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Known for the beauty of its panoramic hills, and fabulous restaurants and wines, the Napa Valley also nurtures a sophisticated cultural scene, with art galleries housed in the vineyards that nestle high up on the hillside. Art lovers can accompany a gallery tour with a glass of wine, or else they can head to the independent galleries of the small towns, which showcase an impressive range of local and international talent from contemporary artists.
Not all galleries in the Valley have an intrinsic connection to the wineries of the region, and the I. Wolk Gallery in St. Helena was the very first of these independent galleries to be set up, back in 1990. The bold move by the late owner, Ira Wolk, certainly paid off, since the I. Wolk gallery has had more than its share of famed and elite patrons over the years, including Oprah Winfrey and the Queen of Jordan. Specialising specifically in fine contemporary art, the gallery showcases from prolific talents to emerging artists, including classic sculptures alongside pop art paintings, all of the highest quality. New work is always promoted through monthly exhibitions, and the scope of the artistic genres displayed caters to all art enthusiasts.
Founded by painter Jessel Miller, the Jessel Gallery welcomes visitors into an environment as much about hospitality and community as it is about art. Upon arrival, guests proceed through gorgeous gardens and across wooden decks and are offered their choice of either tea and cookies or a glass of wine to accompany their tour of the spacious gallery that has become a Napa landmark. The collection contains work by some of the celebrated names of contemporary California art, including Erin Dertner, Susan Hoehn and Timothy Dixon. Each month a new artist is featured in an exhibition titled The Guest Artist Series, with a public reception to mark the occasion. Other events include a bi-weekly watercolour painting class, and a guided gallery and garden stroll through the 100-year-old property, which stakes a claim at being both the oldest and the largest gallery in the Valley.
Jessel Gallery, 1019 Atlas Peak Rd, Napa, CA, USA, +1 707-257-2350
Under the curation and directorship of the same group as I. Wolk gallery, the Ma(i)sonry Napa Gallery nonetheless creates a very different experience. Self-described as a ‘living gallery’, it concentrates not on contemporary art per se but rather on a ‘life aesthetic’, combining art, design, social interaction and wine tasting, against a stylised scene of contemporary sculptures and architectural pieces on the lawn of the winery. The stone building itself is 111 years old, and now houses a collection of furnishings and artwork ranging from 16th century European craftsmanship to work from the very best contemporary artists and designers. The exhibitions in the quaint historic house are rotated each season through a series of Bay area and internationally renowned artists, and all the pieces are available for purchase, or simply to admire over successive glasses of Napa wine.
Ma(i)sonry Napa Valley, 6711 Washington St, Yountville, CA, USA, +1 707-944-0889
Set in equally as unique architecture, Gordon Huether’s Hay Barn Gallery, as the name suggests, has taken roots in an entirely refurbished metal barn. The artwork is not just displayed but in fact crafted here, almost entirely from one material: glass. Gordon Huether is often present to offer impromptu tours of the studio, where visitors will catch a glimpse of assistants busy at work around a red-hot kiln, fusing, pressing and laminating the glass to create abstract pieces, or else painting with enamel or sprinkling glass dust onto surfaces that will become giant installations. Huether has recently developed his work to include smaller-scale pieces, focusing contrastingly on rich colours and playing with light and texture in a very different style to the larger works over which he made his name. A visit to the gallery-cum-studio presents guests with an immersive experience with his distinct and personal art form.
Gordon Huether Studio and Gallery, 1821 Monticello Rd, Napa, CA, USA, +1 707-255-5954
The art gallery on the second floor of the rambling and beautiful Peju winery grounds has entered into a creative partnership with the Christopher Hill Gallery in St. Helena in order to showcase the very highest calibre of artwork in the Bay area. Every few months both galleries collaborate to launch a new seasonal exhibit featuring new artists and new pieces. The grounds themselves, like other wineries in the area, have given rise to great feats of sculpture and architecture, including statues dotted around the gardens, serene pools and fountains, a 50-foot tower topped by a unicorn-shaped weather vane, and interior design features such as carved doorways, Turkish floor tiles, and exquisite bespoke cherry-wood stair rails. Private guided tours of the collections can be arranged through the Christopher Hill Gallery.
Peju, 8466 St Helena Hwy, Rutherford, CA, USA, +1 707 963 3600
The art at Clos Pegase is built into the winery itself; the imposing ‘temple to art and wine’ is an iconic feat of modernist architecture, designed by Michael Graves, who uses bright and warm colours, clean lines and towering structures to evoke something like a Mediterranean castle of the future. Sculptures and installations litter the grounds and the gardens, with surrealist sculpted wall hangings dangling over the wine barrels, Henry Moore’s striking Mother Earth statue welcoming guests into the courtyard, and Cesar Baldaccini’s Pouce sculpture of a thumb rising from the ground in front of the vineyard saplings. As evening descends, a sparkling light glows from long windows and the arched entrance, producing a monument on the hilltop even more awe-inspiring at dusk than the impression it leaves on daytime guests.
Clos Pegase, 1060 Dunaweal Ln, Calistoga, CA, USA, +1 707-942-4981
An underappreciated fact about Mumm Napa wines is that its estate is also home to a collection of fine art photography, both in permanent and temporary exhibitions. The permanent collection belongs to Ansel Adams’ family, and is a series of black and white prints by the famous American photographer and environmentalist himself, ranging across inspirational landscapes, architectural studies and human portraits. The main gallery hosts temporary exhibits including the Serenity, Wonder, and Spirit series by Jeffrey A. Davis and a recent show entitled The Golden Decade Photography at the California School of Fine Arts, 1945-1955. The photographs are neatly placed on the walls of long corridors inside the winery, constituting an essential part of the tour of this unique estate.
Mumm Napa, 8445 Silverado Trail, Napa, CA, USA, +1 707 967 7730
Having recently celebrated 30 years in business, the Caldwell Snyder Contemporary Art Gallery in downtown St. Helena has much to be proud of, not least their gorgeous 12,000-square-foot exhibition space in a listed historic building, and the vast collection of drawings, paintings and sculptures on show therein. The gallery’s novelty is that it represents not just Californian artists, as many of its peers also do, but also European and Latin American artists, numbering over 50 in total. Popular exhibitions have included Bobbie Burgers’ series of paintings, Suspended Between Sweetness and Sorrow, Julie Spiedel’s Hermus sculptures, and John Gibson’s and Nicholas Wilton’s joint series of paintings exploring space, perception and illusion.
Caldwell Snyder, 1328 Main St, St Helena, CA, USA, +1 707-200-5050