The Dart Winegrowers Of Ara Marlborough

By Graham Hepburn

When Winegrowers of Ara commissioned an operations centre for its vineyard, they wanted to make a statement.
As well as making a visual statement with the building, they wanted to make a statement of intent about their commitment to making high quality, boutique wines on a large scale on their 1600ha vineyard in Marlborough’s Waihopai Valley.
The Dart, so-called because it resembles a paper plane from the air, is the first of a family of four planned buildings for the site, a river terrace at the confluence of the Wairau and Waihopai rivers that used to be the Bankhouse sheep station.

From its very first days, Winegrowers of Ara has taken care to invest in a master-planning process for the vineyard as a whole: a long-term, collaborative process involving representatives of Winegrowers of Ara in conjunction with  lead architects Warren and Mahoney, Hillery Priest Architecture, landscape architects Boffa Miskell and brand identity and design consultants Designworks Enterprise IG.

The Dart, which was opened in March, is the first built expression of this massive undertaking, as well as the company’s philosophy to create a sustainable yet functional vineyard. The building is designed to be one of the finest vineyard staff environments in the world, fit for a community of wine people whose shared goal is to produce wines that express the site’s unique characteristics and set a New World standard in wine.

Winegrowers of Ara general manager Damian Martin says the building may look dramatic but it is also extremely practical as you would expect of an operations centre that houses vehicles and machinery, workshops, offices, meeting rooms, a lunchroom, and workers’ showers and changing rooms.

“It’s a mixture of form and function - even the architectural features do have a function,” Damian says. “At the western end of the building the roof folds down over a stone embankment and one of the reasons it does that is the roof deflects the wind up and over the forecourt.”
The way the ZINCALUME® roof folds down creates an arrowhead pointing west that nestles into stones mounded high around it.  Apart from protecting the building and workers from the elements, this form was part of a design concept to make the building look part of the land.

The Dart’s distinctive shape also serves another purpose, as Damian points out. “One thing we were keen to do is make it look like a graphic from the air because this so site is so massive we think that a lot of people will only see the building aerially.”

John Coop, of architects Warren and Mahoney, came up with the design when he began folding bits of paper while he was sitting on a flight from Los Angeles to Auckland.
From there, the building began to take shape and it has gone on to win a local award for commercial architecture this year from the Zealand Institute of Architects - and it is among the finalists for a national award.

The structure is 9m high, 80m long and 45m wide, with 100m of garaging frontage within. A large, fully enclosed forecourt allows space for vineyard machinery to be stored, maintained and repaired,
The full-height entry and exit gates on either side of the building are also a striking design feature. These steel gates, which weigh 2 tonnes each, sit opposite each other on the north and south sides of The Dart so when they are rolled back they create a 10m-wide gap so you can see through the building to the vines on the other side. When closed, the gates provide the security needed when you are garaging expensive equipment in an isolated rural setting.

Just like the ZINCALUME® roofing, the other building materials are ones with low maintenance finishes and sustainability in mind. The exterior cladding is exposed aggregate concrete panels that have been made on site, while the decking and flooring is red beech sourced from a sustainably grown forest in South Westland. There is also extensive use of plywood linings internally.
At the eastern end of the building is the lunchroom, which is 30m x 8m and boasts an open fire. The large wooden tables and benches can seat about 100 people. The lunchroom opens to a deck with more seating that overlooks a landscaped garden and pond designed to create a restful setting.

“The lunchroom and garden is an oasis from what can be very hot or cold conditions out in the vineyard,” says Damian. “One of the reasons we built it was our approach in the vineyard is quite labour intensive so we have a lot of staff. We want to make sure we can get workers and keep them and that they’re happy in their work. Both our permanent staff and our casuals are very happy to be in the building.”

Creating a gathering point for all staff was also part of the thinking so that knowledge and ideas could be shared among the wider group, encouraging a communal approach to managing the vineyard.
Upstairs there is office space and presentation rooms with views out over the vines.

Damian says The Dart is the first of a planned three operation buildings on the site, which measures 9km long by 2-3km wide. It is servicing the 400ha of vines they already have planted and as the remaining 1200ha is planted, predominantly with pinot noir and sauvignon blanc, the other buildings will go up so there are three buildings serving as operations hubs. A winery with tasting rooms is also in the pipeline.
He says the scale of the vineyard demands having these hubs spread throughout to maintain efficiency. The other two operations centres will be similar to the Dart with some adjustments for their sites.
While they’ve taken a modern approach to their architecture, Winegrowers of Ara are using some old-fashioned values to craft their wines. They have narrower rows much like the older European vineyards and a labour-intensive approach to grape growing.
Because they aim for lower crop yields in the pursuit of higher quality grapes, their vines are lighter and can be supported by steel stakes rather than wooden posts. The stakes have several advantages: they last longer than wood and are easier to recycle, and they allow the wires to be closer together on the rows. Overhead sprinklers, which mimic the effect of light rain, are used to fight frost and they are also encourage deeper root growth than drip irrigation.

Winegrowers of Ara have so far produced two brands of sauvignon blanc and pinot noir wines: the premium level Composite, which is made with grapes from blocks throughout the vineyard, and the super-premium Resolute, which comes from a single block at the heart of the site. The former is designed to be consistent in style and flavour year on year, while the latter, which is an elegant wine of great complexity and finesse will be more subject to vintage variation. For more information on Winegrowers of Ara and its wines, please visit:

While it might seem a daunting project that Winegrowers of Ara have taken on, they can take some comfort from the fact that, like The Dart, the wines are gaining early praise.

Warren and Mahoney

Established in 1958 as a partnership, Warren and Mahoney has grown over the years to become one of New Zealand’s leading architectural practices. In that time the company has won many awards for its new buildings as well as refurbishments for large commercial and government organisations. Last year, Warren and Mahoney became New Zealand’s first accredited CarboNZero architects and has developed a plan that involves monitoring carbon emissions, lowering them where possible and encouraging staff to think about ways to reduce the company’s carbon footprint. The firm is a founding member of the New Zealand Green Building Council (NZGBC) and has, over the last 10 years, become increasingly focused on environmentally sustainable design, developing protocols that cover materials, waste management and energy efficiency. Two recent projects involving Warren and Mahoney – the Meridian Energy building in Wellington, and the Deloitte building in Auckland - became the first buildings in New Zealand to be awarded a 5 Star Green Star rating by the NZGBC.

Architectural Design:
Warren and Mahoney in conjunction with Hillery Priest Architecture and landscape architects Boffa Miskell.
Warren and Mahoney
(9) 916 5057

Contractor: TH Barnes,
Telephone: 03 578 9329

Roofing Manufacturer:

Roofing profile: ZINCALUME® Dimondek 630
Cladding: ZINCALUME® LT7

Roofing installer: 
Nelson Marlborough Roofing Ltd.
Telephone: 0800 101 155

Jean-Marc La-Roque
Patrick Reynolds