Gone are the days when visitors would make the trek to Napa or Sonoma simply to taste wine. For a winery to be relevant now, it must offer more than just a couple pours of pinot. Savvy oenophiles want an experience when they visit the region, and vineyards are taking note.
Creative food pairings, vintage library tastings, luxe special events and out-of-this-world settings are some of the unique offerings available alongside sips of chardonnay in these parts.
Another reason to visit: incredible art collections. Exclusive exhibits and original pieces have turned Wine Country into an ideal destination for art aficionados. We toast to four places that pair vino with visuals in seamless fashion.
Robert Mondavi Winery
The winery-as-gallery concept is not new. In fact, it dates back to 1970, when Margrit Biever (who would later go on to become Margrit Mondavi) was a young employee at Robert Mondavi Winery. She looked around the tasting space and said, “Mr. Mondavi, you have all these empty walls. Why don’t we hang something on these walls?”
And so they did, with special exhibits devoted to artists like Richard Diebenkorn, Wayne Thiebaud and Nathan Oliveira on view in the winery’s Vineyard Room. Every quarter there is a new show — currently, local artist Layla Fanucci’s cityscape paintings are on display.
Robert Mondavi Winery also carries a permanent art collection that is scattered throughout the estate. It features several bronze and marble sculptures by Beniamino Bufano, a seven-foot-tall bust of Robert Mondavi by Len Urso, Gordon Huether’s metal art pieces and The Welcoming Woman by John Henry Waddell.
To see many of these sculptures, a tour of the property is required.
The Donum Estate
For even more sensational sips alongside amazing sculptures, make your way to the Donum Estate in Sonoma. The vineyard is known for its Burgundian grand-cru-style pinot noir and high-quality chardonnay, but those who have stopped by the property also know that it’s home to a dizzying array of artwork.
Donum’s sculpture park showcases 29 distinct works of art from notable modern sculptors. Ai Weiwei’s famed Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads sits in the middle of the winery’s olive grove. Carl Fredrik Reuterswärd’s beloved sculpture of a revolver tied in a knot, Non-Violence, is on display beside an old rock wall. Richard Hudson’s Love Me, a massive silver heart, is perched on top of a hill and overlooks the picturesque vineyards.
As a guest of the estate, you’ll receive a map of the sculptures and free rein to wander the property to see the pieces up close. Note that the Donum Estate requires an advance reservation for all winery visits.
Over at sparkling wine house Mumm Napa, you can enjoy a tour of the property’s Fine Art Photography Gallery along with your glass of bubbly. Every year, the winery commissions a new artist to be a part of the ever-changing exhibit.
Currently, there are two different displays: “Ansel Adams-Poetry of Light” and “Wayne Levin-Through a Liquid Mirror.” The winery has had a long-term relationship with Matt Adams, Ansel’s grandson, who has graciously loaned a collection of images that includes the artist’s famous photographs of Yosemite National Park.
The Levin exhibit features black-and-white underwater photography showcasing the variety of life that resides beneath the waves. The images show the vast power of the Pacific Ocean and how its ecosystem is a constant subject of change.
Cliff Lede Vineyards
At Cliff Lede Vineyards’ Backstage Tasting Lounge, wine lovers are treated to regularly rotating museum-grade art exhibits. The latest show, “Icons of Rock and Roll,” spotlights portraits of some of the most famous musicians of the 20th century, including Bob Marley, Jim Morrison and The Beatles, as well as shots from these artists on stage during live concerts.
The exhibit was curated by the San Francisco Art Exchange and can only be viewed if the winery’s most exclusive tasting is booked. Cliff Lede also has permanent contemporary pieces installed throughout the property, such as Twin 6’ Hearts by Jim Dine — a painted bronze heart sculpture — that’s in the tasting room courtyard.