Looking around at art in Hawkes Bay, I think it’s finally time to talk about art and wine; so I’m going to whine about art in wineries.

Starting with the wineries: beautiful buildings–often architecturally designed–in stunning settings.  Winemakers with the status of  celebrity chefs, spending huge amounts of time, money and practical expertise turning grapes into liquid ambrosia and creating world class wines.  Well informed cellar door staff delivering an experience that is all about enjoyment of a high value product.

The punters come to taste and are wowed.  But this, after all, is the purpose of the exercise.  Seduced by the romance of the vines, they purchase a logoed hat, apron or whatever, along with a bottle, bottles, or even a case or two.

So far, so good.  But then why, I wonder, does almost every winery persist in pairing this top end Hawke’s Bay experience with amateur art-poorly hung and filling the winery walls?  When will the sales and marketing managers figure out that great wine and mediocre art don’t mix. What are they aiming at anyway…decoration?  Boosting cellar door revenues?  Promoting the appearance of “sophistication?”

Let me tell you, possums, none of these reasons is valid.  Out-of-towners often comment to me that the art dilutes their experience of the winery.  It’s no accident that in a professional gallery setting there are plain white walls and no distractions. There is someone on hand to meet and greet, and to talk knowledgably about the artist, the work, and why it is worthy of attention. Ask about a piece of art in a winery and you’re likely to get a “your guess is as good as mine” kind of answer, suggesting that knowing about wines is a big enough job in itself. And rightly so.

Early on in my relocation from Auckland, I had the wonderful opportunity to hang works by famous NZ artists in a stunning local winery.  After eighteen months of hard work, these top quality shows resulted in, if I remember correctly, perhaps two sales.  This says to me: art in art galleries, wine in wineries.  Stick to the core business.  Or should I have a tasting table at my gallery?

When a winery is really committed to art, then the most effective way to promote the wine/art connection is through sponsorship of a high quality art exhibition in a gallery.  Hastings City Art Gallery has just established a relationship with Tuki Vineyard, a local winery in Havelock North, and the partnership is ongoing…not just a “one off.” I have observed Farmgate branding on HBMAG invitations….perfect!

And if the Wine Trail devotees are really interested in enjoying art, they should get moving…along the Art Trail. Readily available is the Gallery Guide just published by Creative Hawke’s Bay. Listing numerous studio artists, dealer galleries and public galleries, I believe this directory is invaluable for anyone wanting an art experience in Hawke’s Bay.

Visit the artist in his/her studio, experience the artist at work and talk about the art.
Visit the professional dealer galleries where you can get assistance in honing your tastes and interests.  Visit also the public galleries for lively and thought provoking exhibitions.  The well-curated national and local embroiderers’ exhibition, for example, at the Hastings City Art Gallery drew approximately 7,000 people.

And as for that wall space in the wineries? Use it to tell the story of the wine.
I often notice that the “brag board” is a makeshift, untidy and scruffy affair poked in a corner. But smartened up, kept current, framed and hung in a good spot for all to see, it’s an attractive point of interest.  Limerock Winery in Waipawa has come up with the clever idea of displaying its terroir in a fascinating terrarium filled with layers of the vineyard’s various soils.  Another option: clever photography concentrating on the winery’s unique features.  Beautiful photos of the growing of the grapes, the surrounding landscapes, winemaking activities…this adds to the character and the ambience of the experience.

At Te Mata Estate and Craggy Range they have figured all this out. The experience was wine and wine only, with a well presented brag board the only adornment. No “craft,” no “art,” no local products.

We came.  We tasted and talked.  We were conquered….and left with several extra bottles beyond our requirements.  Now that’s the kind of winery art I like.

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  1. Thanks Judith

    Reminds me of the novelist who said he was thinking of taking a year off to have a go at some brain surgery.

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