By Hayley Thomas
When the Paso Robles Downtown Wineries got together a little over a year ago to brainstorm on how to create a more dynamic experience for tasters strolling from one tasting room to the next, the consensus was inspired - splatter the walls with paint and blur the lines between "local flavor" and "local color."
The Paso Robles Downtown Wineries - which have since grown to encompass 18 individual alcoves within the downtown area - adopted a loosely organized "First Saturday" art ritual in an effort to showcase the small town celebrities of Paso's eclectic and ever-growing art scene. Once a month, participating tasting rooms are transformed into avant-garde hangouts where locals and tourists can sip wine, chat with artists, enjoy live music and view inspired artwork.
Although many downtown wineries hang art in their tasting rooms year-round - and all of the participants approach "First Saturday" differently - the purpose is the same: Blending the worls of art and wine, said Kiame Wine Cellars Tasting Room Manager Sophia Stephens.
Kiamie Wine Cellars features a new artist every month. Tasters can meet the featured artist during an evening reception, which includes appetizers and plenty of wine. During the month of May, tasters will have a chance to pick the brain of local artist Janice Pluma, who relishes working with juicy, brilliant color and a mess of unconventional art materials.
"Art and wine go so wonderfully hand-in-hand, and we found that it's a great combination of culture for people to enjoy," said Stephens. "With the plethora of both wineries and artists in this county, it just makes sense to honor and support both in one single event that locals can count on attending monthly."
In April, The Paso Robles Downtown Wineries teamed up with fellow downtown neighbor Studios on the Park in an effort to further explore wine's relationship with art through The Art of Wine event, which benefitted the artist non-profit.
Winemakers and winery owners from a dozen downtown wineries got their hands dirty working with paint, encaustic methods, photography, collage and other mediums to create pieces that spoke to their winemaking vision.
Christian Lazo Winery represented one downtown winery involved in the first-time collaboration. Like an artist with sleeves splattered with paint, reminders of winemaker Steve Christian's craft were written all over his hands - which were discolored from working with acids and caustics - as he poured wine at the event.
"Artists and winemakers often use the same theme over and over, but just a little bit different, and that's so much like the wine business. I have five acres of Barbara, 15 acres of zinfandel and five acres of petite syrah, and I've been working with the same vineyard since 2002," he said. "So I'm working the same theme every year, but it's always a little bit different." Christian pointed to the array of brightly colored depictions of vineyards hung on the walls at Studios on the Park. "That painting is different from that painting, but they are all unique and they are all beautiful."
Collage artist and painter Sarah Winkler said that the blending of art and wine makes perfect sense for the Paso Robles area.
"I think it's the same crowd that enjoys art and wine, and [that crowd] comes to Paso Robles for a destination, and [the artists] are here so people can visit and connect with us," said WInkler, who added that the vineyards themselves are a great source of inspiration for local painters and photographers. "A lot of the artists in here are inspired by the landscape because we live amongst all these wonderful vineyards. I use a lot of vineyards in the backgrounds of my paintings, and I'm very inspired by the landscape of this area," she said.
Anglim Winery owner Steffanie Anglim said that she and her husband, a winemaker and co-owner, like to keep their tasting room exhibits as local as possible.
"We try to mix it up in terms of media, but the key is to showcase local scenes, local places and also the works of local artists," said Anglim, who added that winemakers and artists put a lot of their heart and soul into their crafts.
"For me, both art and wine require a lot of input of self. In terms of what we pick, and what growers we work with, we like to work with people that are small like us, and are really good, quality focused people. I think art is the same way. You put a lot of yourself into it, and you reflect not only your home, and your environment, but your own personality."
According to Anglim, good wine and good art should reflect the artist and stay true to their unique vision. As attendees viewed the drastically varying artwork created by the artist-winemaker duos during the Art of Wine Event, that point may have been the unspoken theme of the evening.
"You can tell if my husband made the wine on the table because his fingerprints are on it," said Anglim. "And that's true for other winemakers, and it's obviously true for local artists."
For more information regarding Studios on the Park, visit 1130 Pine St. in Paso Robles, call 238-9800 or log into www.studiosonthepark.org. For more information regarding Paso Robles Downtown Wineries visit www.pasowine.com.