Carneros’s Donum Estate ... An Interplay of Wine, Art and Rejuvenation
Updated: Feb 11
(Originally published in the Napa Valley Register)
A visit to the Donum Estate, tucked in the heart of Carneros, may be the healthiest of prescriptions for de-stressing and rejuvenation. At least, that is how I felt after spending an afternoon on this 187-acre property with its expansive, rolling vineyards overlooking the San Pablo Bay and the Coastal Range. I was there to celebrate the opening of Donum Home, a new hospitality space that offers an ideal setting for private, personalized tastings of Donum’s hand-crafted wines.
I was greeted by president and winegrower, Anne Moller-Racke, who founded Donum Estate in 2001. A long-time veteran of the industry, Moller-Racke’s mission, along with winemaker Dan Fishman’s, is to produce the highest-quality, single-vineyard Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in the Burgundian grand cru model from Donum’s vineyards in Carneros, Russian River Valley and Anderson Valley. That day, she was serving 2015 Carneros Estate Grown Chardonnay, 2014 Carneros Estate Grown Pinot Noir, 2014 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir, and 2014 Russian River Estate Pinot Noir and 2014 Ten Oaks Pinot Noir.
As I enjoyed my glass of the Carneros Pinot, I joined a small group of guests for a walking tour of the grounds, or as I like to think of it, the beginning of my de-stressing and rejuvenation. My five senses were being nurtured all at once. It was the day that our weeks-long hot spell had broken and I could now feel and smell a faint, coastal breeze. I should better describe our tour as a quiet, intimate stroll. Quiet but for the serenade of chirping birds – and, it sounded as if all 200 species on the property had come out to sing in unison. Perhaps they were also celebrating the sweet freshness in the air.
As if the breeze, the landscape, the chirping, and the Pinot were not enough to reenergize my body and spirit, there was still more to see. The newly planted olive trees, vegetable garden, and lavender. The chickens, beehives, and rescue donkeys – and more. Moller-Racke had sprinkled impressively-large sculptures by world-class artists throughout the property.
As you enter the grounds, you’re welcomed by “Sanna”, a giant cast of a young woman’s head with her eyes closed in meditation. The cast, by Barcelona-born Jaume Plensa, immediately conveys the mood Moller-Racke has intended for your visit.
She also brought in “Circle of Animals / Zodiac Heads” by contemporary Chinese sculptor, Ai Weiwei. This work inspired Moller-Racke and Weiwei to collaborate in designing a new label dedicated to the Zodiac animals.
Many sculptures embody a message of non-violence towards fellow beings, including animals. For instance, a version of Swedish sculptor, Carl Fredrik Reuterswärd’s, “Non-violence” (a revolver tied in a knot first created in memory of John Lennon in 1981) is on display. The original is outside the Headquarters of the United Nations.
Yue Minjun’s “Chinese Contemporary Warriors” consist of 25 warrior figures. Some express smiles that have the same characteristics as his self-portrait paintings. With their eyes closed and hands covering their ears, art experts, the Chinese government, and the general public have interpreted Minjun’s message in different, yet all serious, ways. In the spirit of destressing and rejuvenation, I chose to take a light-hearted approach. A reminder to take a moment each day to turn off the noise and smile with appreciation for living in beautiful wine country.
A few of us took a detour off the path to maneuver through Gao Weimang’s vertical, copper pipe maze. Given that it was embedded in pea gravel, I enhanced my spa-like experience by removing my shoes to enjoy a foot massage of a sort.
Atop an incline, visible from many perspectives on the property, stands Richard Hudson’s mirrored-steel heart. In his words, “I ask the viewer to reflect with the polished mirrored steel surface on the wonderment of this world and nature’s beauty all around. The sheer size and volume of this work should bring home this message and a smile of hope.”
As trucks and cranes carefully add to Donum’s sculptural park, Moller-Racke comments, “When it comes to wine production and art collection, both are, and will always be, ongoing works in progress.”
In this past June’s issue of Wine Spectator, senior editor James Laube noted, “Donum's presence is transforming Ramal Road's visual allure as much as its Pinots are changing Carneros wine. It's rare in the U.S. for one person to have worked with one vineyard for as long as Moller-Racke. The quality of Donum's Pinots is altering the mindset of the region, bringing renewed vigor to the heartbreak grape.”
Donum Home was designed by San Francisco-based MH Architects. In the words of principal architect, Matt Hollis, “The Donum Home is intended to inspire tranquility and enhance guests’ focus on the flavor profile of the wines. The building itself stays out of the way but provides the setting in which visitors can appreciate the multi-layered complexity of Donum wine amid an exquisite natural setting to create a unique, serene and unforgettable experience.”
Merriam Webster defines “Donum” as Latin for a gift and Turkish for a unit of land. I define it as a restorative retreat where spicy, dark-berry Pinot Noirs, citrusy Chardonnays, and a sculptural park make every day a vacation.
The Donum Estate is located on Ramal Road off Highway 121 and open by appointment only. Call 707-939-2290 or email email@example.com
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