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.
INSIDER TIPThe galleries are a stop on the well-conceived tour of Mumm Napa’s facility covering the major stages, from vineyard to bottle, of sparkling wine production. You can also taste wine on the patio or a salon inside (reservations recommended) or on the shaded Oak Terrace (reservations required). All the tasting areas have vineyard views.
WHAT: Outdoor Murals
Full-scale murals adorn warehouse and other structures in Napa courtesy of artists funded by RAD Napa (Rail Arts District Napa). One of the flashiest examples, painted on the two-story CIA at Copia building, was inspired by the culinary gardens out front. Passengers on the Napa Valley Wine Train and walkers and bikers along the Napa Valley Vine Trail have the best views.
To view RAD Napa highlights, start at CIA at Copia. Walk west past the Oxbow Public Market to McKinstry Street and turn north (right). Continue past the wine train’s depot to Soscol Avenue, again turning right (north). After a block, head west (left) at Vallejo Street and pick up the vine trail, following the train tracks northwest as far as you like. Reward yourself on the way back with a beverage at St. Clair Brown Winery & Brewery‘s cute greenhouse.
SOFA Santa Rosa Arts District
WHERE: Santa Rosa
WHAT: Street Art and Galleries
Street murals along Art Alley are the showstoppers of this small arts district centered around South A Street in downtown Santa Rosa. You can view artworks and artists at work at the adjacent Santa Rosa Arts Center. Nearby JaM JAr carries the jewelry and paintings of its two owners, and The Spinster Sisters, in the next block south, is good for a snack or a meal and a craft brew or a small-lot glass of wine.
INSIDER TIPAlthough you might encounter area creative types any day of the week, your best bet is on First Fridays (of the month), when all the district’s members stay open between 5 pm and 8 pm, and many galleries have openings attended by the featured artists.
Patrick Amiot Junk Art
WHAT: Reclaimed Art
All over Sonoma County, you’ll see the sculptures Sebastopol resident Patrick Amiot fashions out of sheet metal and found objects, rendered all the more whimsical by the wild colors his wife, Brigitte Laurent, paints on them. The pink pig outside Zazu Kitchen + Farm in The Barlow food, wine, and art complex is among the many pieces in high-traffic locations, but for the most significant concentration head over to three-block Florence Avenue, where many residents, including the two artists, proudly display the fanciful fabrications.
INSIDER TIPFlorence Avenue is two blocks west of Main Street. Enter it from the south off Bodega Avenue (Highway 12) and from the north off Healdsburg Avenue (Highway 116).
Ca' Toga Galleria d'Arte
WHAT: Exuberant Art at Shop and Villa
For sheer exuberance, it’s hard to imagine anything topping Italian artist Carlo Marchiori’s storefront Ca’ Toga Galleria d’Arte in downtown Calistoga. This place is all about Marchiori’s creativity, as expressed in everything from paintings and sculptures to ceramic housewares. The artist has added artistic flair to businesses all over town, among them the nearby Romeo Vineyards & Cellars tasting room, but the pièce de résistance is his over-the-top Palladian-style villa. Heavy on the trompe l’oeil, the Calistoga mansion is open for visits on a limited basis.
INSIDER TIPThe gallery is closed on Tuesday and Wednesday. Be sure to look up in the gallery—the ceiling’s a trip. The villa is open by appointment on Saturday mornings from May through October.
Francis Ford Coppola Winery
WHAT: Famous Director’s Movie Memorabilia
The Movie Gallery at the famous director’s namesake Francis Ford Coppola Winery doesn’t display much art per se, but its collection contains props and other items related to his films, some of the late-20th century’s most significant works. Among the stars are Don Corleone’s desk from The Godfather and the namesake 1948 vehicle from Tucker: The Man and His Dream. Ever twirling on a car-showroom platform, the rare auto, one of only 51 produced, is reportedly worth more than a million dollars. The supporting cast includes costumes from Bram Stoker’s Dracula, models from daughter-director Sofia Coppola’s films, five FFC Oscars, and hundreds of other items.