Growing up in the Midwestern US, I never gave the wine industry much thought. Wineries were few and far between and not nearly as trendy as today. If you came across one while driving through farmland you may or may not stop. Usually the wine was made from local fruit (other than grapes) so it tended to be sweet. If it was made from grapes, it might be drinkable but generally nothing to write home about or even serve to your guests. In fact, if the winery did produce good wine, chances were pretty good that was all the marketing they needed. Good Midwestern wine was the exception, not the norm. (Fortunately that is changing a bit with the times but that is another story.)
Given this background, it will come as no surprise that I just sort of assumed that the best way to differentiate a winery was to make good wine. (I know. Naive.)
Now that I live in California, it is blatantly obvious that simply making a good wine isn’t good enough to grow a wine business. Virtually every California winery is located someplace where the climate, geology and other environmental conditions are such that they contribute to great character and flavor in a wine. ‘Terroir’, as the French would say. In all of the US, there are 230 areas called AVAs (American Vitricultural Areas) where the federal government has classified these regions as distinctive. More than half of these areas are located in California, and within a day’s drive of each other. It isn’t enough to simply put out a good product so wineries resort to other ploys to lure the crowds to their tasting rooms.
There are wineries that provide beautiful gardens to explore, like Buena Vista and Kendall Jackson. There are wineries with superb picnic grounds, such as V.Sattui. At Francis Ford Coppola’s winery, there is a movie theater and museum space. There are wineries with fantastic restaurants on site. Some offer horseback rides. Others let you tour their facilities in horse-drawn carriages or by bicycle. The attractions to make a winery special for more than just their wines just seems to continue to grow and grow.
One of our favorite wineries to visit for the eye candy is Sculpterra. Located in the Paso Robles AVA, they put out some wonderful Rhône-style wines that we can always enjoy stopping to taste when we pass through the central coast. But the ‘pièce de résistance’ for Chuck and me is their sculpture garden! You see, at Sculpterra, they keep an artist in residence and, as a result, they have some magnificent modern pieces on the grounds. You enter the winery through an exquisite Art-Nouveau-inspired gate crafted by Robert Bentley and drive up amidst the vineyard and pistachio grove.
An excited bronze pup with his head out a car window is there to greet you in the parking lot.
If you can tear yourself away from inspecting the bevy of sculptures as you approach the front entry, get to the tasting room and get your first pour. With wine in hand, go wander outside and enjoy some pretty incredible pieces created by John Jagger, Dale Evers and a few others. (If you can’t already tell, this is not a winery where you want to dash in, taste and scurry on to the next venue. This is a place to sip, relax, appreciate and take it all in!)
If you buy a few bottles, like we always do, you can continue to enjoy both the wine and the artwork at home. Sculpterra uses several of the sculptures on their labels. One of our personal favorites at CatTail Studio Arts is ‘Golden Morning’ as seen on this bottle of superb viognier. I bet you can figure out why! 😉