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Arts and culture enthusiasts have always known that wine and food may be Napa’s major calling cards, but they’re far from the only enticing reasons to visit the Wine Country.
“We’ve seen a tremendous, very exciting shift in the valley over the last five years toward emphasizing and acknowledging the region’s burgeoning arts scene,” says Brenda Lhormer, co-founder with her husband, Marc, of the Napa Valley Film Festival, which kicks off its fourth annual five-day run on Nov. 12.
Lhormer says it’s a sure sign that the world-famous Napa region, which attracts 2.9 million visitors annually, has attained some serious clout as a cultural destination “when you talk to visitors and learn they’re here for an art event, a film or concert — and secondarily, oh, by the way, they’re going to fit in a wine tasting or dinner, too.”
The Lhormers, who produced the 2008 California-wine documentary “Bottle Shock,” founded Napa’s festival after extensive conversations with the region’s civic leaders about “a desire for a world-class festival, a signature event, right here — not in the cold mountains of Utah or in a major city,” Lhormer says.
This year, 125 narrative and documentary films will be screened, accompanied by wine tastings, in Napa, Yountville, St. Helena and Calistoga.
Opening night kicks off with likely awards contender “The Imitation Game,” in which Benedict Cumberbatch plays mathematician Alan Turing. Other highlights include Kevin Costner’s New Orleans drama “Black and White,” directed by Mike Binder, and Benicio Del Toro in “Escobar: Paradise Lost.”
“Putting Napa’s culture on the map” has been the goal for the past year of the county’s arts leaders and Visit Napa Valley, the county’s official tourism promoter.
Napa County has more than 600 resident artists, and 75 wineries with art collections and exhibitions available for public viewing year round. “People are blown away by the options when they explore how diverse the cultural opportunities are,” says T. Beller, founder of Verve Napa Valley, which offers personalized Wine Country tours tailored for art lovers.
Arts lovers driving down Highway 29 have a new reason to smile as they pass the entrance to Hall Wines in St. Helena. British artist Lawrence Argent’s 35-foot-tall stainless steel rabbit was installed this spring and appears to be leaping high above the vines in front of Craig and Kathryn Hall’s 33-acre winery and indoor/outdoor art collection.
Argent’s “Bunny Foo Foo” is a playful reminder of the rolling Napa landscape’s long history as a source of whimsy and inspiration for artists.
The famous di Rosa art preserve, located on 217 acres in Napa’s Carneros region, showcases an exuberant and eclectic range of contemporary works by 800 Bay Area artists.
The property, including three galleries, an outdoor sculpture park and a 35-acre lake, “has long been a playground for artists to experiment and test out new ideas,” says di Rosa Curator Amy Owen. Opening Nov. 1 in di Rosa’s Gatehouse Gallery is an exhibition exploring new work by three accomplished Bay Area painters: The Presence of the Present: Teresa Baker, Liam Everett and Leslie Shows.
Mumm Napa, the sparkling-wine producer on the Silverado Trail, houses a gem of a photography collection in its barnlike gallery. Currently on display are more than 50 intimate autobiographical photos by legendary singer-songwriter Graham Nash. “My Life through the Lens” runs through January.
Excitement has been building among Napa’s music lovers for the reopening of two popular downtown performance venues that incurred structural and water damage in August’s 6.0 earthquake.
The 860-seat historic Art Deco Uptown Theatre canceled five big-name performances after the quake. A beloved venue among music lovers and recording artists for its superior sound quality, the Uptown draws a remarkably diverse and exceptionally talented roster of musical, literary and comedic talent.
After painstaking restoration work to its muraled 40-foot ceiling, the theater reopens with a Ziggy Marley concert on Nov. 9.
The 300-seat City Winery opened in April after a multimillion-dollar renovation of the stately 1880s Napa Valley Opera House. Upcoming headliners include Loudon Wainwright III; Iris Dement; Grammy-winning Malian group Tinariwen; Jeff Bridges & The Abiders; and three solo shows by Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter.
November and December are particularly rich in programming for Napa’s performing arts lovers. Robert Cole, former longtime director of Berkeley’s Cal Performances, took over in March as artistic and executive director of Napa’s Performing Arts Center at Lincoln Theater with an ambitious calendar of symphonic and nonclassical offerings.
“It’s a real coup that we’re presenting the only Northern California performances (on Dec. 6) of the Globe Theatre’s touring production of 'King Lear’ starring Joseph Marcell,” says Cole. “Anyone who knows Shakespeare knows this is the real deal, and we’re beyond thrilled to have it.”
Cole has planned a 30th-anniversary celebration of the Academy Award-winning film “Amadeus” (on Dec. 13), featuring an appearance by the film’s music supervisor, Sir Neville Marriner. The next night, Marriner, the founder of the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields Orchestra, will also conduct Symphony Napa Valley, featuring violinist Dmitry Sitkovetsky.
While Napa’s arts and culture boom is evident throughout the county, no appraisal of fall in the valley should overlook the fact that the region’s award-winning wines and food remain legendary.
Flavor Napa Valley, the valley’s signature wine and food festival featuring celebrity chef demonstrations and top vintner-led wine tastings, runs Nov. 19-23. Guest chefs this year include Charlie Palmer, Todd English, Rocco DiSpirito and Masaharu Morimoto.
Michael Chiarello of Bottega Napa Valley and Coqueta in San Francisco has been involved with the festival since it began four years ago.
“I’d go to festivals in Aspen, New York, Miami, and it’s great to be an imported chef showing what Napa does best.” But at the same time, he says, he longed for “a world-class, thoughtful event right here.”
“Let’s keep the cultural conversation going in Napa itself.”
Jessica Zack is a freelance writer. E-mail: [email protected].
The arts in Napa Valley
Napa Valley Film Festival: Nov. 12-16; (707) 226-7500. www.nvff.org
Uptown Theatre: 1350 Third St., Napa; (707) 259-0123. www.uptowntheatrenapa.com
City Winery Napa: 1030 Main St., Napa; (707) 260-1600. www.citywinery.com/napa
Napa Valley Performing Arts Center at Lincoln Theater: 100 California Drive, Yountville; (707) 944-9900. www.lincolntheater.org
Di Rosa: 5200 Sonoma Highway, Napa; (707) 226-5991. www.diRosaArt.org. di Rosa is open 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Wed.-Sun. The Gatehouse Gallery welcomes drop-in visitors with a suggested donation of $5. Guided tours ($12-$15) of the entire property, including the historic residence, are offered several times daily by reservation.
Hall Wines: 401 St. Helena Highway, St. Helena; (707) 967-2626. www.hallwines.com
Mumm Napa: 8445 Silverado Trail, Rutherford; www.mummnapa.com. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. daily (until 6 p.m. Fri.-Sun. through October). “My Life Through My Lens, photographs by Graham Nash,” runs through Jan. 31. Free.