The Carneros/Sonoma Highway, or California State Route 121/12, winds across the northern edge of the San Francisco/San Pablo Bays, connecting Sonoma and Napa Country. This foggy, windswept region is full of seemingly endless miles of vines, remnants of centuries-old dairies, the toney Carneros Creek resort and several small wineries. Beyond the obvious wine country haunts, including Fremont Diner (buttermilk fried chicken and peanut butter milkshakes anyone?), this little stretch of highway greets those driving north from San Francisco with an opportunity to do more than just taste wine, as they step into a stimulating, vast world of modern art, at the di Rosa Art Preserve, Artesa Winery and the Hess Collection art museum/winery. I recently saw a whiney comment on Yelp from a tourist who was relieved to be at a small winery after visiting something that looked more like “the Getty Museum plopped down in the middle of wine country.”
Too bad for her, but that is exactly what this column is about.
The di Rosa Art Preserve is a sprawling, stunning property with modern glass and metal architecture set against a historic stone Tudor mansion. The property represents the life achievements of Rene and Veronica di Rosa. Veronica is a Canadian-born trained artist known for her watercolor and sculpture, while Rene is on the boards of trustees of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and New York’s Whitney Museum. He studied viticulture at UC-Davis in the 1960s while planting vineyards. During that time he came to know many of the regions wine makers and Bay Area artists. The couple would spend the next four decades blending wine and art, becoming prolific collectors whose personal passions and adventurous spirits fueled their support of art and artists.
In 1982 they sold their Winery Lake Vineyards to establish the Rene and Veronica di Rosa Foundation; the next decade was spent building the “art park,” a sprawling art exhibit that would eventually open to the public as the diRosa Preserve in 1997. Considered the most significant holding of Bay Area art in the world, the foundation houses approximately 2,000 works of art by more than 800 artists, on over 200 extraordinary acres of vineyards, gardens, and natural landscape in the Carneros region of the Napa Valley, one hillside east of the Sonoma county line. As the shared vision of the di Rosas, it is meant to provoke the artistic spirit and imagination of our times, as well as engage viewers in a conversation about humankind’s relationship to the natural world. The property consists of a lake, the Gatehouse Gallery, the Main Gallery, the Historical Residence and a courtyard.
Just a short drive down the highway east, and up into the hills gets you to Artesa, where you are directly above diRosa, and you feel like you are on top of the world. High on this promontory, you can look out at all of the Carneros region and to the San Francisco Bay beyond. This setting couldn’t be any more stunning, except that you are standing in front of a glass and steel winery façade that is built into the hill. As you walk up the stairs, water cascades past. At the top are fountains, reflecting pools and an outdoor sculpture garden giving serious depth-of-field to the horizon. Designed by renowned Barcelona architect Domingo Triay and built in the early 1990s, the dramatic winery and visitor center brilliantly fuses architecture and design with art and winemaking, connecting natural and manmade spaces.
Once inside, you can taste Artesa’s Carneros albariño, pinot blanc, chardonnay, pinot noir, tempranillo and cabernet sauvignon while taking in the art of Napa artist Gordon Huether, who has been the resident artist since 1992. Born in Rochester, New York, Huether relocated to Napa in 1987 where he has been creating large-scale public projects, residential commissions and fine art for more than 25 years. During this time his work has been exhibited at museums and galleries across the country; he has completed more than 50 public and 150 private commissions.
His art is large in scale and has a dramatic impact, with works of glass and metal sculpture, including collaborations with designers, architects and builders. Huether’s work has become a visceral part of the Artesa experience, along with the panoramic views, stunning design and award winning wines.
Heading north from Artesa, the next stop is even higher yet. Find your way to Redwood Road, and climb into the redwoods, to the base of the ridge leading up Mt. Veeder, the geographical and climactic divide between the cool/breezy Sonoma/Napa Carneros and the dusty dry, hot Napa Valley beyond to the northeast.
Here you will come upon the Hess Collection and Estate, another culmination of a life’s work and passion. Donald Hess can be considered a beverage monster, successfully running his family’s Swiss beer and mineral water business from age twenty, and entering the Napa wine fray in the late 1970s. He has been collecting art his whole life, using a unique internal guidance and perspective to amass a collection that dates back to the 1960s and is housed all over the world. His internal guidance led him to an interesting conundrum-and a wholesale change of affairs of sorts-as a Swiss artist whom Hess was quite fond of would not sell him a painting for business practices which the artist felt polluted the Earth. Hess took note, and with the same passion with which he did business and collected art, he became deeply committed to sustainable vineyard and wine making practices.
Hess opened his public Napa art museum in 1989 in a hundred year old building, on his estate winery property and stocked it with a quarter of his personal collection, which ARTNews magazine ranks in the top two hundred in the world. It is modern, contemporary, abstract, and even political in scope, including sculpture, painting, furniture and other various objects and artifacts. You will find art on a scale of the likes of Robert Motherwell, known as perhaps America’s best abstract expressionist. Besides being a passionate collector, Hess is a staunch and solid supporter of living artists, acting as an über-patron, whose patronage can span decades. Oh, and his chardonnay and mountain-vineyard cabernet sauvignon are not bad either.
Cheers! Remember, wine reveals truth.
Drew Stofflet lives in Carbondale. Correspond with him at email@example.com.