A Chinese proverb says, “First, luck; second, destiny; third, Feng Shui; fourth, virtues; fifth, education”. Luck, destiny, and virtue are all part of creating fine wine, and Howard Park, in the Cowaramup district of Margaret River in Western Australia, also fulfils the other two criteria. The winery complex, designed by Peter Hobbs of Jones Coulter Young Architects & Urban Planners, won theCommercial Category award from The Royal Australian Institute of Architects in 2000. Approximately 120,000 cases are produced each year, only 10% of which is bottled under the Howard Park label, with the second label Madfish accounting for the bulk of winemaking activities.
Jeff Burch and his wife Amy – who hails from Singapore – purchased Howard Park Wines in 1993. Amy suggested to Peter Hobbsthat the new winery design should follow the principles of the ancient Chinese discipline Feng Shui. Peter Hobbs commented, “the Feng Shui ideas were easy to accommodate because essentially they are the application of common sense – where a door faces, and so on. Professor Chang – a Feng Shui master from China – was consulted, and when one is dealing with somebody with a great understanding of the issues they tend to be less dogmatic than somebody with less understanding (i.e. a Western specialist). Consequently, the Feng Shui was a nice thing to think about and work into the design.”
The new winery was completed in January 2000 – a year of the Dragon in China, and an auspicious year for new business ventures and taking risks. (Dragon babies are also considered lucky). Howard Park was also “born” under the rabbit birth sign – probably the first time that a rabbit has been welcome in a vineyard.
The winery and cellar door complex stands on the highest point of the property in the southern corner of the 330-acre estate. Howard Park’s (male) “magic number” is 9, which suggests an “east” personality that benefits from facing north, and so the public end of the building was oriented due north. One building with a large skillion roof – sloping from the side of the building, and widely used throughout Australia and New Zealand – which ranges in height from four to nine metres, houses every aspect of the estate’s production, encompassing grape fermentation processes and waste disposal, as well as all front of house activities. The planning also allowed for a sequential tour of the winery as part of an educational theme. This tour ensures that the public are safely separated from the production activities while gaining a good overview of the winemaking process. The building splits into a double storey administration area at its highest point, and a boardroom located in the apex of the building has a spectacular elevated view over the surrounding countryside and vines.
Red and white; Yin and Yang
The Five Elements in Feng Shui are wood, metal, fire, earth, and water, all of which are present in some form at Howard Park. The Five Elements are interrelated: wood, for example, is helped by water, but harmed by metal; metal is helped by earth, but harmed by fire; and water is helped by metal, but weakened by wood. A balance of the Elements is needed to create beneficial chi, and so Howard Park has made extensive use of glass, concrete and stainless steel. Metal objects speed up the flow of chi, and the reflective surfaces suggest efficiency and work. The grain of wood suggests fluidity and movement, with polished wood conducting chi especially quickly. On a more practical level, Peter Hobbs said, “the winery form and materials are informed by the requirements of the building section to accommodate certain winery functions. The materials are the same used in the production area and were chosen for their longevity, robustness, and thermal qualities”.
Shapes were also considered. Howard Park is a combination of a “wood-shaped” building (tall and thin, and good for new businesses) and an “earth-shaped” building (long and low, and good for storage, warehousing, and agriculture). Feng Shui suggests that the rectangular shape of the complex is conducive to good chi.Sharp edges are bad chi (and dangerous for cellar staff), so no sharp angles were permitted.
Although clearly based on Feng Shui principles, Jeff and Amy Burch stated that “the winery has been designed with wine excellence as the primary concern. Our vision was to create a building with a modern expression that is built to grow old rather than be built ‘olde’”. Peter Hobbs also confirmed, “we deliberately chose to design the building as a modern building that could age rather than attempt to construct a building that looked pre-aged: the whole idea of vintage is one of ageing naturally”. Jeff and Amy Burch also believe, “the scale of operation demands that Howard Park is unequivocally a factory for making fine wines, and that the factory aesthetic should be celebrated rather than disguised” .The extensive use of concrete throughout the cellar door and winery conveys the resulting “factory” architectural expression, though this is balanced by the more aesthetic use of glass (which takes advantage of the views) and locally grown timber. Peter Hobbs defined the style of the building as “utilitarian modernism”.
The essential theme of Howard Park’s architecture, however, is based on Yin and Yang, the concept of opposing but interdependent ideas and objects. Thus there are contrasts such as light and dark; interior and exterior; low and high; stillness and movement; passive and active; cold and heat, and so on, all of which are typically found in a winemaking environment. Howard Park also enjoys a feminine/ masculine concept with its married owners.
