Wine and art: the latest pairings

From an identity piece for a new wine resort to bottle labels and artwork for tasting rooms, art is not just for art’s sake when it comes to wine…


Artist Gordon Huether checks his Infinity project at a new wine resort in Napa Valley. The sculpture is made from the same Cor-Ten steel alloy that is often used in end posts

Wine and art: the latest pairings
  • Chris Boiling
  • 2021-03-09
‘Art has been playing a bigger and bigger role in creating experiences for visitors’

An identity piece for a new wine resort

Napa Valley’s newest wine resort is building a spiral walkway, planted with vines, on the hill leading to this massive landmark – a sculpture that now sits at the highest point of the 712-acre property, overlooking the vineyards.
The Infinity sculpture by Gordon Huether, a Napa-based artist specialising in large-scale, site-specific permanent art installations, is made from the same Cor-Ten steel alloy that is often used in vineyards as the anchoring end post. It was made in Germany and welded into one simple, elegant and continuous form onsite at the Stanly Ranch Auberge resort, which is due to open this summer.
Gordon’s sculpture – a continuous 8-ton loop of steel – can be seen from many directions because of its hilltop position and size: 60ft long, 20ft high and 40ft wide.
Located close to the Napa River on the southern edge of Napa Valley, the Stanly Ranch resort and its new landmark artwork are expected to become signature additions to Northern California wine country.
Gordon told Canopy: “I’m very proud of it. It’s so huge but there’s so much negative space. It’s stripped down with no ornamentation. It’s just a simple, beautiful form. As you walk or drive by, it keeps changing because of the shape of it.”
He added: “It creates a sense of place. You definitely know where you are and you can see it from a great distance.
“There’s no place where you can be on the property and not see it.”
He also pointed out “it’s a destination within a destination,” as it will become the site for yoga, meditation, performances and weddings.
The resort, the latest addition to the Auberge Resorts Collection, is taking up 96 acres of the historic Stanly Ranch property. It will feature a luxury 135-room hotel and spa, 70 vineyard homes, 40 villas and a winery. The resort and residential community will “celebrate the heritage of Napa Valley with architecture, cuisine and guest experiences inspired by, and deeply connected to, the land,” according to Auberge Resorts.
Gordon’s Infinity design evolved from studying the site, the local history, and the resort’s mission, in association with Denver-based developer Nichols Partnership and landscape architect Brightview. “The goal was to reflect the Stanly Ranch design principles of beautiful simplicity, understated luxury and seamless integration with the unique Napa Valley setting,” Gordon says.
“As the sculpture gains its stable, rust-coloured patina, Infinity will further blend in and complement its setting.”
Although grand in scale, the artwork is designed to provide a calming effect with its never-ending infinity loop and subtle downward-facing lighting.

fork 2
Gordon, a long-term Napa resident, also created the artwork for the CIA (The Culinary Institute of America) at Copia, which pays tribute to Margrit and Robert Mondavi’s legacy.
The 8ft-tall high-density foam figures sit atop the CIA at Copia’s 75ft tower, as though the iconic Napa Valley couple is toasting the success of the institute and the region. Below them, near the entrance of the restaurant, is a giant Fork, made from more than 8,500 salvaged forks. Both artworks also function as way-finders and are popular with Instagrammers.
“I’ve lived in Napa pretty much my entire life and, when I was a kid, there were, maybe, 25 wineries here in the valley. Now there are more than 500,” Gordon reflects. “I’ve noticed that the early days were more like farmer-becomes-vintner and a barn was a barn and it was built only with practicality in mind. Over the years, in some part thanks to Bob and Margrit Mondavi, they have elevated the wine experience to include good food and art. Bringing those three things together, that’s what their vision kind of was when they built Copia down the street from me here, which was an art and wine museum with a restaurant. They were ahead of their time.

