Creativity is on display everywhere in Napa and Sonoma.
Viticulturalists have elevated grape-growing to an art form, winery architects have developed a Wine Country aesthetic based on promoting a dialogue between structures and the land, and talented chefs dazzle eye and palate with intricate cuisine. Many wineries, arts organizations, and individual talents have helped raise the cultural bar ever higher, displaying highbrow and accessible artworks on warehouse walls and in tasting rooms, galleries, residential neighborhoods, and even the vineyards. Below are our must-do art-lovers’ excursions.
Top Picks for You
The Hess Collection
WHAT: Serious Art by Heavy Hitters
Artworks by modern and contemporary heavy hitters fill the Hess Collection‘s two-floor 13,000-square-foot gallery. The art, collected by Swiss-born vintner Donald Hess over several decades, includes pivotal pieces by Robert Rauschenberg, Anselm Kiefer, Lynn Hershman-Leeson, Francis Bacon, Andy Goldsworthy, and Magdalena Abakanowicz, among many others.
INSIDER TIPAdmission is free to the Hess Collection gallery, but you drove way up Mt. Veeder so why not stay and sip some wine? You can taste indoors at the bar, but in good weather head out to the tree-shaded courtyard to enjoy a glass or bottle (reservations recommended) or a pairing of three top wines and gourmet bites.
The Donum Estate
WHAT: Outdoor Sculptures
It’s fitting that most of The Donum Estate‘s three dozen–plus large-scale outdoor sculptures grace the winery’s lush vineyards, where winegrower Anne Moller-Racke’s mastery of precision farming yields Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays that are works of art themselves. The visual feast begins with Jaume Plensa’s marble Sanna, Giant Head, which looms over the driveway leading to the board-and-batten hospitality center, itself a stylish set piece by San Francisco–based architect Matt Hollis. Collection highlights include Chinese artist-activist Ai Weiwei’s bronze Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads, displayed in a grassy meadow. A Louise Bourgeois spider occupies its own indoor pavilion.
INSIDER TIPThe Donum Estate produces estate-grown collector-worthy wines. The price of admission ($80) is steep, but if you love Chardonnay and Pinot Noir then you’ll likely find the wine, art, and gracious experience worth the expense. Visits, all by appointment, include a tour past of some of the art.
Hall St. Helena
WHERE: St. Helena
WHAT: Contemporary Work in Several Media
Lawrence Argent’s 35-foot polished-stainless-steel sculpture of a leaping rabbit marks the entrance to Hall St. Helena, which devotes a whole tour (reservations required, tasting included) to the contemporary artworks of owners Kathryn and Craig Hall. Sculptures by John Baldessari, Anya Gallaccio, and Joel Shapiro join Argent’s Bunny Foo Foo outdoors (there’s also a Jesús Moroles fountain), with a kaleidoscopic Nick Cave tapestry among the standout pieces indoors. You can view most of the collection before or after a standard tasting or on a few other tours. Hall is known for Cabernet Sauvignons, a few of which have earned 100-point scores from major wine critics.
INSIDER TIPHall St. Helena is 1½ miles south of downtown St. Helena. One town south, the appointment-only Hall Rutherford contains more artworks, including a Donald Lipski chandelier with hundreds of Swarovski crystals.
di Rosa Center for Contemporary Art
WHAT: Northern California Contemporary Works
The di Rosa Center for Contemporary Art, a Carneros District art park created by the late Rene di Rosa, focuses on Northern California artworks from the mid-20th century to the present. Two galleries display some of the permanent collection and host temporary exhibitions, and the Sculpture Meadow and the area around di Rosa’s residence contain a few dozen outdoor sculptures. Note: the home survived the Wine Country fires of October 2017, but smoke damaged many of the works displayed inside; a year later, the residence remained closed for conservation efforts.
INSIDER TIP Located along Sonoma Highway across from the Domaine Carneros chateau, di Rosa is closed on Monday and Tuesday. Docents lead tours at 1 pm the rest of the week and at 11 am on weekends. Specialized tours (check the website) take place at other times.
WHAT: Photography by Ansel Adams, Contemporary Artists
Visitors to the French champagne producer’s California outpost are welcome to sip Mumm Napa’s sparkling wines while viewing photographs in two galleries. One contains the Poetry of Light exhibition of 27 images by Ansel Adams, among them his famous shot of Half Dome in Yosemite National Park. The other gallery is devoted to changing exhibitions by respected contemporary photographers.