Napa Valley: Having a Lark With Art

Napa Valley’s prized art collections provide their own form of intoxication. View at your own pace.

The art collections on display in Napa Valley’s wineries impart their own form of intoxication. The three not-to-miss collections are in St. Helena, Oakville and Napa.

The photography exhibit at Markham Vineyards is a magic-carpet ride to the 60’s and 70’s at the height of rock ’n’ roll. Photos of Jimi Hendrick, Janis Joplin, Jerry Garcia are larger-than-life on the gallery walls.

Baron Wolman shot this photo of Janis Joplin in her basement studio.

Rolling Stone photographer Baron Wolman knew these musicians well enough to capture their unguarded moments—Janis Joplin with her cat, Joni Mitchell at her kitchen table.

On a recent tour, Wolman pointed out his personal favorites. He said the concert shot of Jimi Hendrix was “the image of my career.” He laughed at his photo taken on stage at Woodstock, calling it a time “when we were young and had hair.”

He may have lost his hair but not the awe of the day Janis Joplin sang for him at her home studio, “Just me and Janis,” he recalled, the emotion still apparent on his face. Lingering over a glass of Markham’s Altruist Cabernet while Joni Mitchell sings “Hissing of Summer Lawns,” I could relate. Music has its own kind of high.

The playlist and the photos affect the ambiance of the tasting room, compelling visitors to hang out and reminisce. Once in a while, the staff hears, “I was there!” and they get a blow-by-blow description of a concert. When it’s their turn, they tell about the day Carlos Santana to purchase a Wolman photo and show his new wife the collection. The newlyweds caused quite a scene. Apparently they couldn’t keep their hands off each other.

At Robert Mondavi Winery, the owners were smitten with the sculptor Beniamino Bufano. The Mondavis populated their hacienda with Bufano’s smooth, rounded creatures that trick you into believing granite and bronze are warm and cuddly. I couldn’t resist stroking the owl, and petting the horse and camels.

In the wine cellar, a meditative St. Francis regards the barrels. Margrit Mondavi said recently, raising a glass of Cabernet, “Let us celebrate today, because tomorrow….well, you never know.” Thanks, Margrit. The sculpture and the wine put people happily in the present.

Driving up to Mount Veeder to the Hess Collection is generally an ordeal. It’s a fitting first impression, though, since Donald Hess intends to turn your world on end.

His private collection of modern art is an eye-opener. On the mezzanine, a typewriter is ablaze, sprouting fire from gas jets. Eucalyptus leaves pinned on a wall first appear as a row of tight-lipped melancholy faces. You have to get up close to see they are dried leaves.

Upstairs, an army of headless, hallow burlap men stand in a war room. Adjacent sculptures look like weapons or plunder. Other pieces exude whimsy but with a disconcerting edge. A mannequin with rounded, egg-like torso rests on tree limbs. Its sharp breasts point straight at the viewer, like guns about to go off. It makes you want to duck.

Instead follow the hallway, stepping around Andy Goldsworthy’s mud puddles to the downstairs tasting room. Like the owner’s art collection, the Hess Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay from high-elevation vineyards are cerebral and earthy.

Robert Mondavi Winery hosts reserve tastings, tours and events. Advanced reservations are required. Call 888-766-6328; option 2. You can also register online.

Hess Collection guided tours are held Thursday, Friday and Saturday 2:00 p.m. Advanced reservations required.

—text and photography by Donna Peck.


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