Getting lost in Sonoma County can be half the fun. On a recent road trip through the stunning region, I discovered a rare and memorable find. As chance encounters, the serendipitous moments of travel also pertain to meandering through wine regions. Here I discovered a bit of an undiscovered gem, The Donum Estate slightly off highway 121 and just an hour from San Francisco.
The Donum Estate is renowned for its ultra-premium single-vineyard, single-appellation Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays. As a Pinot enthusiast, The Donum Estate is an exciting and very special find. Celebrating its 15th vintage producing premier Pinot Noir and Chardonnay created in the Burgundian grand cru model from Donum’s estate vineyards in Caneros, Russian River Valley and Anderson Valley, Donum is also celebrating and honoring global artists displaying a collection of renowned sculptures from around the world throughout the property.
The Donum Estate comprises 187 picturesque acres north of San Pablo Bay in the celebrated Carneros wine region. Much more than a traditional winery, the estate features a sculpture park with works from world-renowned artists.
A recent partnership with famed artist and activist Ai Weiwei who has designed the winery’s new labels marks a momentous moment for the charming, inconspicuousness estate. The relationship began when Donum installed the “Circle of Animals” by Weiwei at the estate last year representing 12 animal heads of the traditional Chinese zodiac made in bronze. The statuesque heads are impressive works of art towering 12 feet tall made in solid bronze. Each year, the label will change to reflect and honor the Chinese animal zodiac, the 2014 vintage being the Year of the Horse. Donum’s President and winegrower Anne Moller-Racke, an art collector herself, sees art and wine together as one so the new wine labels are a beautiful representation of the marriage of the two.
The first label designed by Weiwei is featured on Donum’s 2014 Carneros Estate Grown Chardonnay (now in market) before appearing on Donum’s entire Pinot Noir portfolio scheduled to release in October 2016.
The addition of impressive works of art adds a beautiful and unexpected element to the visitor experience. It’s a bit unusual in wine themes, but the timely blending of various cultures works perfectly for Donum. The Donum Estate supports the arts and exhibits several sculptures positioned throughout the property from world renowned artists including Zhan Wang, Arturo Di Modica, and Fernando Botero. The sculptures add a beautiful and unexpected element to the visitor experience, dotting a classically rustic wine country landscape with globally recognized art.
Ai Weiwei is one of the world’s most known contemporary artists, born in 1957 in Beijing, China. His works span various artistic disciplines, often containing hard social criticism. In 2005, his activist stance on the internet and in social media brought him into conflict with the Chinese government, resulting in a house arrest, assault, imprisonment and surveillance. Currently Ai Weiwei works and lives in Berlin, Germany.
The installation by Ai Weiwei entitled “Circle of Animals” was acquired in 2015 by The Donum Estate and complemented the winery’s outdoor art collection. The zodiac signs are a Chinese tradition dating back thousands of years. The original set of zodiac heads was created in the mid-1700s for the Garden of Perfect Brightness (Yuanmingyuan) at the Old Summer Palace in Beijing. Ai’s “Circle of Animals” is not identical to the original work, but is instead a reinterpretation of it, reflecting the changes imposed by shifting dynasties, changes in values, the course of history, and political upheaval over time. It has become one of the most famous works of contemporary Chinese art.
Perhaps, Ai Weiwei notes the amalgamation best when he said “Wine can instill a moment of inspiration or madness; likewise can art.”
The Donum Estate welcomes visitors to explore their wine and the property for a special and intimate experience by making advanced reservations. For tastings and tours of the property, reservations can be made by visiting