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Wine to me is passion. It's family and friends. It's warmth of heart and generosity of spirit. Wine is art. It's culture. It's the essence of civilization and the art of living. - Robert Mondavi

Clos Pegase - Two ancient arts: Architecture and winemaking that shine in modern times




Tuesday, October 4, 2011
With so many fantastic wineries in Napa Valley, it can be overwhelming to decide which to visit. Typically, we’re drawn to a winery for its wine-making reputation, but other times we want more...maybe an experience that goes beyond just the wine. Visit Clos Pegase if you love art as much as you love wine, because you will wantto spend as much time walking through the sculpture garden and visiting the 1000 piece modern art collection as you will tasting the wines. This is also a great winery to visit if you have a group and want to sit in the garden and enjoy a picnic, or if you’re looking to plan a special event since Clos Pegase has a 150 person Wine Cave theater, plus additional indoor and outdoor venue space.

Located at the very top of Napa Valley as you approach Calistoga, Clos Pegase is hard to miss with its brighty colored, bold modern architecture. The founder of Clos Pegase, Jan Shrem, started his career in the Japanese publishing industry. In 1955, while he was studying for his Master's degree at UCLA, he took what he thought was going to be a little vacation in Japan. He fell in love with the place and decided to stay there for the next 13 years. Jan imported and translated English-language reference and technical books and by the time he sold his company in 1968 to elope with hiswife Mitsuko to Europe, it had grown nearly 2,000 employees. In 1980, after 25 years in the publishing business, Jan decided the time had come to listen to Mitsuko and his "inner Bacchus" and devote his life to winemaking. Jan enrolled in the enology programat the University of Bordeaux, and later headed west, to California, eventually creating a unique wine estate -- and an equally distinctive style of winemaking. He began by purchasing a 50-acre vineyard in Calistoga in 1983 which now boasts over 400 acres of Estate vineyards.

Back to the architecture of Clos Pegase. Jan was an avid art collector, and as he developed his winery, he envisioned a place designed to showcase his extensive art collection in a way that made it accessible to everyone. He wanted to create a place of celebration, education and pleasure; and a visible, visit-able symbol of his winemaking philosophy. Working with the SF MOMA, Jan sponsored an architects' competition whereby from a field of 96entrants, judges selected renowned Princeton architect, Michael Graves, who was commissioned to build a "temple to wine and art" and a home for Jan and Mitsuko. Within the Calistoga knoll that is now Clos Pegas Winery, 20,000 feet of aging caves were excavated, to include the breathtaking Cave Theater, a dramatic setting for celebrations, presentations and special events. Construction was completed in 1987. The spectacular structures Graves created -- and the surrounding sculpture garden that includes some of the world's greatest twentieth-century works of art -- have won international awards and generated great excitement in the wine industry. The national press has described Clos Pegase as "a place of pilgrimage" and "America's first monument to wine and art."

The Postmodern design of Clos Pegase merges modern and ancient architecture with strong allusions to ancient Mediterranean themes, especially Crete. Graves describes the character of his creation as tending having a "timeless sensibility" and his work truly embodies a celebration of the lifestyle that is unique to the Napa Valley. As you approach the entrance to Clos Pegas, the Henry Moore sculpture in the Grand Portico Entrance depicts Gaia, or Mother Earth. In Greek mythology Gaia, which is simply the poetic form of the word for "earth" or "land" was one of the first beings spontaneously born from nothing. Mythology and Greek influence are all-present at Clos Pegas (the winery name refers to Pegasus, who landed on Mount Helicon, ripping open the peak and releasing the waters within, which gave life to wine and art). In the Cave Theater, a perfect setting for events, there are sculptures of the Gods including the scene of Athena taming Pegasus. Pillars, porticos, and Italian Cypress trees add to the Mediterranean influence, while Modern art sculptures and paintings and a dramatic backdrop of the Mayacama mountains makes this winery an epic destination.

There are many famous works of art in the Visitor's Center as well on the winery grounds. You can take a guided tour (offered daily, at 11:30am and 2pm,) or explore the grounds at your leisure using the self-guided tour. If you're looking for a casual luncheon in between tasting room visits, you can enjoy a wine country lunch on the picnic grounds, which sit adjacent to the vineyards in the shady canopy of walnut and fig trees. Call 24 hours in advance and Clos Pegase can even get your lunch prepared and packed for you. If you’re looking for something more formal, you can arrange a private lunch or dinner in the Harvest Room, the Cave Theater, the Cask Room or the Courtyard (bordered by cyprus trees and covered by hanging strands of lights).


We arrived after the final tour of the day had ended, but Austin, one of the friendly staff, kindly offered to show us the Cave Theater and then took us on a private tour of the winery and the art collection. Each year, Jan selects a new piece of art from his collection to be featured on his Cabernet bottles and Austin pointed out some of the originals on our tour - it was awe-inspiring to see these pieces up close. My only regret was that we didn’t arrive earlier to enjoy a picnic and spend more time viewing the incredible art collection. This is a winery that you could come back to each year and probably always learn something new. The wines are great as well. My favorites noted below:


Tasting Notes:

2009 Sauvignon Blanc Mitsuko's Vineyard
Mitsuko's Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc expresses intense and complex aromas of passion fruit, pineapple, melon and dried grass, with undertones of tangerine, grapefruit and flint. The wine possesses vibrant minerality and acidity with lengthy fruit flavors.

2008 Pinot Noir, Mitsuko's Vineyard - 90 Points - Wine Enthusiast
The wine possesses nice aromas of fresh black cherry and red mulberry accented by bakers spices, and toasted nuts. The wine is silky with pitch-perfect acidity balancing the opulent mouthfeel. The wine's complex and exotic flavors include a smoky earthiness to balance the rich fruit notes providing immediate satisfaction.

2006 Cabernet Hommage Artist Series Reserve
With masses of blackcurrant and black cherry on the nose, the wine opens with great intensity. Jammy and smoky, toasty oak notes are well integrated. The palate is big, fat, dense and juicy with tremendous weight and fruit intensity leading to a long finish. Collect every vintage of this wine as each year, a unique piece of art from Jan Shrem’s collection is selected for the label.

2007 Portico (Napa Valley Port) - NEW RELEASE - Limited Production.
As the Portuguese have reminded us, the term 'Port''strictly applies to wines made in Portugal from a very specific area in a very specific style. The winemakers at Clos Pegase have used a Michael Graves sketch of their entrance PORTICO to slyly imply that the wine is a sweet, sumptuous and rich desert wine. It has strong aromas of baked cherry pie, blackcurrant, dried fig and plum with lots of baking spices on the finish. The Portico is made from Petite Sirah estate-grown opposite the winery in the Dunaweal Vineyard. Luscious and fleshy, with vibrant fruit on the palate, the wine has great length, and promises a minimum cellaring potential of ten years.
 

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