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Winter / Spring 2006
Napa Sonoma Magazine

The Art of the Winery

Uncovering the connection between art and wine

By Gary Brady-Herndon

Winery ArtThe beauty and tranquility of Napa and Sonoma wine country inspire a taste for fine living—fine wines, fine foods, and fine arts. Crafting wine is an art form itself, so it follows that winemakers are often active art collectors. Many vintners infuse their love of art into the winery itself—through the building architecture, on their wine labels, and in displays in on-site galleries and on the grounds. Here is a look at some of the most intriguing winery art collections.

A Wine and Art Temple

Few venues in wine country mirror Clos Pegase’s dedication to the marriage of art and winemaking. In fact, Clos Pegase has been called “America’s first monument to wine and art.” Indeed, owners Jan and Mitsuko Shrem designed their grounds specifically to showcase their museum-quality collection. Working with the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in the mid-1980s, the Shrems sponsored a competition that included some of the world’s leading architects. They ultimately commissioned the renowned Michael Graves to build a “temple to wine and art” to house their winemaking facilities, wine caves, and artwork.

The beautiful villa sits tucked away amid vineyards. The winery halls and grounds are dotted with more than 300 pieces of fine and wine-related art, from ancient sculptures of the Roman wine god, Bacchus, to rare ceremonial wine vessels, old vineyard tools, and a collection of 20th-century works; a sculpture garden features some of the best works by Jean Dubuffet, Richard Serra, Henry Moore, and Robert Morris.

The Heart of Photography

Down the road in St. Helena is Mumm Napa, which is noted not only for its world-class sparkling wines but also for two superb fine art–photography galleries. Thirty Ansel Adams originals hang on the walls of an intimate space in the heart of the winery. The photographs include “Monolith,” shot at Yosemite’s Half Dome; “Moonrise-Hernandez, New Mexico”; and a picture of the Sierra Nevada entitled “Winter Sunrise.” Matthew Adams, the photographer’s grandson, donated his collection to Mumm to create this permanent, rotating exhibit of some of Adams’s superlative work, which is a must-see for every aspiring shutterbug.

Adjacent to the Adams Gallery, another space houses three or four traveling shows each year. According to Hospitality Director and Gallery Curator Kathy McClure, Mumm has brought the work of renowned photographers to Napa Valley for the past two decades. The gallery has hosted the World Press Photo Retrospective exhibition, featuring 50 years of photographic history. Mumm Napa is also home to the ever-popular Napa Valley Mustard Festival’s Photo Finish. On display through March is Legends of Rock Photography, featuring some of rock history’s most famous photographers and performers.

For McClure, the galleries perfectly complement the winery. “There’s something about art and the art of winemaking that works together,” she said. “The artistic sensibility of the two just seems to go hand in hand.”

A Hess Collection

When Donald Hess leased his property from the Christian Brothers 1986, he scaled the operation down to fit his needs—which meant housing an art facility as well as a winery. Hess gutted the century-old, three-story, limestone main building to install museum-quality galleries for contemporary art. The stunning design of The Hess Collection’s two galleries, with their polished wooden floors and soaring ceilings, is perfect for the eclectic collection of paintings and sculptures by contemporary European and American artists. The exhibit represents only a small portion of the artwork Hess has acquired over the past 30 years.

Built next to the winery’s production facility, the galleries’ windows allow guests to view the winemaking process while taking in first-class abstract artwork, including pieces by such gifted artists as Francis Bacon, Henri Michaux, and Argentinean Leopoldo Maler. A glass elevator brings guests to the second floor, which is immersed in light. Hess saved his best pieces for this gallery: there are three Robert Motherwell paintings, including one in the artist’s series entitled Elegy to the Spanish Republic. The hauntingly beautiful work of Swiss-born Franz Gertsch takes up the entire third floor.

Architectural Art

Artesa Vineyards and Winery is considered an architectural marvel, and visiting the winery is truly an artistic experience—even before guests reach the galleries. A terraced stairway bordered by cascading streams leads up the hill to the entry, which features fountains, reflecting pools, and sculpture, as well as breathtaking vistas of Sonoma and Napa valleys and San Francisco Bay.

The winery itself is completely underground. Inside, the artwork of acclaimed glass artist (and Artesa resident artist) Gordon Huether is displayed throughout modern, tastefully appointed rooms. The winery’s museum displays historical wine artifacts.

Artesa’s president, Michael Kenton, says that merging art with winemaking is a philosophy of the winery’s parent company, Codorníu. That sensibility dates back 450 years, to when the family first started making wine just west of Barcelona. “Artesa is almost a work of art itself,” Kenton says. “Valuing art is a real part of who we are.”

Old-World Charm

Just outside of Sonoma, Nicholson Ranch Winery is a mixture of old-world European, particularly Spanish and Mediterranean, influences. Located at the foot of gently rolling hills, its rustic beauty and charm typify the wine country lifestyle. The winery’s three galleries include the tasting room, where the works of local and regional artists hang on the walls; the capacious Vintner’s Room, which boasts a massive wall space, tile floor, and high ceiling that can handle large pieces that need room to sprawl; and an intimate gallery on the mezzanine overlooking the tasting room.

Owner Ramona Nicholson believes that promoting artwork is a natural fit for her business and customers. “I wanted to give our guests something in addition to the beautiful setting of our vineyard to help showcase our wines,” Nicholson says.

Wine and Art Meet Country Chic

The owners of Charles Creek Vineyards, Bill and Gerry Brinton, chose to capitalize on Sonoma Square’s charm by opening a tasting room and gallery in a circa-1890s storefront on the square’s north side.

Part country store, part tasting room, part art gallery, wine and art meet country chic in this down-home locale. Indeed, part of the room’s charm is the bucolic view from the front windows, which overlook the square’s duck pond.

The art collection is whimsical. A fanciful, life-size, cow sculpture made out of corks and wine-bottle-neck foil sheaths sports wine-cap hooves. Works by local artists are displayed on the walls in rotating exhibits.

Images of Imagery

Imagery Estate Winery, north of Sonoma, offers a plethora of art. The tasting room features a wall of bottles whose label art was created by top-notch contemporary artists, but this display is only the beginning.

Art is everywhere inside the tasting room. Works in multiple media, including paint, clay, and glass, adorn the walls, tables, and stands. At the back of the room, a small, elegant gallery complements the works on exhibit in the main room. Several other galleries tie into the first, leading visitors in a lazy circle around the building’s interior: A complete circuit comprises artwork from the quirky to the high-tech, from modern to folk.

If you enjoy a dash of fine arts to complement a rich Cabernet Sauvignon and magnificent scenery, come on up to Napa or Sonoma valley and drink in some of Northern California’s finest.

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