In addition to offering some of California’s finest wines, the Napa Valley also places host to some exquisite scenery, art and architecture.
All four await the fortunate visitor who chances on Clos Pegase, a unique winery that is at once an architectural attraction and an art museum set in one of the valley’s most scenic locations.
There are no signs to lead you there, and since it’s located midway between the valley’s two main north/south thoroughfares you’re unlikely to discover it unless you’re on a random tour of the valley and you’ve already heard about it.
Located on Dunnaweal Lane between Highway 29 and the Silverado trail in the valley’s northern end, the winery reposes like an ancient Minoan palace at the foot of the small stone hill that houses in its depths the winery’s cellars and at its summit the home of vintners Jan and Mitsuko Shrem.
Designed by the sometimes controversial Michael Graves in a San Francisco Museum of Modern Art competition, the winery is something of a work of art in itself.
Surrounding the museum, a sculpture garden populated with both representational and abstract creations covers ranges over the centuries, including a strikingly exuberant Jean Dubuffet creation that greets arriving visitors.
Dubbed “The Extravagant,” the colorful, 13-foot-tall embodies all the drama of its name.
And Dubuffet, a former wine merchant himself, triggered still further sturm under drang for Shrem with the vintner decided to adorn the label of one of his distinctive reds with one of the artist’s painting.
Bedecked Nude, a 1943 creation, had to first clear the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF), which passes on everything that goes on wine labels.
The striking work was to adorn a 1988 Cabernet sauvignon, one of the hearty red varietals for which the winery is known.
But BATF insisted Shrem truncate the label so that shoppers in liquor stores wouldn’t be confronted with the abstract image of male plumbing. “They castrated him,” quips the vintner in his regular talks on wine in art that he gives in the rock-hewn aging caves.
While the shortened image made the label, Shem fought for a decade to win a reversal, becoming something of a First Amendment hero in the process, before the “full Monty” version finally adorned the 1998 edition in his Hommage series, so-named because each carries a work from his extensive collection.
Another haunting work on display is “Mother Earth,” a seven-foot bronze by Henry Moore in the entryway to the main building, though children inevitably flock to the equally tall bronze “Thumb” by Cesar, an Italian-born French sculptor.
Other offerings include ancient Roman glassware and a superb collection of pictures, including Shrem’s favorite and the inspiration for the winery’s name, a painting of Pegasus, winged horse of ancient Greek myth, by the French Symbolist Odilon Redon.
During a barrel tasting event earlier this month where guests could taste wines straight from the oak, Shrem explained how to make a small fortune in the wine business: “Start with a large one.”
Of Lebanese extraction, Shrem discovered his love of wines in Japan, where he had met and married the love of his live, Mitsuko, who also introduced him to the intoxicating power of the grape.
He made his large fortune in publishing, then headed to franceFrance, where he studied oenology—the science of wine—at the University of Bordeaux before heading to Napa, where he refined his skills under the tutelage of the Valley’s legendary wine-maker, Andre Tchelistcheff, whose other students included Louis Martini and Robert Mondavi.
All Clos Pegase wines are produced on the Shrem’s Shrems' own Napa Valley land, and he told visitors earlier this month that the current drought is destined to produce a small crop but an extraordinary vintage.
While wine-tasting used to be a freebie, that era is long past, with Clos Pegase, like most other upper tier vintners, now charging to sip their varietals, though membership in the Pegase Circle wine club can quaff for free.
A fan of the reds will find an interesting collection, including a claret favored by some reporters. Cabernets, both sauvignon and franc, are mainstays, along with merlot, pinot noir, zinfandel and chardonnay.
The trip is about 62 miles from Berkeley.
Take I-80 to Vallejo, then take the Napa turnoff and follow the signs to state Highway 29 towards Calistoga.
Stay on 29 through Napa, Yountville and Saint Helena. When you pass Boothe State Park on your left, you’ll see a white hilltop winery (Sterling) on your right, which means the turnoff to Dunaweal Lane is near.
After a right onto Dunaweal, go seven-tenths of a mile. Clos Pegase will be on the left.
The winery is open daily 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., with tours at 11:30 a.m. and 2 p.m.
While Clos Pegase doesn’t serve food, there are many restaurants covering a range of prices throughout the Valley—or try a takeout picnic from the Oakville Grocery Co, which is located on 29 between Yountville and Saint Helena.
And for shoppers in search of outlet stores, there’s a mall at the First Street exit in Napa. For those in search of haute couture, there are the high end shops of Saint Helena.
And for cyclists, the Napa Valley is becoming a destinaiton destination of choice for two-wheelers. Just remember that natives tend to speed along some of the back-country roads.
For more information on Clos Pegase, see the winery’s website at www.clospegase.com