The Napa Valley’s mastery of the grape lure’s travelers near and far, but the region’s artistry extends further than wine. The artists who call Napa Valley home are dedicated to continuing the thriving art scene, drawing inspiration from the natural beauty of the terrain.
Beverly Wilson, Bob McClenahan, Gordon Huether, Kristina Young, Richard Von Saal and Scott Goldie’s artistic triumphs may be found throughout the Napa Valley as murals, public art installations and photographs in homes, resorts, restaurants and art galleries.
Colorist Beverly Wilson’s oil paintings are inspired by the subtle changes of seasons, temperature and light. Photographer Bob McClenahan was first inspired to pick up a digital camera by the beauty of this very valley, now he spends his days capturing the Napa Valley as few get to do. Gordon Huether’s impressive public art installations tell a story rooted in the site of where the work is located. Kristina Young, both an artist and a community arts leader, develops arts-integration curriculum for elementary schools as well as leads the Napa Quake Mosaic Project to commemorate the 2014 Napa Earthquake. Owner and principal artist of Vonsaal Design Build, Richard Von Saal, can be called an artist, designer and builder, for there is no project he can’t bring to life. Co-owner and operator of the Napa Valley Wine Train, Scott Goldie, spearheaded the Wine Train’s partnership with the Napa Valley Vine Trail to launch the Rail Arts District in 2016, fondly referred to as RAD Napa, transforming the industrial land into a contemporary cultural corridor.
The works of these artists have created an artistic hub, best explored with a glass of Cabernet in hand. Each artist pulls inspiration from something different, but all share a love for the beauty, places and faces within the 30-mile-long valley. These local artists offer an artist’s guide to Napa Valley, sharing their favorite hangouts and what makes this valley an inspiration to artists.
Q: In your own words, how would you describe the Napa Valley to someone who has never visited?
Kristina Young: It’s different than what you might expect. People often associate Napa with lots of luxury and relaxation, and, while that has its place here, for most people who live here, there is so much more texture. At its heart, it’s a rural farming community, but because the land and crops are so highly valued, it draws a layer of desire, fashion, and celebrity. It blends an unusual mixture of small-town charm with hints of cosmopolitan worldliness.
Gordon Huether: We have “big city” restaurants; wine tasting rooms; and an emerging retail shopping experience in a vibrant downtown - with a river that flows through it.
Beverly Wilson: A feast for the senses. A woven patchwork of natural beauty and agriculture that reflects all kinds of tastes and lifestyles. Small farm houses next to opulent wineries with cutting edge architecture next to stone structures built 150 years ago. Wonderful local delis next to four-star restaurants.
Q: Most don’t realize that the Napa Valley is comprised of the following distinctive towns, including, from north to south, Calistoga, St. Helena, Rutherford/Oakville, Yountville, the city of Napa, American Canyon, and the outdoor recreation area of Lake Berryessa. What do you feel is a “hidden gem” in each town?
Kristina Young: In American Canyon, I’d say the graffiti murals at “The Ruins” in the old cement factory. In Yountville, it’s walking or biking along Yount Mill Road, plus the small gallery below the Napa Valley Museum. In St. Helena, my favorite is Nimbus Arts for great classes and studio space, plus the bocce nights at Crane Park are something to behold. Rutherford and Oakville would be the Crossroads, they offer some spectacular views from the valley floor. In Calistoga, the building facades along Lincoln Avenue make it feel like something from the Old West; I’d recommend Carlo Marchiori’s gallery and murals at his home if you can score a tour.
Bob McClenahan: Hiking through the redwoods in Calistoga; overlooking St. Helena from Newton Vineyard; the cornbread at Rutherford Grill; sipping wine at sunset atop the Archer Hotel; going on a bike ride to the glass beach in American Canyon.
Richard Von Saal: I like to drop into Angele in Napa at least three days a week and turn their paper table tops into works of art while enjoying the French cuisine. A dip in the pools of the Spa at Indian Springs can’t be missed, as is a trip to di Rosa Center for Contemporary Art to experience spellbinding artwork and a story of a man’s commitment to the preservation of the arts.
Beverly Wilson: In Calistoga, Old Faithful Geyser. In St. Helena, Robert Louis Stevenson Museum. In Yountville, walking the Yount Mill Road to see beautiful landscapes, a longhorn cattle herd and an old pole barn. In Napa, the Lucky Penny Theater.
