A drive along the Napa Valley’s St. Helena Highway is a study in quirky architecture. The wineries that line the road are in no cohesive style: You’ll pass Del Dotto’s grand Venetian-style palazzo, Whitehall Lane’s post-modern building with puzzling Southwest details, and the spaceship-like structure that is Opus One.
But art-and-design nerds (who also happen to love cabernet sauvignon) driving the road should turn off at Turnbull Wine Cellars.
Although the barnlike redwood structures may not be as awe-inspiring as some of the valley’s flashier wineries, they boast an impressive creator: William Turnbull Jr., a California architect most famous for his part in designing the resort community Sea Ranch on the Sonoma Coast. He also happened to be the winery’s first proprietor. Within those structures? Plenty of wine barrels full of estate-grown wines, yes—but also a showcase of one of the world’s largest private collections of Ansel Adams photography.
“The goal of having this collection is to share it and enjoy it,” says Zoe Johns, president of Turnbull Winery. The photographs are part of a family collection started by her stepfather and the winery’s current owner, Patrick O’Dell. Many are prominently displayed in Turnbull’s main tasting room, aptly named the Gallery Bar. A large portion of the collection is Ansel Adams’s work, but other notable photographers such as Edward Weston appear in the impressive collection as well. “There are so many photographs, so we change them out every six months,” Johns adds. “They’re too beautiful to coop up!”
“There are so many photographs, so we change them out every six months. They’re too beautiful to coop up!”
Indeed, the photographs are beautiful—and abundant. With Turnbull’s 2017 rosé in hand, my husband and I padded around the perimeter of the Gallery Bar, stopping at each black-and-white photograph. The light, airy space truly felt like an art gallery. Its soft gray walls held perfectly displayed art—that just happened to be sandwiched between rows of wine barrels. We glimpsed Adams’s perspective of Yosemite’s craggy peaks and Weston’s view of a naked woman wearing a gas mask. Some of the patrons inspected the photographs; others sat at tables, seemingly oblivious to the celebrated works near them. Perhaps they didn’t care. Art, like wine, is subjective.
The winery employs a curator as part of the team, who comes up with different concepts for the Gallery Bar’s ongoing shows. The collection is mostly made up of black-and-white photography, but the family also owns an impressive collection of John James Audubon works as well, some of which have also made their way to the tasting room walls.
Johns explains that her stepfather’s love of photography stems back to his childhood. “His family was in the newspaper business,” she says. “He worked as a staff photographer during the summers. Through that work, he developed a passion for photography. He eventually became a collector.” O’Dell purchased the winery in 1992, and it was an obvious place for his private collection to be shared. The artwork isn’t just for the winery’s visitors, either; the art hangs in the hallways, the kitchen, the offices, and even feet away from the tanks where the wine ferments. “The art is accessible to all,” says Johns.
Many people visit Turnbull for the spectacular wines—all of which are made with grapes grown in vineyards the winery owns, which isn’t always the case elsewhere. Some, though, come just for the art, which is free to the public, and forgo a tasting. But where else can you browse world-famous photography with a glass of sauvignon blanc that was grown mere meters away?