Ira Wolk, one of the seven Public Art Committee planning members and owner of St. Helena's I. Wolk Gallery, converted the former beauty salon of the exclusive Auberge du Soleil resort in Rutherford into a gallery five years ago. Wolk also procured the 80 sculptures by California artists (all for sale) scattered throughout the 33-acre property, which includes Olive Grove Sculpture Garden.
The catch? The public is welcome at the beauty-salon-turned-gallery, but only resort guests or serious buyers may visit the Olive Grove Sculpture Garden. But as Kevin and I discovered, the term "serious buyer" is loosely interpreted. When we called to ask about the garden, the gallery assistant said simply to make a dinner reservation at the restaurant and she'd arrange a private pre-dinner tour. Food and wine for art's sake? We were happy to oblige.
The next morning, Kevin was eager to hit a few wineries, but I still had the art bug. We compromised by choosing a few of the gallery-lined tasting rooms.
At Artesa Vineyards & Winery in Napa, we were drawn by the museum-like architecture, but it was the glass and installation pieces by resident artist Gordon Huether inside that kept us there all morning.
At Mumm Napa in nearby Rutherford, Kevin toured the rotating exhibition in the hallway, glass of wine in hand, while I checked out the 30 original Ansel Adams photographs in the permanent-collection gallery.
We capped the day at the Hess Collection in Napa for a tour of owner Donald Hess' private collection of works by Magdalena Abakanowicz, Anselm Kiefer, Robert Motherwell and other noteworthy artists. Even here, at large wineries with notable art collections and large crowds, the on-site galleries were surprisingly empty.
After a long weekend of art-filled wine tastings, it was the two markedly different properties owned by Craig Hall, founder of Hall Financial Group in Dallas, and his wife, Kathryn, that inspired us most.
"When we bought the property in 2003, I had eyes for incorporating art into the redevelopment -- it's something I always try to do," Craig says. "But it was Kathy who felt the person best suited to carry out the vision was Frank Gehry."
After four years of architectural revisions and county permit hurdles, construction has begun on a $100-million winemaking facility. When completed in late 2009 or early 2010, it promises to be a towering example of the now-ubiquitous Gehry style of undulating architecture, although without the high-shine titanium of Bilbao, Spain, and the Walt Disney Concert Hall. (Here, the trellis-like roof will resemble wood to complement the landscape.) The Halls, who say they've long since run out of space for their own art collection, are buying and commissioning new works for the building's interior.
"We're constantly collecting -- whenever we see something that really stretches us, we're drawn to it," Craig says. "We bought a piece two years ago that's literally in storage waiting for the new winery."
Meanwhile, a temporary gallery houses Gehry's models and blueprints; visitors can sip wine and ponder the man behind them. In an area where the historic art of making wine is typically the main attraction, it's a fascinating juxtaposition.
"Tradition and technology -- we think it's a metaphor for the experience of both wine and art," says Kathryn.
A few miles away, the Halls' Rutherford winery stands in stark contrast to the bustling, grandiose St. Helena property. Nestled on a quiet hillside beneath their home, the small guesthouse/entertaining suite is filled with family photos and, of course, more artwork.
It's a notably conservative space compared with the " 'Star Wars' tank room," as Craig calls it, below. The steel tanks are aligned side by side in a semicircle for a bank-vault-like effect, with red light sculptures by Thomas Glassford bursting overhead.
Our tour guide led us through the "Inspector Gadget"-style steel-vault door into the classic brick-and-mortar wine caves. Kathryn, former ambassador to Austria during the Clinton administration, commissioned a crew of Austrian stonemasons to build the caves from bricks that were reclaimed from the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Each bears a stamp of the monarchy. "The idea was to open the doors of this room filled with sophisticated, stainless-steel technology and head back into the Old World again," Craig says.
Along the central nave of the cave are archways with stainless-steel artworks (to withstand humidity) by sculptors George Tobolowsky and Andrew Rogers. At the end of the tunnel is an expansive dining room with a Donald Lipski and Jonquil LeMaster crystal-bejeweled tree-root sculpture dangling above the dining-room table. Our guide instructed us to sit and relax as he poured us several single vineyard Hall wines.
As we sipped a Diamond Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon, Dave Brubeck's "Take Five" piping through the room, we fully understood how art, like wine, reflected the life not only of its maker but also of its collector.