The owner of Ellerman House, Paul Harris, decided to create a space to showcase South African wines, the brief he gave to the architectural and design team was to come up with an original concept for a wine gallery, rather than just a tasting room or cellar. The end result is the collaborative genius of a dynamic and diverse team of highly creative South Africans, led by architect Michael Dennett, sculptor Angus Taylor, blacksmith and sculptor Conrad Hicks, industrial designer Brian Steinhobel, and designers Trevyn and Julian McGowan of Southern Guild and Source.
‘The wine gallery is much more than a functional space – it’s a work of art,’ comments Harris.
Here, tasting the finest wines from the Cape’s local vineyards or sipping a 20-year old brandy is elevated to an experience that touches all the senses, integrating contemporary architectural design solutions with sculpture and cutting-edge design.
Architect Michael Dennett designed a structure that complements and honours the existing buildings of Ellerman House, merging old and new, past and future. He describes the wine gallery as a series of architectural spaces that appear to be carved out of solid rock. Inspiration was drawn from the spiralling helix shape of DNA strands, reflected in the design of Brian Steinhobel’s wine rack and Conrad Hicks’s staircase; and the Fibonacci or golden spiral, the oldest form of perfect proportion and symmetry used by the ancient Greeks, used in the design of the granite and in-laid copper floors. The three-storey structure, which includes the wine gallery and villa above it, explores the dialogue between carved and constructed spaces, and the blurring of boundaries between the natural and the man-made, creating seamless transitions on all levels between indoor and outdoor spaces. Elements such as flowing water, a vertical indigenous garden and weathered granite boulders are means of measuring time, movement and the seasons. Many of the building materials have been left to weather naturally. Taking a minimal intervention approach now means that the finishes will reveal their innate, inherent beauty over time – in a similar way that a good wine improves with age. Materials derived from the earth – wood, glass, granite, copper – contrast with hi-tech carbon fibre (derived from the earth’s most basic element, carbon) and silky smooth moulded silicone, while grounding and anchoring the whole.
A Human-scale Corkscrew
Brian Steinhobel is recognised globally as one of the most talented. Over the years, he has designed everything from parts for Formula One racing cars and airplanes to sensually shaped chairs and ice buckets suggestive of the female form. In designing the focal point of the wine gallery, an enormous three-dimensional wine rack holding 1500 bottles and bearing over two tons of weight, Steinhobel was inspired by a humble corkscrew. The 3.2m high, 6m long structure is a literal translation of a corkscrew or helix shape.
‘The shape was also informed by the free form curves and organic growth of vines. The human scale of the wine rack enables you to engage with it, by walking through it and enjoying the sense of being inside a vineyard, with the vines arching over above your head,’ says Steinhobel. ‘I like to think of this as an experiential, functional piece of art – beautiful to look at, understandable, timeless and inspiring, each curve holding something of value – a bottle of wine.’
Steinhobel chose to mould the wine rack out of carbon fibre for its connection to the earth and the notion of terroir with its significance in giving wine a unique identity and sense of place. Designed to hold 1500 bottles, each nestled in a specially designed, protective polymer boot, the structure had to be installed in pieces. The end result is ‘light to the eye’, according to Steinhobel, rather than monolithic.
Industries: Other Composite End-use areas