This post continues my ongoing coverage of wine country travel.
I’ve written about Napa in the past, but while I’ve enjoyed visiting the area’s wineries, spas and luxury bed and breakfasts, I never experienced the incredible art collections that you can find in the valley until this year.
This month, the Napa Valley Arts in April program is featuring geographic specific, week-long tours of the Valley’s wineries with art collections, including Mondavi, Clos Pegase, Markham and the Hess Collection.
I had a chance to visit these wineries in February, along with the amazing di Rosa collection that’s also in the Valley. Here’s a look at some of the highlights that art lovers can encounter if they visit Napa Valley:
Calistoga (April 1 – 8)
Winery owner and art collector Jan Shrem is almost as much of a legend as the masterpieces that hang on his walls. He made a fortune in the Japanese publishing industry, then turned to wine at his wife Mitsuko’s urging.
“How do you make a small fortune in the wine business?” he asked our small group in his office, graced with a few of the modern pieces he loves. “Start with a large fortune.”
Most of us don’t have large fortunes. Along with the events that are taking place during Arts in April, some hotels and B&Bs are having specials.
Shrem told us that he loved art before he loved wine; he drew as a boy before giving it up. Pegasus is the winery’s symbol precisely because the horse unleashed the Spring of the Muses, according to legend. Architecture is also important to Shrem; he and his wife held a competition to design their dream winery and residence, choosing Michael Graves.
Touring the winery with Shrem proved to be a delight. He’s ebullient, romantic (he presented his wife with a box of earth one Valentine’s Day. “What kind of gift is this?” she asked. It’s your vineyard, Shrem replied) and highly quotable. On wine: “It’s delicious, it’s nutritious, it makes you feel sexy and ambitious.” He’s also fluent in social media, and sends out email as soon as he meets people.
Many of the paintings and sculptures around the winery represent Bacchus, the God of wine. As part of the Arts in April program, Shrem played Bacchus this past weekend at a 45-minute multi-media presentation, “Bacchus the Rascal, A Bacchanalian History of Wine Seen Through 4,000 Years of Art.” I wish I could have seen it.
St. Helena & Rutherford (April 9 – 15)
We had another wine meets art experience at Markham Vineyards, located in St. Helena, when photographer Baron Wolman walked us through his exhibit of iconic images that he shot for Rolling Stone.
Wolman served as the magazine’s first chief photographer, and he documented it all, from Woodstock to the Doors to the groupies behind the scenes. “That was the great thing about Rolling Stone. You could do anything, and we did,” he said.
I loved hearing the stories from the days when the barriers between musicians and journalists weren’t so huge. I also discovered that Baron went to Northwestern, just as I did. Go Cats! I liked the photos so much that I bought a print of Frank Zappa for my husband, who thinks the Mothers of Invention were just that, as a surprise gift.
Wolman will be giving a presentation on Saturday April 14, from 11 am to1 pm. It costs $10 per person, reservations required. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Oakville & Yountville (April 16-22)
From Markham, we traveled down valley, to the one of the Big Kahunas of Napa Valley, Robert Mondavi. Many know that Mondavi was the first major winery built in Napa Valley. But many don’t know that it was his wife Margrit Mondavi who brought the fine arts, music and culinary programs into the mix.
We had lunch with Margrit during our tour. Born in Switzerland to a family that loved art, music and wine, she studied art before coming the United States. Soon after she arrived at the winery, she started a gallery program on Sundays, partly in an effort to get people to visit Napa. Now the winery has a large collection, both of permanent pieces and rotating exhibits. (And Margrit still lives her life with an eye to art – check out her silver shoes in the photo above!)
Our tour introduced me to the work of Beniamino Bufano, a San Francisco sculptor. He loved animals, and several of the sculptures on the winery grounds reflect that (children like to climb on them, we were told).
Normally Mondavi tastings and tours usually run between $15 to $50. But from April 16 through April 22, the winery will be holding complimentary docent-led tours that include a wine tasting. Call 888-766-6328
Napa, Carneros & American Canyon (April 23-30)
Our last stop took us to the Hess Collection, a winery that contains pieces from owner Donald Hess’s extensive private collection, one of the largest in the world.
Hess, who began collecting art in 1966, has an interesting approach to collecting, a staff curator told us. Instead of buying a piece here, a piece there, Hess looks to develop a long-term relationship with the artist he collects. How does he know if an artist is worthy? If Hess wakes up at night thinking about a painting or piece, that’s a sign that he should invest.
One of those artists in the collection is Lynn Hershman Leeson. She’s put together a film about the feminist art movement, featuring a score by Portlandia actress/musician Carrie Brownstein, that will debut on Saturday, April 28, as part of the Arts in April celebration.
I came away from this particular Napa trip impressed with the level of art that’s in the Valley. While I normally go to Napa to relax, drink wine and – I admit it – get a spa treatment or two, the area has attracted so many art lovers and patrons who share their wealth with the rest of us. If we lived in San Francisco, we’d be up here all the time, particularly in the winter and spring when it’s not as crowded.
My visit to Napa was sponsored by the Napa Valley Destination Council, but my opinions remain my own.