Napa Valley Landscape Design
Vineyard in 1938, images courtesy Pam-Anela Messenger.In 1876 John Weinberger, an Ohio native, purchased a 240-acre estate in St. Helena, CA, where he settled with his family and founded the J.C. Weinberger Winery. He operated the business for only six years before a former employee murdered him. His widow Hannah continued the business, successfully operating the winery until the onset of Prohibition in 1920 forced its closure. The unoccupied estate gradually fell into disrepair until Maurice Harrison purchased it in 1938, five years after the end of Prohibition.
Harrison engaged noted San Francisco architect, F. Bourn Hayne, to renovate the existing Victorian-style house, which was in dire condition. Because of its poor state, the house was demolished and Hayne instead remodeled the upper floors of the stone winery (built with tufa stone from the Weinberger quarry) into the primary residence. Hayne recommended Harrison hire his Harvard colleague Thomas Church to design the home’s landscape.
The plan, which is a rare existing design for a vineyard by Church, contained many of his signature design elements – gently sweeping roads and paths, and careful grading. An entrance road led from the property’s edge at St. Helena Highway to the home, where a retaining wall was built to provide level terraces for a parking court, garden, lawn and swimming pool. At the west end of the court the lawn descended three feet into the garden where the entrance was originally flanked by apple trees.
The west garden was designed on axis with the house, with broad, low steps at the far end leading to a secluded seating area originally paved with redwood rounds (over time, these rotted and were replaced with flagstone). Behind the house, Church designed a 20 x 40-foot swimming pool. A pair of cypress trees flank the western edge of the terrace, adding to the symmetry of the design. Dense plantings surround the garden, creating a private enclave.
(upper) Photo by Pam-Anela Messenger; (middle) Photo by Pam-Anela
Messenger; (lower) Photo by Jane Ballentine.The Harrison family sold the property, and the landscape was neglected under subsequent ownership. The Ballentine’s have gone to great lengths to research the property, acquiring Church’s original Garden Study from 1938 (now framed and hanging in their foyer), as well as photographs taken when the Hayne remodeling was completed. They restored the winery to its original use in 2004, while still maintaining part of the building as their home, and are currently in the process of restoring the gardens.