'Many wineries have absolutely embraced art to be part of the experience'
“So I’ve noticed that people are paying a lot more attention to the architecture, adjacent landscaping, food pairing – when they’re allowed to do it – and many wineries have absolutely embraced art to be part of the experience. It’s not just having a glass of wine anymore. With these wineries it’s a hospitality thing, it’s an experience – we want you to leave this place overwhelmed with positive vibrations, not drunk, because the art and architecture are so incredible and the smells are incredible. So art has been playing a bigger and bigger role in creating these experiences for visitors and then I also noticed that with 500-plus wineries there’s some obvious competition here and so I think they are maybe trying to outdo each other – ‘Well, my sculpture is bigger than your sculpture, my architect was more expensive than your architect’.”

Why red coral represents the 2018 vintage

Every year, since the release of its 2006 vintage in May 2009, iconic Italian wine estate Ornellaia has commissioned a contemporary artist to create a site-specific artwork and a set of limited-edition labels inspired by a word chosen by Ornellaia’s estate director, Axel Heinz, to describe the personality of the new vintage.
A label styled by the artist then adorns one of the six 750ml bottles in every case of Ornellaia. The Ornellaia Vendemmia d’Artista project, now in its 13th edition, also includes a limited edition of 111 large-format bottles (100 Jeroboams, 10 Imperials and 1 Salmanazar) which are numbered and signed personally by the artist. Every year, a selection of these bottles is auctioned to support the Mind’s Eye program at the Solomon R Guggenheim Foundation. 

Ornellaia 2018
‘Grace’ (‘La Grazia’) is the word chosen for the latest release, the 2018 vintage, which surprisingly has a higher proportion of Merlot than Cabernet Sauvignon, and this red coral artwork is Belgian artist Jan Fabre’s interpretation of this characteristic.
“The 2018 vintage resulted in wines of particular harmony,” Axel explains. “Synergy and interaction among the varied terroirs on the estate created proportion and complexity. The outcome is a rounded and silky wine in which all the elements blend together in an expression of grace and beauty.”
Jan interpreted Ornellaia 2018 “La Grazia” as a “divine gift of nature and a balance of symmetry and proportion,” and used his trademark style and coral – the precious golden red of the Gulf of Naples – for three sculptures that top the bottles: A Candle of Mercy, The Crown of Kindness, and The Heart of Virtue. “I believe that art should conciliate ethical values and aesthetic principles,” explains the artist (below). “For this reason, I decided to use forms such as the heart, crown, candle and wings in the sculptures for Ornellaia 2018. These are symbols of passion, virtue and purity, which come alive by means of twigs and red coral pearls; in ‘A Candle of Mercy’ or ‘The Heart of Virtue’ they liquefy, like the melting grace of Ornellaia wine.”

Jan Fabre
In addition to the coral artworks for the large formats of Ornellaia, Jan also designed a special label for the 750ml bottles and a site-specific installation for the winery’s dining room, Orciaia: a set of drawings inspired by the sculptures and their symbolism.
A Salmanazar – topped by ‘The Crown of Kindness’ – will be the headline lot at an auction by Sotheby’s in September 2021, with profits going to the Solomon R Guggenheim Foundation’s Mind’s Eye project, which assists visitors who are blind or have low vision in experiencing art by using all the senses.
“As in previous years, we expect the lots to attract an international group of bidders who wish to purchase these exclusive bottles and enjoy unique experiences,” Sotheby’s Jamie Ritchie says.
Giovanni Geddes da Filicaja, CEO of the Bolgheri winery, adds: “Since the introduction of Vendemmia d’Artista project in 2009, we have donated more than €2m. It is deeply rewarding to see the program develop and know that the work we are doing gives the blind and persons with low vision an opportunity to discover contemporary art through the use of the senses. At the same time, the Mind’s Eye program will soon offer the possibility to extend the same model not only to other museums belonging to the Guggenheim Foundation, but also to art institutions in the rest of the world, thereby making art accessible to even more people.”

