Between art and wine
Visit any wine region and you’re sure to be surrounded by art inspired, in turn, by the terroir. Moreover, attend any artist reception and a glass of wine will most certainly be offered.
Art and wine share a symbiotic relationship. Both combine in many forms to make the Yamhill Valley a desirable place to live and visit. Both, Bill Sanchez of Potter’s Vineyard says, allow people to slow down and enjoy the moment.
“When you look at art, you pause and you take it in,” he said. “With wine, it’s the same thing.”
Bill and his wife Sandy purchased their Chehalem Mountains estate vineyard in 2012 from Laura Volkman. The Sanchez’s are both potters, and the new venture allowed them to combine two hobbies and weekend jobs. The Potter’s Vineyard tasting room doubles as an art gallery, displaying a rotating collection of ceramics and other art from local and regional artists.
The mom-and-pop shop certainly isn’t the only operation to combine winetasting and art gallery experiences in the Valley. Saffron Fields in the Yamhill-Carlton AVA is renowned for its museum-quality modern art collection of owners Sanjeev Lahoti and Dr. Angela Summers. On Ribbon Ridge, winegoers at Trisaetum can peruse the abstract paintings and photography of owner/winemaker James Frey. And in McMinnville, art and wine are presented side-by-side at The Gallery at Ten Oaks, which opened this summer and doubles as a tasting room for Coleman Vineyard.
The intersection of wine and art is frequently reflected on the wine bottles themselves. Winemakers have long used fine art on their labels to represent what’s inside. For instance, this September, Argyle Winery unveiled a three-pack of bubbly called “The Art of Sparkling.” The three bottles of 2013 Vintage Brut in the collection each have a unique label commissioned by three students from the Pacific Northwest College of Art. The artists took inspiration from field trips to the vineyards and winery Argyle said it plans to make art partnership an annual tradition.
“The artists will hopefully hold a mirror up to us and show us something about ourselves that we couldn’t vocalize before,” said Chris Cullina, director of sales and marketing at Argyle, during the unveiling party.
The relationship is not confined to visual representations and inspirations of wine. Wine culture can guide storytelling and music just as readily.
Winemaking itself is considered an art in certain ways. Give two artists a canvas, a brush and paints and they will create different pieces of work. Furthermore, give two winemakers the same grapes grown in the same winery, and two different variations of a vintage will emerge.
Patrick Reuter, co-owner of Dominio IV in McMinnville, said the ability to tell a story through winemaking, and to add a sense of place and mood, is what makes the craft pair with art so well.
“I think there’s always an impulse for people to relate wine and art together because there’s an eliciting of this creative impulse, this whole bringing something representative that has something to say into this world,” he said.
More than simply a cultural bond, art and wine have formed a commercial collaborative relationship. Local artist and co-owner of Currents Gallery in McMinnville, Kathleen Buck, says the artists’ co-op has benefited greatly from the rise in wine-related tourism.
“About 50 percent of our sales are to people who live out of county, so we love that there is so much wine here,” she said.
The rise of Yamhill Valley wine country has impacted her own artist’s journey, too. When planning was underway for the Chehalem Cultural Center, she was asked to do a demo painting of a wine scene. “It sold immediately, and I realized this was a hot subject.”
Buck later was requested to produce pieces for the Allison Inn & Spa when it opened. Her wine-themed work has moved into the abstract. For her latest series, she begins a piece by splashing liquid acrylic on canvas and then puts crinkled shrink wrap paper on it that is weighted down. The next step in the process is to create shapes.
“I take (the paper) off the next day and have these amazing swirls and shapes and crinkles,” she said. “The splash of the first layer make amazing labels in the bottles. It’s an exciting combination of abstract and real that makes the painting interesting.”
The relationship of art and wine is different for everyone. The Sanchez’s enjoy the unique rapport between creating pottery and winemaking from the same ground.
“For us, it starts with the soil,” Bill said. “We grow the grapes from the soil and make the clay from the soil.” Soon, they will begin making pottery from the vines themselves, by creating a wood ash glaze from the cuttings and stocks in the vineyards.
Reuter’s creative works, on the other hand, concern the process of winetasting. His paintings, displayed on the labels of Dominio IV’s Imagination Series, are visual interpretations of tasting notes. It’s an idea that occured naturally to him while in college.
“I had a Bordeaux, one of those fancy kinds, and I said, ‘I don’t really understand this wine, but I can draw it,’” he said. “I drew it as a bell curve, which represented intensity. And then I started exploring that a little bit more, and that became the way I better understood wine.”
Later, in grad school at University of California Davis, he described his methods to promising winemakers.
“We would sit down and have tasting of wines, and they were very heavy on aromatic descriptors. That was the main way that people were describing wines. I remember one time sitting around the table, all are well-known winemakers now, and I said something like, ‘Well, the tannins are like little dice.’ And the whole table turned and looked at me, like, ‘What planet are you on?’
“But then they all agreed there was something to that. Nobody had ever put that shape to a tannin. Everybody got ahold of it, and agreed it worked.”
Reuter’s pictorial descriptors use circles to represent fruit, arrows for acidity, dots for tannins and various colors depicting mood, structure, flavors and concept.
For instance, “If you have raspberry and blueberry and fig, you’re going to have colors that are dark blue, navy and dark brown,” he said. “It’s not what color the wine is, per se, but what color the wine elicits, which is kind of an out-there concept, but I think a lot of people pick it up easily.”
In the wine world, describing a vintage can be a language of its own, which at times seems elusive to everyday winedrinkers. Reuter says his version of tasting notes can bridge the gap between consumer and “expert” connoisseurs.
There are numerous example of people drinking wine and being moved to create art. A glass or two of wine can break down inhibitions for artists, professional and amateur, to explore their creative side.
And just as artists are inspired by the lands and culture around them, so are winemakers when guided by instincts once all the measurements have been made. “People who make wine have an ability to think about the creative aspect of birthing a wine,” Reuter said.
Both art and wine entail using senses that go by the wayside in life’s busier moments, said Bill Sanchez.
“It’s meditative,” he said. “For me, I don’t know how you can get through life without that.”