Scott Goldie: Calistoga would be Buster’s Original Southern BBQ to take a break from the wine and glitz and enjoy good old homestyle barbeque. In St. Helena, Charles Krug Winery, the oldest, and one of the most beautiful wineries in the valley. In Rutherford/Oakville, I’d recommend Grgich Hills Estate Winery. Yountville’s Pancha’s, an old school, cash-only, dive-bar. In Napa, I always recommend ALBA’s bar at the River Terrace Inn, one of the coolest outdoor cocktail spaces along the Napa River. Finally, for American Canyon, I’d say Tacos Michoacán; pet-friendly and great authentic food.
Q: We refer to Napa Valley’s slower season (November – April) as “Cabernet Season” – a time when the pace slows down, the natural beauty of the vines shine, and chefs create heartier dishes to pair with Cabernet Sauvignon. What is your favorite way to relax, restore, and reconnect during this time?
Kristina Young: It’s a nice time to take stock and practice some self-care. Yoga at NV Yoga Center; a workshop (I’m currently doing a Soul Collage workshop at Nimbus Arts); or a cookie baking class at the newly renovated Ackerman House.
Gordon Huether: Because we are so fortunate to live in this magical place and the weather is nice year-round, we can always enjoy a walk, hike or kayak ride. Since we live on the river near downtown, we take advantage of it all, without having to get in a car. Though sometimes cozying up at home with a fire and a glass of Cab (or whiskey!) is the best way to spend a lazy afternoon or evening. There’s also pleasure in bellying up at the bar at one of our favorite restaurants like Angele, Coles or Bistro Don Giovanni.
Richard Von Saal: “Cabernet Season” is my favorite time in the valley. I get cozy in all my favorite winter spots: by the fire at Bottega with a Manhattan; in the French warmth of Bistro Jeanty, where Phillipe will have his winter menu full of game; a crisp motorcycle ride up the Silverado Trail around sunset, then catching the St. Helena stores last hour before climbing down to the basement of Goose and Gander for a hot toddy.
Beverly Wilson: For me, this is the best time to get some spectacular photos along the drive up-valley. I go north along the Silverado Trail, stopping along the way at the many wonderful vantage points; stop for lunch at The Hydro Bar and Grill or Palisades Deli in Calistoga, then head back south along Highway 29 to complete the valley loop. The mustard and the vine pruners from this dramatic time of year appear in many of my paintings.
Scott Goldie: I spend a day at the Meritage Resort, beginning with a hearty lunch next to the fire enjoying drinks; and then head to Spa Terra for the best couple’s massage experience in the valley.
Q: As most “insiders” know, Napa Valley is more than just wine. What do you enjoy doing “beyond the vine?”
Kristina Young: I explore cultural gems like di Rosa for Contemporary Art; the Napa Valley Museum in Yountville; the Sharpsteen Museum in Calistoga; the Napa Valley Vine Trail; the new RAD (Railroad Arts District) murals; and the Napa Art Walk. Hikes at Alston Park and Westwood Hills reward you with gorgeous views, while cooking classes at CIA at Copia or Silverado Cooking School are always a good time. The Napa Valley Distillery, a tucked away gem, leaves you feeling like you took a step back in time.
Bob McClenahan: Whether it’s hiking in the redwoods, riding my bike along the Napa Valley Vine Trail, or going up in a hot air balloon, I enjoy breaking out my camera and capturing the Napa Valley as few people get to do.
Richard Von Saal: The hills of our valley hold the most amazing waterfalls and scenery -- the true ponderosa, perfect for hiking. I also spend many nights enjoying Blue Note and JaM Cellars Ballroom, as they always bring bands that we know and love. Otherwise you’ll find me entertaining with dinner parties at the Vonsaal studios with local meats and produce.
Beverly Wilson: Hiking Skyline Park is a good way to start the day, then I enjoy having a small casual BBQ dinner party with family and friends (often other artists). Another favorite choice is to catch whatever film is playing at the Cameo Theater in St. Helena, then walk down the street for a bite at Cook’s.
Scott Goldie: I enjoy Napa’s emerging beer scene; Palisades Saloon on Main Street is first class, as are Stone Brewing, Trade Brewing, Fieldwork Brewing, Tannery Bend Brewery and St. Claire Brown Winery & Brewery. Also, a guided tour of Napa’s Rail Arts District with PaperNapan is a must.
Q: When you have friends or family visiting the Napa Valley, what are your top 3 choices on where to take them?
Kristina Young: We usually wind up at Oxbow Public Market because it offers so many choices, but I also like Southside Café. I always recommend a walk around Downtown Napa to window shop, and stop at some favorites like Yarns on First; Makers Mart; and Muguette Renee.
