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The Winemaker’s Life: A Garden Idyll in Northern California

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The Winemaker’s Life: A Garden Idyll in Northern California

December 1, 2017

Fifteen years ago this fall, Stephen Singer and partner Michel Boynton found a partly abandoned apple orchard for sale on 15 acres in Sebastopol, a tiny town in Northern California. The property had the potential to be an Edenic homestead where Singer could become a winemaker. Soon after, Baker Lane Vineyards was born.

San Francisco architect Keith Anding and landscape architect Andrea Cochran created a modern farm compound, surrounded by a romantic landscape of rolling hills and grapevines. The result? An airy house, plus a winemaker’s barn, a garden shed, a guest house with garage and dog run, and a former dairy building converted into a second guest space. Of primary importance to Singer was that the main house “be, in a sense, an inside-out house, where the barrier between inside and outdoors is quite porous.”

We feature the house on Remodelista today; let’s tour the landscape.

Photography by Daniel Dent for Gardenista.

Above: A galvanized gate welcomes visitors to the property, on unassuming Baker Lane. A gravel auto court and a winemaking facility sit outside the gate, with a garage and dog run adjacent (in translation to farm vernacular, said Cochran, “one might consider this the ‘farmyard,’ where all the equipment is stored”).

On the Baker Lane property, grapevines grow on about six acres; about 92 percent of the grapes are Syrah and the rest are Viognier. A second vineyard a quarter-mile down the road also produces grapes for Baker Lane wines; there Pinot Noir and Syrah (for the label’s rosé) are grown.

Above: A remodel transformed a former dairy building into a guest house. Grapevines grow on the pergola, shading the porch.

The site slopes downhill toward the vineyard. Cochran graded it into a series of small “rooms” with very short, subtle retaining walls, so each outdoor space feels connected to the next.

Above: On the porch of the guest house, three varieties of potted pelargoniums thrive in the Sonoma County climate. A rusted metal ring serves as a “wreath.”

Singer owned an olive oil import business for some time, “born out of a great passion for the oils of Tuscany.” He planted olive trees at Baker Lane in hope of producing oils with a similar flavor profile as the Tuscans he loves. Baker Lane now makes two olive oils: the Occidental Blend ($38 for a 750-milliliter bottle), made from olives grown on a friend’s orchard in Sebastopol, and the Estate Tuscan (starting at $24 for a 375-milliliter bottle), made from a blend of Tuscan olives grown at Baker Lane.

Above: Inspired by sculptor Richard Serra’s Tilted Arc, a 1980s public art installation in New York City that sparked controversy and was ultimately removed, Boynton envisioned the hedge garden maze. “It provides an intriguing visual feel and helps separate the guest cottage from the main house,” said Singer.

Part of the property was once a Gravenstein apple orchard; some trees were removed to make way for the house and new landscaping, but “the trees are so beautiful, we tried to save as many as we could,” said Cochran. The survivors are visible on the far side of the pool.

Above: Electricity from solar panels heats the lap pool. In the summer, Singer swims nearly every day, he says, “but I don’t swim when it’s not environmentally appropriate to keep it warm” in the colder months.

It was always Singer’s intention for the property to serve as an ambassador for the Baker Lane brand. He hosts pickup parties for wine club members two to three times each year—events at which Singer finds himself grilling pizzas for hours on end—plus occasional one-off events and tastings by appointment. Though they don’t have the hospitality resources of a huge outfit, says Singer, they welcome guests to the property because “the environment here says something about what we’re trying to do with our wines.”

Above: At the north end of the pool is a small kitchen garden that Boynton tends. Anding designed an adjoining garden shed that evokes the regional vernacular of a farm building, he said. “Its vocabulary of materials reinforces the idea that the property is a compound of different buildings.”
Above: A chaise lounge and matching table at the north end of the pool.

Cochran describes the landscape as “quiet, and supportive of Anding’s design.”

“When working on a site like this, you want to avoid making it look suburban,” she said. “You want to keep it honest and real; minimal, but designed. In this way, we were picking up on the cues from the buildings and their honest, simple materials,” she said.

Above: Adjacent to the garden shed is a potting table with Boynton’s garden projects underway.
Above: Boynton nurtures strawberry seedlings in aluminum pie pans.
Above: An outdoor shower is connected to the master bathroom in the main house.

Above: A wooden bench overlooks the vines and olive orchard. The throw is an Oda Oversized Scarf ($400) from Permanent Collection (Stephen Singer’s daughter, Fanny Singer, is the co-founder of the brand).
A concrete porch wraps around the south and west-facing sides of the house. “It feels integrated into the house,” said Singer, “and offers an alternative way to be in those places.”

Above: Baker Lane 2016 Rosé ($20) served in tall, yellow-banded Acqua e Vino glasses from Permanent Collection. The flower arrangement with Gravenstein apple is by Fanny, made with cuttings from her father’s garden.
Above: Rows of grapevines create a picturesque backdrop.

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