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Food & Wine: A World-class Art and Wine Pairing

Yayoi Kusama’s “Pumpkin” greets visitors to an MH Architects–designed building at the Donum Estate. | Photo courtesy of the Donum Estate.

In Carneros, guests can enjoy sips and sculptures against a spectacular backdrop

Amid the vineyards and pastoral farms of southern Napa and Sonoma counties, the heart of Carneros is shaped just like one.

Richard Hudson’s “Love Me,” a polished, reflective steel sculpture, rises majestically on a central hill of the Donum Estate. It is the centerpiece that leads to the big question: Is the Donum Estate an outdoor art gallery that happens to grow and produce wine — or is it a winery with a brilliant art collection surrounded by vines? The answer is both. After all, the wine and the art are so interwoven on this 200-acre Carneros canvas, where Jaume Plensa’s “Sanna,” a stoic, calm female head that stands nearly 40 feet tall, comes into view as the gates open upon arrival.

“Donum is very much about community, and we bring people together with shared passions for fine wine, cultural arts and sustainability,” explains Donum Estate CEO Angelica de Vere Mabray. “From accessing the Donum Collection of renowned global art to enjoying our fine wines to learning about our biodynamic farming practices, each guest of the Donum Estate experiences a safe and unique opportunity to discover these complementary elements that have made our Carneros property an international destination.”

Originally a dairy farm, the winery debuted with a 2001 vintage. However, it wasn’t until a decade later that the current owners, Hong Kong–based Mei and Allan Warburg, started the Donum Collection, turning a notable winery into a captivating tandem of art and wine.

There are currently over 50 works, mostly outdoors, representing a wide spectrum of styles and provenances. The assemblage ranges from Ugo Rondinone’s colorful stone sculptures in the nuns + monks series to the grand bronze “Pegasus,” by Ernst Billgren, that would be right at home in the royal garden of a European capital. Ai Weiwei’s stunning “Zodiac Heads” is a highlight of any visit, with 12 Chinese zodiac animal heads encircling a daffodil garden.

Donum produces 13 pinot noirs and five chardonnays as well as a sparkling wine and a rosé. |Photo courtesy of the Donum Estate.

In December, the indoor gallery — for pieces that need to be shielded from the elements — gained a notable new occupant: “Rehearsal,” a wall-mounted sculpture by El Anatsui, made of aluminum liquor bottle caps and copper wire. It is housed in the same natural light–filled space as Louise Bourgeois’ “Crouching Spider,” a sprawling steel arachnid that gazes out at vineyards.

The Donum Estate is hardly finished growing its presence in the art and wine worlds. Later this year, a wine-tasting pavilion designed by Studio Other Spaces’ cofounders, artist Olafur Eliasson and architect Sebastian Behmann, will be unveiled. The structure is sited on a small hill, yielding striking views of the landscape as well as the alfresco sculptures.

Not to be outdone, the Donum wines are beautiful, elegant examples of pinot noir and chardonnay influenced more by Carneros’ cool San Francisco Bay winds and less by the sometimes modern, eclectic art in the collection. With 13 different pinot noir expressions offered, the varietal takes on many kinds of tasting notes and textures across the estate’s vineyards. For example, the 2019 Carneros Estate Pinot Noir presents prominent ripe red fruit flavors, while the East Slope Pinot Noir from the same vintage is a leaner wine with distinct blackberry and rustic earth notes.

Combining nature, wine and art, the entire property is a multisensory retreat from the hectic noise of the real world. But for a true escape into the mystique that is this corner of southern Sonoma County, head to the eucalyptus grove on the grounds. While Keith Haring’s “King and Queen” was relocated nearby in order to accommodate the forthcoming pavilion, it is a site-specific installation within the grove that is not to be missed: Doug Aitken’s “Sonic Mountain” features 365 suspended stainless-steel pipes that chime to the tune of the Carneros breeze. Here, Donum terroir is more than just what produces terrific pinot noir — it holds incredible art, too.

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