Gordon Huether: For restaurants, we take our guests to either Cole's Chop House, Angele or Bistro Don Giovanni. And for non-dining experiences, must do’s include Hess Winery; di Rosa Center for Contemporary Art; the Spa at Indian Springs; and Skyline Wilderness Park.
Bob McClenahan: We have to take a trip to Castello di Amorosa; take a ride on the Napa Valley Wine Train; and a hot air balloon ride. For restaurants, I tell guests to have breakfast at Southside café; lunch at Gott’s Roadside; dinner at Kenzo; and dessert at Charlie Palmer Steakhouse on top of the Archer Hotel. I recommend they stay at Meritage Resort & Spa or Silverado Resort & Spa.
Richard Von Saal: My guests always start with a tour of the Vonsaal Studios where we serve them our client’s delicious wines and walk them through our galleries and manufacturing studio. Then, a tasting at Covert Winery where Julian Fayards wines bless their pallets, or The Prisoner Wine Company for a food and wine pairing. PRESS follows for a taste of Napa’s social life at the bar, where I always run into Napa Valley’s finest folks.
Beverly Wilson: I encourage my friends to visit during one of my favorite summer Napa events, Porchfest -- where they not only enjoy great music, but also get to explore the fun new places in Downtown Napa, like Calamity Jane’s Trading Co., where my art is on display, as well as the Oxbow Public Market and Riverfront areas. It’s tough to beat a visit to CIA Greystone in St. Helena -- everyone loves the historic building, the restaurant, the corkscrew collection and the kitchen store. For a wonderful meal with a fabulous view, my favorite is the outside deck at Auberge du Soleil on a clear day.
Scott Goldie: My go-to is the Napa Valley Wine Train, Raymond Vineyards, then steak and martinis at Cole’s Chop House or Cordeiro’s Steakhouse.
Q: When you’re not creating art, what is your favorite way to spend a day in Napa Valley?
Beverly Wilson: Wandering the downtowns of all the valley towns is always fun as each one is constantly evolving. I am currently working on some urban themed paintings of Downtown Napa, a departure from my vineyard landscapes, so I enjoy taking the time to explore and admire the architecture.
Q: As an artist living and working in the Napa Valley, what inspires you each day?
Kristina Young: I love the colors and the proximity to so many creative people. It’s exciting to be part of the Napa community, which is growing and developing each year.
Bob McClenahan: I find inspiration in the beautiful sights of Napa Valley; the smell of the harvest on a fall morning; the luscious tastes of the finest foods; the gentle roar of hot air balloons drifting by; the cool breeze on a warm day.
Richard Von Saal: The richness of our terrain and the vitality of our hospitality. Napa bathes in rich generosity with a vast array of our residents' passions to reinvent, consistently grow and deliver brands of quality craftsmanship.
Beverly Wilson: The Napa Valley landscapes and the people who work the land are most inspiring to me, as are the dramatic changes of the seasons, the intensity of light, and the unique colors of the vineyards.
Scott Goldie: Every day I am inspired by Napa Valley’s unique combination of beauty, creativity, diversity, entrepreneurship and compassion.
About Visit Napa Valley
Visit Napa Valley is the official tourism marketing organization for the Napa Valley, with a mission to promote, protect and enhance the region’s position as one of the world's premier wine, food, arts and wellness destinations. The area, known for its legendary hospitality, is also internationally recognized as one of only ten Great Wine Capitals" and has more Michelin Stars per capita than any other wine region in the world.
The Napa Valley, conveniently located just an hour from the San Francisco Bay Area, consists of the following distinctive towns, including, from north to south, Calistoga, St. Helena, Rutherford/Oakville, Yountville, the city of Napa, American Canyon, and the outdoor recreation area of Lake Berryessa.
The Napa Valley Welcome Center, located at 600 Main St. along the riverfront in downtown Napa, provides visitors with expert Concierge services from Napa Valley Ambassadors who offer complimentary Napa Valley Guidebooks, maps, brochures and winery tasting passes. The Welcome Center, open daily 9 a.m. – 5 p.m., also offers complimentary Wi-Fi and a mercantile shop featuring locally sourced gift items.
For additional information on the Napa Valley, or to plan your Napa Valley experience, please explore www.VisitNapaValley.com, join "The Napa Valley" on Facebook, follow @VisitNapaValley on Twitter and #VisitNapaValley.
Angela Jackson, Director of Media Relations
Visit Napa Valley