Review: di Rosa Preserve

5200 Carneros Highway
Napa, CA  94559
(707) 226-5991

It starts with Napa’s signature rolling hills, a patch lush grass, a cluster of spindly palms standing watch. And it’s here that a herd of cheeky cut-out sheep “graze,” paying homage to the land’s pastoral past and foreshadowing the artistic wonderland that is di Rosa, an unsung hero of Napa Valley. It all began in 1960, when the lovable eccentric Rene di Rosa purchased 450 acres of land in Napa’s Carneros region. di Rosa became not only an eco-crusader, fighting to preserve the region’s wide open spaces, but an art fiend, championing and patronizing countless Bay Area artists.

Today, di Rosa’s legacy is this 217-acre nature preserve which showcases the vast collection of art he amassed—with more than 2,000 works by 800-plus Northern California artists, it is said to be the largest collection of regional art in the nation. The democratic collection pays homage to obscure artists and well-known names (Enrique Chagoya, Mark di Suvero, and David Best among them) alike, and take up two large galleries plus much of the property.

The Gatehouse Gallery, which features some of the collection’s most iconic works in addition to rotating exhibits (zombies, collapse, and absurdism ruled the roost when we visited) is open to the public Wednesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. ($5 suggested donation).

A guided tour is necessary for access to the main gallery, brimming with provocative works, and the rest of the grounds. Much of the collection is at home outside: A metal cow walks across the bucolic lake, peacocks roam among the colorful and abstract works dotting the sculpture meadow, a car hangs nose-down from a massive tree. And the century-plus-old stone winery (itself a work of art) looks much the same as it did when it appeared as the di Rosa home in a 1967 issue of Better Homes and Gardens—with still more works adorning even the A-frame ceilings.

The most moving moment of the tour comes when you step from the bright outside into a cool, dark tunnel en route to the main house. It is here that the contemplative Chartres Bleu, a Paul Kos piece specially commissioned for the preserve, literally transports viewers to a rarified space. In less than 15 minutes you can watch 24 hours of changing light through the stained-glass windows of a cathedral in Chartres, France. Those magical moments about sum up this special place.

Tours run at regular intervals starting at 10 a.m. Wednesday through Saturday. An hour-long introductory tour (weekdays only) costs $10, and the extended 2.5-hour tour costs $15. Call ahead, as reservations are required on Saturdays and recommended on weekdays.

Read about more things to do in Napa.

Take Amtrak to Napa. From Downtown Napa, it’s a lovely (35-minute) bike ride to the preserve.

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