Enter the Dragon
The plants and large desk inside Howard Park’s public tasting facility contribute towards an energetic space and positive chi. The size of the entrance door has been built to a specific measurement to enable good luck (or, on a more pragmatic level, thirsty visitors) to flow through. Feng Shui asserts that doors open, allowing access, and close, acting as a barrier, so that the cellar door here is both welcoming and secure.
Bright natural lighting is achieved by the large windows facing north, which also form a connection with the natural world outside. Too much light, however, results in an excess of chi, creating yang (negative energy). Metal and glass are yang materials, moving energy quickly. Dark wood, by contrast, slows energy – hence its use in the cellar door, to make people linger.
The most striking object at the cellar door is Andrew Carter’s abstract work Howard Park Trees. The two-dimensional sculpture is displayed on the long, grey concrete walls (left bare because paint contains harmful chemicals – anathema to Feng Shui) that contrast with the colours of the surrounding forest area and the brilliance of Margaret River’s natural light.
The Tiger and the Tortoise
Feng Shui is fundamentally an environmental science and has also influenced Howard Park’s landscaped gardens, which have been sculpted so as to form a visual whole with the winery. “The Leston vineyard”, said vineyard manager David Burch, “has also been created with visual aesthetics in mind so that it does not affect too much on the original native bush”. This philosophy appears to have been successful, as 26 species of bird have been identified on the estate so far.
Architect Peter Hobbs explained how “we chose the site with the clients and spent a morning locating the building on the land. The exact orientation was fine-tuned by the Feng Shui. The choice of site was influenced by the landscape, providing opportunities for the retention of trees, and the creation of lawns and vistas. Amy Burch had a very clear idea of the way she wanted the gardens, and was responsible for the landscape detail after these initial discussions”.
The flow of the water to and from the property should be in the auspicious northern direction: The Willyabrup Brook runs into the north of the estate. There are also three dams – water is considered a symbol of wealth – though Feng Shui decrees that too large a pond symbolically drowns us. The flow of the water in the brook forms a ying to the yang of the static vineyards.
With Feng Shui architecture, the classic “Four Animals” formation governs the location of a building and its vista. The Tortoise is a backdrop and gives support with something solid like clumps of trees. The Tiger (to the west) and Dragon (to the east) protect, with the Tiger ideally in a slightly lower and flatter position. The Phoenix marks the front of the boundary, also with a small clump of trees or a rock. Howard Park follows these criteria closely, with the clumps of tall marri and jarrah trees surrounding the winery creating good chi, and vineyards to the east and west. Set amongst an existing copse of trees, the public entry from Caves Road is via a leafy canopy, with the spectacular views to the north deliberately concealed until from within the building. The meandering entrance roads and paths slow down energy, offer different views, and are welcoming. Steadily moving traffic on curving roads is beneficial for chi, too.
The Tao of winemaking
There are some intriguing parallels between winemaking and Feng Shui. The Five elements can always be found in a winery or vineyard: wood is represented by barrels; metal by steel tanks; fire by sunshine; earth by the soil in the vineyards; and water by a river, a lake, a sea, or rain. The balance of the Five Elements that Feng Shui seeks recalls the notion of balance in a wine, which might equally be said to have five elements (fruit, tannin, acidity, alcohol, and sweetness/dryness). Chi is defined as the “spirit”, the style, and the feel of a place, which certainly brings to mind terroir, as does the influence of mountains and water in the philosophy of Feng Shui.
Feng Shui’s underlying philosophy of Tao states that human activity should never dictate nature, and that the results of human intervention should look natural – a sound basis for making fine wine. Feng Shui’s study of the movement of celestial bodies and the recommendation that activities be undertaken at an auspicious time is also very close to the principles of Biodynamic viticulture and winemaking.
With its aesthetic principles, and its concern for and interpretation of the environment, Feng Shui is an attractive alternative to pure function in the architectural – and winemaking – process.
A SELECTION OF OLDER HOWARD PARK WINES
2004 Howard Park Riesling
A little austere, but rich and elegant and will certainly age well. Minerally and fresh. The grapes are sourced from the cool climate Mount Barker and Porongurups districts in the Great Southern region of Western Australia – and it shows.
2002 Howard Park Leston Shiraz
This is Howard Park’s only single vineyard wine, made with fruit from the “Station 4” block of the Leston vineyard surrounding the winery. Plenty of plummy fruit, with firm tannins on the finish.
2002 Howard Park Scotsdale Cabernet Sauvignon
Sourced from premium vineyards in the Great Southern, this has a leafy nose, with good varietal character. The palate is tight and lean, suggesting good ageing potential.
2001 Howard Park Cabernet Sauvignon
A blend of 71% Great Southern and 29% Margaret River fruit, this is also lean and austere, and still very tight. Although aged in 100% new oak barrels for 23 months before bottling, the flavours are predominantly savoury.