In 1881, Andrea Sbarbono developed an agricultural colony just south of Cloverdale that would later become known as Italian Swiss Colony. In the 1960s, the Colony produced TV commercials that strangely, featured a little old man as a winemaker costumed in an Alpine hat and lederhosen. He closed the commercial with the classic phrase, “That little old winemaker, me!”
Today the wine facility is home to Cellar No. 8 winery. Near the tasting room, two vintage train cars sit in the middle of a vineyard, a carryover from glory days of the 1960s when the Italian Swiss Colony tasting room received more than 10,000 visitors per year.
Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church, located in Asti just south of Cloverdale, stands in a serene landscape of vineyards and mountains. The church was built in 1960 by the agricultural co-op known as the Italian Swiss Colony that produced old world wines. In keeping with the spirit of the colony, wine barrel staves were used to construct the roof and interior wood workings of the church. Its exterior was designed to echo the shape of a wine barrel.
My Sunday Column “Sense of Place” usually runs at the bottom of the Towns section every other Sunday, but today my work was printed in the “Vignette” section at the top of the page. Today’s story is about Robert Rue Vineyards located in the town of Fulton. Bob and Carlene Rue, the winery owners, are some of the nicest people I’ve meet and make some great wines too.
Here is the text (I know it’s a bit hard to read the newspaper from my scan):
South of Fulton and down an old country road, a row of plum trees call attention to Robert Rue Winery. Bob and Carlene Rue purchased this 10-acre, 100 year old vineyard in 1973, and over the years have sold their grapes to many well known local wineries. The vineyard is a field-blend of predominantly Zinfandel, interplanted with Petite Sirah, Carignane, and Alicante Bouschet grapes.
In 2001, Bob and Carlene’s long held dream of producing their own wine became a reality. With the help of winemaker Dan Barwick, and before him, winemaker Carol Shelton, the wine blended from Rue vines has garnered many awards. The first vintage was produced at a custom crush facility and the finished wine stored in their garage. In 2010 the Rue family built a new facility on their property to accommodate an expanding production of almost 1,000 cases per year.
Back in 1964 when the Bacigalupi family planted six acres of Chardonnay on their property, many people thought it was a mistake since the conventional wisdom of the time was to plant prunes, a much more lucrative fruit. But the Bacigalupis gained widespread recognition as growers in 1976 when Château Montelena’s 1973 Chardonnay (made with 40% Bacigalupi fruit) won the famed Judgment of Paris tasting over many highly acclaimed French wines. This single event helped to change the world’s perception of California wines.
This watercolor sketch shows the Paris Tasting Block of Chardonnay on the Bacigalupi ranch in Healdsburg as it exists today. The family plans to keep the vineyard as long as it’s producing grapes.
One of my favorite places for coffee is the Flying Goat in Healdsburg. They have great, freshly roasted coffee, engaging art on the walls, and an overall nice coffee house feel. I’ve been coming here for years to sketch out ideas, think, write, and meet up with friends. Surprisingly though, this is the first time I’ve sketched the place from the inside.
While driving along West Side Road just outside of Healdsburg today, I noticed all the grape vines in the vineyards have been pruned. The vine’s thick, black trucks are all that remain, contrasting against a sea of yellow mustard. The weather was unseasonably warm so I parked roadside and sketched this scene while sitting under a tree.
A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of tasting John Tyler wines at their new tasting room in the Russian River Valley. The delightful Nicole Bacigalupi poured their latest Pinot Noirs, Petite Syrah, and Zinfandels. I enjoyed them all and couldn’t resist purchasing a bottle of their newly released 2008 Zinfandel and their 2008 Bacigalupi Vineyard Pinot Noir. It’ll be tough to find an occasion worthy of opening a bottle, so I might just have to invent one.
Unlike today, last weekend the weather was perfect for a bike ride and I chose to head into the Russian River Valley. The autumn colors were at their peak, draping the landscape in deep oranges, rich reds, and golds. In another week, two at most, these warm colors of autumn will be replaced with winter greens.
While driving Old Redwood Highway north of Windsor, I’ve always enjoyed the view along Los Amigos Road. Last weekend, I finally found time to sit amongst the young olive trees at the roadside to paint the scene.
Old barns are common along roadsides in Sonoma County, but I never tire of the character and beauty they add to the landscape. Many are no longer in use; seemingly held together by nothing but peeling paint, their roofs sag and the walls bear holes big enough to accommodate all sorts of critters. Yet somehow these barns manage to keep standing. I like to think they’ve grown roots, like the old oak trees from which they were built, that each is digging ever deeper into the soil in order to prop up its increasingly frail frame. This old barn along West Side Road complements the season’s earthy browns and greens, now that recent rains have washed away much of autumn’s warmer tones.
I was recently asked to paint two sketches of Papapietro Perry’s winery. One sketch will be used as a Christmas Card and the other will be used as a birthday party invitation. If you’re in the Dry Creek area of Sonoma County, stop in and taste some of their fine wines and say hello to Barney and the rest of the friendly tasting room staff.
This is the original winery sketch. After drawing in pencil and then ink, I used masking fluid to stop out the white lights before painting.
In this final modified version, I used Adobe Illustrator to further enhance the lighting, which is unobtainable in watercolor alone.
This is the original patio sketch done in pencil, ink, and watercolor.
In this final modified version. I painted the balloons separately on paper then I used Adobe Illustrator to combine the two watercolors and to further enhance the birthday cake.
After walking a quarter mile from our house, Marilyn and I arrived back at the site of my Four Seasons series. We set down our bags for a relaxing morning of art and nature, and a chatty mockingbird welcomed us with a rapid succession of musical phrases.
After unfolding our chairs, I pulled out the final piece in the quartet. I’d begun the drawing yesterday, leaving it unfinished after the heat drove us back indoors. Today feels different: the shadows are longer, the foggy morning has left dew on the grasses, and a new crispness hangs in the air. Autumn is near, and more importantly, harvest is fast approaching.
Across the field, the closest vineyard has been plowed over and the vine’s skeletal remains have been bulldozed into a burn pile. With the rainy season only two months off, I imagine this pile of woody vines will soon be reduced to smoke and ash.
Looking up to catch the sun dancing across rustling leaves, I blinked twice to realize only three pears were now hanging from the top of the tree! Apparently overnight, someone had picked the pears as far up as they could reach. I wouldn’t have thought the fruit would be ripe yet but someone else must know better. Good thing I’d started the drawing yesterday when the tree was full of fruit since the point of the series is to show all four seasons.
The mockingbird that had kept us company, flew across the field and disappeared into a thicket of bushes. With the last of the Four Seasons paintings now complete, I began to pack up my supplies. I’m going to miss painting this place, it’s beginning to feel a lot like home.