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Spring /Summer 2009

Beauty of the Past

Beringer's Rhine House restored

By Ethan Fletcher

As the longest continually operating winery in the valley, Beringer Vineyards has a long history that is intertwined with Napa Valley's own. Which helps explain why the restoration of Beringer's Rhine House, built just eight years after the winery was founded in 1876, demanded such extensive care-and resources.

"This is a spectacular historic landmark," says Naomi Miroglio, the principal architect for Architectural Resources Group, the historical preservation specialists that led the restoration effort. "There is none other that has the artwork, the level of carving, the stained glass-all of it together-to the degree that this house has."

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1972, the Tudor-style Victorian was built by Frederick Beringer, one of the winery's two founding brothers. Inspired by his boyhood home in Germany's Rhine River Valley, Frederick designed the elaborate 17-room mansion to be the jewel of the Beringer estate, and its construction and eventual completion were followed closely by local media and high society.

Among the mansion's unique details are elaborately carved woodwork, imposing Tudor towers, parquet floors, and, perhaps most impressive, 40 custom-made stained glass panels throughout the house. The original construction team included a small army of artisan laborers, and the final cost came in at $28,000, a minor fortune at the time.

The Rhine House's restoration was no less ambitious. Spurred on by state legislation requiring the retrofit of masonry structures, the floor-to-ceiling museum-quality renovation employed its own team of artisan experts. It lasted two full years and racked up a tall tab: $5 million, including the installation of the state-of-the-art geothermal heating and cooling system, which uses running water throughout the structure as a natural insulator.

The results, however, are impressive. The exterior retains its imposing Gothic-Victorian verticality, while the interior reflects the house's original charms, including gleaming refinished floors and woodwork, and the sparkling restored stained glass windows (meticulously performed by Oakland's Nzilani Glass Conservation). One unexpected treasure lending a personal touch to the inside is an elaborate hand-stenciled fresco in the entryway, uncovered while stripping away 124 years' worth of wallpaper. The painstakingly restored mural features a repeating teardrop motif and a message written in German, which reads, in part, "Welcome, who with heart and hand will ever in friendship meet."

Beringer winemaker Laurie Hook says seeing the restored home-which now serves as a private tasting room and visitor center-has given her more appreciation not only for the winery's history but for the region as a whole.

"You tend to move quickly and don't always appreciate what's right around you," says Hook, who has been with Beringer for more than 20 years. "I think that part of the restoration is just stopping to appreciate the home and the history, and the fantastic place that it was built on in the Napa Valley.".

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