April 13, 2007
Fun a Priority at Doumani's whimsical wineryBy David Stoneberg
Thursday, March 29, 2007
The winery is exceedingly idealistic and impractical, which is its definition and its name. Carl Doumani’s Quixote Winery in the Stag’s Leap District, a mile from Silverado Trail, is an unusual building. Although it contains places for the usual winery paraphernalia, its charm is its design and subsequent execution by the late Friedensreich Hundertwasser.
On a recent spring morning a tour group of 10, many from the East Coast, toured the only Hundertwasser building in the United States.
Marjorie Morgan and Whitney Robbins traveled from Bolton, Mass. to see the building after becoming Hundertwasser fans four or five years ago after stumbling onto the public housing project he had designed in Vienna. Robbins teaches her seventh-graders about the Vienna native. She asked her students to research Hundertwasser on the Internet and then write a poem about the passionate aesthetic who turned the world’s architects on their ears. “One girl wrote that he was a very free spirit,” Robbins said, after learning that the passionate Hundertwasser would call a news conference and deliver his address in the nude, to gain more coverage for his ideas. “The students got the aesthetic,” Robbins said.
‘A philosopher and ecologist’
"It is great to be surrounded by an aesthetic that is so complete. I’ve always taught that he is more than an architect, more than an artist, that he is a philosopher and an ecologist, which are different aspects of his personality. I was looking at the irregular shapes and by visiting here we get to live his philosophy and to benefit from it. It’s the best possible scenario and the legacy that he’s left us,” she said. Irregular shapes, brightly-colored mosaics and columns, gently undulating floors and walkways, curving rooflines and golden turrets characterize Hundertwasser’s style. Beyond that, he hated straight lines and loved to bring nature into his buildings, literally. Like the other buildings he designed, Quixote Winery has a natural roof, covered with 30 inches of soil. On it grow grasses, wildflowers, bushes and trees. On Saturday, Feb. 10, the New York Times published Chris Colin’s article on the winery, which officially opened to the public the following day. When the two-person staff (Lew Price, general manager and Liz Ross, executive assistant) arrived at the winery on Monday morning, they were deluged with 269 e-mails. The hundreds of phone calls and e-mails since have slowed to a trickle. “It was an amazing launch and it put us on the map,” Price said.
Planted trees in rooms
Price also talked about the designer’s Vienna public housing project, Hundertwasserhaus. “In Vienna, he made the owners give him empty rooms dotted throughout the building. He filled the rooms with dirt and planted trees, so their branches would grow out the building. He called them his tree tenants. He wanted to bring nature to the bleak environment of the inner city.” Quixote Winery began when Doumani bought 400 acres in 1970 and founded Stag’s Leap Winery. After building the business into an iconic wine brand, Doumani woke up one day and discovered he was managing people, which is not what he wanted to do. Instead, he wanted to start over again, with a small winery. He wanted to have a hand in everything and bring a sense of fun and whimsy back to the wine business, which he felt was taking itself too seriously. Price said Doumani began searching for an architect to build his winery and while he was in the office of a San Francisco architect, he spotted a calendar with a photo of Hundertwasser’s Vienna project. One thing led to another and in 1989, Doumani flew to Vienna to meet the artist. It turned out to be a perfect marriage and ground was broken in 1991.
Sidewalk too straight
Doumani and Hundertwasser worked together for seven years and created the winery, although not without some struggles. Price said workers had laid down the walkway, with its four or five different surfaces and Hundertwasser came to examine it. “We had to rip up the sidewalk because it was too straight and flat,” he said. Today, Doumani said the winery is a great place to come to work. “It’s light, airy and I get to watch people walking up the walkway. Usually by the time they get here they’re smiling, so we’ve accomplished our purpose. We made it a place that’s pleasant to come to, it uplifts your senses and we have fun. That’s what we set out to do.” With winemaker Mario Monticelli and vineyard manager Michael Wolf, Quixote Winery produces 2,000 cases of Petite Sirah and Cabernet Sauvignon, with smaller amounts of Grenache-Mourvedre, Claret and Syrah. The first vintage was in 1999. Doumani said work in the vineyard is ongoing, because “we’re always fine tuning what we’ve got. Really, it takes a long time to zero in on where we’re going to end up. With problems in different blocks, sometimes you can fix it; sometimes you can go with another variety or another clone to fix the problem. That’s what’s exciting to me.” For the future, Doumani said he and his staff have to keep improving on what they’re doing, get more consistency within the vintages and work on growing practices to produce the grapes and the wines that he wants. Is the wine good enough? “I drink a hell of a lot of it, it better be good,” he said with a laugh.
Editor’s Note: For additional information contact Pam Hunter- 707-258-1699 x 15 or Pamela@studio-707.com