The landscape was already in place: rich soils, sloping hills and a climate ideal for producing wine. The plans for the winery itself were almost perfect: a state-of-the-art, five-level gravity flow facility, designed to move wine through its stages of production.
But the Nicholson Ranch Vineyards and Winery needed something to top off its location in the southern foothills of the Sonoma Valley: a variegated slate roof.
When Nicholson Ranch partners Ramona Nicholson and Deepak Gulrajani began planning the construction phases of their winery four years ago, a slate roof was a top priority.
“We built the winery in 2003 and designed it to blend in with our beautiful California landscape of golden hillsides dotted with dark green oak trees,” Nicholson says. “We selected this slate because it had the warm earthen colors we wanted.”
The roof material was one of the first design decisions Nicholson had to make because the weight of the roof dictates the structure of the building. “Slate is the absolute heaviest material, so our walls are built to carry the extra weight,” Nicholson says. “Our roof is a major design element for our winery.”
Finding the Perfect SlateTo find the quality of slate the winery deserved, Nicholson employed the services of Alex Echeguren, president and CEO of Echeguren Slate Inc., of San Francisco, who specializes in importing, exporting and distributing a wide range of exotic slate roofing tiles.
“Slate is basically a colorful, beautiful natural material,” Echeguren says. “Some roofing slates weather, others don’t. That’s part of the product description. This particular slate [used for the Nicholson Ranch] does not weather. There may be a slight weathering property to it. But since it starts out so colorful, it will not change much. The different minerals give it a multi-color characteristic.”
Echeguren was well aware the growing season at Nicholson Ranch is marked by sun-filled days giving way to cool evenings, creating a superb wine-growing environment. He understood Nicholson Ranch is reminiscent of early California structures, with double-thick walls and deep overhangs. The doors, windows and tongue-and-groove ceilings were all constructed of native fir, while salvaged old-growth redwood was used for the lintels, shutters and trellises.
Adding to the ranch’s charm would be a variegated slate trimmed roof with copper gutters. While the exterior finish at Nicholson Ranch uses a special French lime technique in subtle earthen colors to blend with the hills, the design, materials and palate were selected to create a winery that blends with its California wine country setting.
“They used China Imperial Blend, a multi-color slate from China,” Echeguren says. “Other minerals, including tourmaline, can give slate a reddish brown to bluish violet colors.”
Echeguren knows slate; he’s been in the business for over 20 years. “There’s been consistent growth in slate roofing on the West Coast,” he says. “More of appreciation for natural materials in the West. We basically started selling roofing slate for high-end residential construction. This winery project falls into hybrid commercial/hospitality development, and we’ve done quite a few over the years. It’s maybe part of tradition; French chateaus, wineries - the architecture loans itself to slate.”
Echeguren is an importer, exporter and distributor of slate. “We bring materials in from all over the world,” he says. “The slate comes from out East: Vermont, New York. But we handle Spanish, Welsh, Brazilian, South Africa roofing slate, Chinese and Indian roofing slate.”
“We have a stockyard with 120 truckloads of slate and stone,” Echeguren continues. “We have a drop ship, too. We did a resort in New Zealand: 500,000 square feet. We’ve exported to Mexico and Canada. Basically, we import exotic slate and market it to the architectural design community.”
But Echeguren admits his exotic slate is only as good as the contractor who installs it. “On the Nicholson Ranch, good guys put it on,” Echeguren says. “It came out beautiful.”
The InstallationWhile Echeguren was supplying the quality slate, Brian Alton of ANC Roofing in Santa Rosa, Calif., was supplying the workmanship. “That’s a beautiful winery,” says Alton, president of ANC Roofing. “It needed a slate roof.”
Alton said the project began with the installation of two membrane layers of 30-pound felt “because it was a pretty good slope.”
“Normally under slate we like to use peel and stick membrane, but because it was so steep the owner opted not to use peel and stick,” Alton says. “It was pretty wide open, some roof jacks here and there.”
Safety is always a concern when dealing with heavy slate, but Alton has remedies. “We had to build some platforms at the ridge because it was so steep to load the slate on the roof,” Alton says. “We loaded the slate up there and started laying slate. On steeper sections we had to lay it out of a boom lift. We had to deal with a big tower that was 40- to 50-feet in the air.”
Alton used safety harnesses on the main portion of the project and worked out of boom basket for the ranch tower. “For this, typically we use harnesses and/or tote boards, steeple jacks,” he says.
Still, the biggest challenge for Alton’s crew was broken slate. “Normally we don’t have that amount of broken slate, but it happens, so we had to order new slate,” Alton concedes. “I figure there is around 10 percent breakage on all projects we do. On this one, I would say between 20 to 25 percent breakage. The challenge was ordering the material. But Alex helped us out since the net breakage was higher than normal.”
The Finished Project“I really like slate on the steeper roofs,” Alton says. “We’ve done custom homes where you can really see it. We’ve done some lower slope homes where you don’t see it. One thing: it’ll last a long time. We install all our slate with copper nails, copper wire - that way it will last a long time.”
Despite the ongoing challenges, Alex Echeguren says moving around hundreds of thousands of pounds of slate from remote Third World countries is the easy part. “The problem moving slate into the U.S. is basically having the right stock quantities,” Echeguren says. “Having availability for tight American construction schedules is the hard part.”
“Basically, we try and bring in a good quality product at competitive prices,” Echeguren concludes. “We try and provide superior customer service in the form of technical information. Whatever problem solving, assisting technical service we can provide.”
And what about the finished product? “We are very happy with how it turned out,” Nicholson says.
For more information about Echeguren Slate Inc., visit www.echeguren.com.