As the weather fluctuated for two days in famed Los Carneros wine country, which spans Sonoma and Napa counties, gazing at a canopy made up of 832 panels of laminated glass became a kaleidoscopic journey for the senses and emotions, guiding us through the surrounding environment. The 24 colors transformed as the sunlight penetrated, the overcast sky evoked comfort, and the pouring rain left its tender residue on the earthy ground in the center of the conical canopy that opened to the sky,
Vertical Panorama Pavilion (2022), inspired by the history of circular calendars and designed by Berlin office Studio Other Spaces, founded by acclaimed artist Olafur Eliasson and acclaimed architect Sebastian Behmann, was celebrated with a series of intimate opening events on Sunday and Monday, becoming the new focal point of The Donum Estate’s 200 acres of Carneros vineyards.
Centered on a north-facing oculus, the canopy’s glazed glass panels represent the annual averages of the Donum Estate’s four meteorological parameters: solar radiation, wind intensity, temperature and humidity. Functional as well as ornamental, it houses a specially equipped reception area where visitors are encouraged to establish their own links between wine and art, and to recognize our deeply rooted connection to the environment.
“As you will notice, we sunk in,” Eliasson said, describing how the pavilion was integrated into the landscape. “Our bodies are (at) root level. We take root, so to speak. If we’re standing or sitting, we’re kind of just above ground level where the nutrition… that’s going under the ground is actually what’s in our body. And as you all know, there’s a lot of our bodies that aren’t necessarily human, but it’s material and organic and like water… It’s probably as organic as it gets, because it’s actually the site that is already there.
“You see artwork around, spread out to the side…that picks up on the story of tasting, winemaking and craftsmanship, and (the pavilion) kind of adds a different perspective. It also gives us a space where you can actually do the tasting and where you can actually play,” Behmann said. “The design criteria are actually built from ‘what is wine tasting? and how to approach that and turn that into a design, into something that you can physically experience. And so we’ve taken everything that’s on the site and used all of the storytelling that’s already on the site, like the walking, the plants, the sky, all of that is actually represented in this pavilion.
As I surveyed the intricacies of the lodge, I gazed at the intricacies of the Donum Estate Anderson Valley Estate Pinot Noir, its velvety, light ruby hue, playful raspberry nose, blend of delicate berries, spice and earthy, dancing intensely and elegantly balancing light acidity and tannins, before finishing on an earthy note to connect me to the pristine terroir.
The landscape marries a panoply of some fifty sculptures and works of art by world contemporary masters, a white cube conservation space inhabited by the imposing and amusing Louise Bourgeois crouching spider, a state-of-the-art production facility and plenty of airy yet comfortable spaces dedicated to learning about all facets of the vintages and award-winning Pinot Noir and Chardonnay varietals grown on the estate. In a market awash with so-called immersive and experiential environments, this is a refreshing reminder of what exists when values, best practices, aesthetics and passion triumph over irrelevant brand and consumer trends.
In addition to sweeping views of San Pablo Bay, we glimpse the 1,070-foot Salesforce Tower skyscraper, reminding us that we are both near and far from downtown San Francisco, underscoring the commitment Eliasson and Behmann in space experimentation. The couple have worked tirelessly during the pandemic, using virtual reality technology, which has become a ‘standard tool’ in their practice, and collaborating with Mei and Allan Warburg via Zoom while quarantined in China during three years. The unveiling was a homecoming for the couple, who acquired the vineyard and began their eno-aesthetic passion project in 2011. The Donum Collection, among the largest private sculpture collections in the world which welcomes visitors by appointment you, has grown to include works by artists from 18 countries, on six continents.
Ai Weiwei, whose Circle of Animals / Heads of the Zodiac (2011) is a highlight of the sculpture garden, also creates artwork for wine labels. Diverse collection, united by scale, includes works by Keith Haring king and queen (1987), originally installed on the site of the pavilion and now perched on a hill where it commands our attention. The rust-colored patina of the Corten steel is a departure for Haring, who is known for his vibrant colors. The intertwined figures borrow from chess pieces and remind us to look for the unexpected.
“We believe that when you take beautiful art, put it in a beautiful landscape, and enjoy great wine together, it’s a much greater experience (than) if you enjoy them alone,” Allan said happily. Warburg, embraced by Vertical panoramic pavilion.
Traversing the grounds several times over two days on foot and from the rumbling seat of a golf cart, I soaked in a myriad of sights and perspectives that defied the conventions of space and time. Navigating the serpentine, biodynamic landscape of organic vineyards interspersed with monumental sculptures while sipping on a curated range of vintages was an otherworldly delight. Each new turn led to discoveries, capturing alternate angles of carvings, inhaling the surprising scent of heirloom tomato leaves, observing the habits of donkeys, chickens and sheep, and allowing me to drift in a polyphony of chronotypes.
“There is all this bringing together of travel, there is general awareness. This architecture represents the first phase, another major role, and I would like to think that through the art and the general politics of winemaking, they have become more and more organic,” Eliasson said during a one-on-one conversation over lunch.
Holistic approaches to art, culture and business amplify the feeling of being transported away from the touristy atmosphere of downtown Napa. Avoiding art advisors and curators, the Warburgs relied on an organic approach to collecting art emerging from their personal networks.
In the United States, wine consumption is too often nothing more than a simple exchange contract with a brand. The experience is detached from the culture, community, and exploration of the grape, the vines, the process, the terroir, the weather, the winemaker, and each individual and living creature involved in production and distribution. Likewise, looking at art is too often a lazy attempt to decode what we see. There is much more to consider: haptics, vibrations, sounds, how we feel, how we interact with the object and its dynamic environment, how we transcend time and space through the process of visualization . Appreciating art is more than wandering through a gallery or museum, just as appreciating wine is more than a five-step process of color, swirl, smell, taste, and flavor. Marrying wine tasting with art appreciation can rekindle our social awareness, broaden the experience, and integrate art with nature.
The Donum Estate allows us to expand our spatial awareness, or our ability to be aware of our relationship and interaction with the environment around us. Learn to plan your visit, whether you are intrigued by wine or art, I hope you will encounter interdependence.
“Donum is very community-focused, and while we remain committed to producing the finest pinot noir in California, we also bring together people who share common passions for fine wine, cultural arts, design and sustainability,” said said Angelica de Vere-Mabray, chef. Managing Director of The Donum Estate.