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The Otherworldly Architecture and Natural Beauty of Los Milics Winery in Elgin

Set between vineyards and the Mustang Mountains, with its rocky landmark called the “Biscuit,” the new tasting room reads like an art installation on the landscape.

In Elgin, Chen + Suchart Studio designs a tasting room like no other for Los Milics Vineyards.

By Nora Burba Trulsson | Photography by Austin Larue Baker

On the horizon of Southern Arizona’s rolling grasslands, the structure is mysterious. Cutting a swath through a vineyard planted with varietals such as petit verdot, grenache and Montepulciano, a series of 20-foot-tall steel-clad monoliths leads the eye toward the nearby Mustang Mountains. Evoking a comparison to a modern-day Stonehenge, the assemblage looks like an abstract art installation, open to interpretations and reactions.

The structure is, in fact, the newly built tasting room for Los Milics Vineyards in Elgin, a modern, minimalist tour de force designed by the husband-and-wife architectural team of Thamarit “Tommy” Suchart and Patricia Szu-Ping Chen Suchart, known for their less-is-more, artistic approach to projects. “Our goal here was to create something that was not a building but rather a sculpture that happens to be a tasting room,” explains Tommy. “We wanted it to be respectful of the landscape—and to make the landscape better.” 

The project was commissioned by Los Milics partners Ita and Pavle Milic, and Stephanie and Mo Garfinkle, and its seeds were planted years ago when the Sucharts became regular dinner guests at FnB restaurant in Scottsdale, co-owned by Pavle. “I never really knew what the two of them did for a living,” recalls Pavle of the Sucharts, “but one night, they asked me for some advice on a hospitality project they were working on. I found their Instagram site and was blown away by their vision. Their work is incredible.”

In 2018, when the Milics and the Garfinkles purchased the land in Elgin, they began transforming 20 acres that were once part of a cattle-grazing operation into a vineyard with a production facility and tasting room. They immediately thought of the Sucharts to help express in concrete form their approach to crafting unique Arizona wines.

First up was a practical production building—a prefab steel structure, but the tasting room was to be the piéce de résistance. “Of course, we told Patricia and Tommy of our aspirations for the building and that we didn’t want anything conventional,” recalls Pavle, who is the Los Milics winemaker,  “but the design is 100 percent them. We trusted them and admire their talents.”

The Sucharts picked a spot amid the vineyards, wanting the tasting room to be all about the surrounding landscape, and focused the main view on the Mustang Mountains and the range’s iconic rocky landmark, known locally as the “Biscuit.”

1. Steel panels obscure part of the landscape views and lead visitors up the path to the entrance. 2. Early-season grapes await the fall harvest. 3. From the exterior, a glass-walled pod seems to break free of the steel monoliths. 4. Simple landscape elements differentiate the entry path from the vineyard.

“We did a few first sketches,” explains Patricia, “but we decided that those initial ideas looked too much like a building.” Instead, they came up with the idea of the free-standing, weathered steel monoliths, rising from the ground in a cone formation, narrower toward one end and opening up toward the mountains. The tasting room itself is a glass box, set within the wider part of the formation.

“We created an entry experience that leads visitors from the parking lot, through the vineyard and toward a narrow courtyard,” explains Tommy. “As they walk, they get to experience the landscape, but they’re not yet fully understanding the building.” Within the courtyard, gaps between the metal panels reveal only parts of the landscape. Inside the building, glass walls open to vistas of vines and mountains. “We deliberately choreographed the views,” notes Tommy.

1. Inside, a glass-walled nook juts out into the vineyard, amplifying the tasting experience. 2. Viewed from deep within the vineyard, the tasting room reveals itself between the steel monoliths. The production facility is visible in the distance.

The 3,400-square-foot tasting room includes a long bar where guests can sample and buy Los Milics’ dozen or so wines, open space and glass-enclosed nooks for seating, a private tasting room and a kitchen that serves up tapas-style plates and charcuterie offerings.

The Sucharts kept the interior simple, keeping the focus on the setting by using dark tones, repeating the weathered steel indoors and adding warmth with walnut details. Ground concrete flooring flows out to a covered patio that frames the Biscuit, accessible from inside via a 40-foot telescoping glass wall. They worked with interior designer Vivian Ullman to select simple, modern furniture that complements the architecture.

Completed last year, the tasting room ups the ante for architecture within Arizona’s burgeoning wine industry. “We have a different take on design, so we wanted this project to be unique,” says Tommy. “I don’t believe there is anything like this in the state.”

The Sucharts aren’t quite done with their involvement with Los Milics Vineyards. They’ve designed casitas for overnight guests, scheduled to be completed next year.

The tasting room, however, has proven to be a hit for owners and visitors alike. “What I love about the tasting room is that it’s an abstraction, nestled in the vineyards,” says Pavle. “The cavalcade of steel monoliths gives away nothing until you’re in the building—and then it’s all about the surroundings. It’s all the perfect amalgamation of architecture, winemaking and food.”

SOURCES

Los Milics Vineyards, Elgin, losmilicsvineyards.com. Architects: Patricia Szu-Ping Chen Suchart, AIA, and Thamarit Suchart, AIA, Chen + Suchart Studio, Scottsdale, chensuchartstudio.com. Builder: Mills Design Group, Sonoita, millsdesigngroup.com. Furniture selection and placement: Vivian Ullman, Paradise Valley, Environs, environsandevents.com.

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