, and the most environmentally responsible alternative? Not many.”
Jack and Clayton Petree are co-owners of Public Policy Perspectives, a consulting firm based in Bellingham, Wash., that is dedicated to helping businesses explore practical approaches to environmental issues. They have written more than 2,500 articles for regional, national and international publications.