'The collaboration with the artists makes the wines even more special'

English wines, vibrant German art

Celebrating the links between fine art and fine wine, Hush Heath Estate’s owner – and contemporary art enthusiast – Leslie Balfour-Lynn has, for the second year running, commissioned a leading artist to create striking and original labels for Balfour Wines’ new Winemaker Collection.
The trio of English wines – made by father and son team, Owen and Fergus Elias – feature labels by German painter Lothar Götz.

Balfour Wine
“Lothar is an artist whose work I enjoy, so I felt he would create very lively, vibrant labels for us,” Leslie tells Canopy. “He is a good match for us. He is also a great personality and is an exciting artist to follow in the future. The idea is to enhance our winery with beautiful art rather than more photos of wine bottles!
“Eventually I would love to add more sculptures outdoors in our ancient oak woodlands or along the vineyard trails on our estate.”

'Like the dance of the bubbles in the wine'
Here's how Götz explains his three designs (pictured above):

  • The label for the sparkling rosé, ‘Saignée’ – the first wine released from the Kent winery using this method – reflects “disco, the suggestion of a pool party or celebration, the experience of painting as space, beyond the frame and the possibility of dreaming: their intense blooms of colour as lights on the dance floor”;
  • The drawing on ‘Les Sixes 2014’, a sparkling white made from six of the seven permitted Champagne grape varieties, “responds to movement and elegance like a modernist ballet on a stage, geometric forms resembling rotating figures in the universe like the dance of the bubbles in the wine”;
  • “Lines and circles set in the late evening of early darkness, a moment for reflection, cigars or a conversation with friends into the early hours putting the world to right” - that's how he interprets ‘The Suitcase’, a brooding Pinot Noir from the rich 2018 vintage made from the Burgundy clones 828 and 777, which, in the 1960s, were allegedly wrapped in damp cloth and smuggled in suitcases into the United States.
The three wines, with their specially commissioned labels, were launched exclusively at UK wine retailer Majestic just before Christmas.
Balfour sales director Adam Williams tells us the story behind the labels helped attract attention and boost sales: “Sales have been extremely positive and beyond our expectations. However, as the wines are made only in small batches, we release them more to showcase the quality, diversity and potential of English wines. The wines themselves are superb in their own right, but the story behind each wine and the collaboration with the artists for the labels make them even more special.”

Inventor of signs

Xu Bing, one of the most important contemporary Chinese artists, created the original artwork for the label of Château Mouton Rothschild’s 2018 vintage.
Each year since 1945, a famous artist has been commissioned for the job by the family – but the artist is given complete freedom as to the design.

Mouton R bottle
The artwork for the 2018 label features the two words ‘Mouton Rothschild’ but in Xu Bing’s ‘Square Word Calligraphy’, which resembles traditional Chinese characters but is actually composed of the letters of the Latin alphabet.
Mouton Rothschild explains the design by saying the letters “reveal themselves to the attentive reader one after the other, in the same way that the aromas and flavours of a very fine wine, with patience, are also gradually discovered”.
“When I discovered Xu Bing, I was captivated by him as an inventor of signs endowed with incredible poetic power,” Julien de Beaumarchais de Rothschild says. “And then I said to myself that our labels were also signs, each work of art referring to a year: the 1973 vintage can also be called the ‘Picasso Mouton’, just as the 2018 vintage will be called the ‘Xu Bing Mouton’.”

Xu Bing
Xu Bing (above), who majored in print-making at the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing, says: “I have long been aware of the close connection between Château Mouton Rothschild and art. In 2013, I had the good fortune to be invited to Mouton Rothschild by Baroness Philippine de Rothschild. I was impressed by her energy, her warm personality and her knowledge of the arts. She said that one day I should create a label for Mouton Rothschild. So, when Julien de Beaumarchais de Rothschild contacted me to illustrate the label for the vintage 2018, I took it as both an honour and an opportunity to pay tribute.”
To thank him for his work, Xu Bing will receive cases of wine.

Here, American artist Bob Johnson talks about creating vineyard maps, illustrating wine books, designing labels and being the artist-in-residence at the Robert Young Winery in California.

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