Winter / Spring 2006
The Art of the Winery
Uncovering the connection between art and wine
The 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.
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.”
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
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.