Timeline: December 25, 2016 – January 5, 2017
The drive down to Napa would take a little under four hours, as we were to first meet Joanna’s Aunt Shauna and Uncle Matt at Di Rosa, an art gallery of sorts in Sonoma in the early afternoon, necessitating an early start as we wanted to grab breakfast a couple of hours into the drive. We’d visited Di Rosa before in 2009 with Tom and Kathy and looked forward to a return outing.
Joanna drove the first shift giving me a chance to search Trip Advisor for suggestions on where to stop. Ukiah was just about the right time and distance into the drive and so we settled on a place with good reviews in the downtown area, Ellie’s Mutt Hut and Vegetarian Café. They were busy when we arrived and the one waitress was hustling, so it took us a bit of time to get our order in, a concern as we were on a tight timeline. But the food arrived quickly enough and was satisfying, a very good veggie omelet and breakfast burrito for Joanna.
We switched drivers and made our way to di Rosa, arriving before our scheduled rendezvous time of 1:00pm. Matt and Shauna arrived soon after and the four of us proceeded to the entrance to pay our fee for our tour.
The gallery is housed on the property of Rene di Rosa (1919–2010), who, with his wife Veronica (1934–1991), avidly collected artwork for over 40 years from Northern California and transformed their home and property into spaces for housing and displaying their collection.
In 1960, di Rosa purchased 460 acres of land in Carneros region in the Napa Valley. On a 250-acre portion of that land he planted grapes and called his new fields the Winery Lake Vineyard. In 1986 he sold the vineyard to Seagram & Sons and used the money to further invest in his art collection while retaining 217 acres to be used for their home and the gallery he would create. .
The gallery became an active space for the development of site-specific, conceptual, and experimental artwork in the 1960s and 1970s. Di Rosa became acquainted with the Northern California counterculture artists in San Francisco’s North Beach when he first arrived in the 1950s and then became very involved in collecting Northern California art in the 1960s while taking viticulture classes at UC Davis, whose art department included Robert Arneson, Roy De Forest, and William T. Wiley, among others.
His collection is housed in the home he and Veronica lived in as well as in additional buildings n the property, most of which is classified as a nature preserve under the Land Trust of Napa County. There is an extensive amount of outdoor exhibits including sculptures of all shapes, sizes and materials.
The house is reminiscent of Carl Sandburg’s in North Carolina, in that it was left with its furnishings as they were when the di Rosa’s lived there, including the period authentic appliances in the kitchen.
Finished with our tour, we decided to drive eight miles west to downtown Sonoma to walk the plaza and visit Sonoma State Historic Park. Unlike most parks with one plot of land and geographical boundaries, it consists of six distinct sites; the Mission San Francisco Solano, the Blue Wing Inn, the Sonoma Barracks, the Toscano Hotel, and the Casa Grande and Lachryma Montis homes of General Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo, Military Commander and Director of Colonization of the Northern Frontier.+
Our first stop was the mission, the last one established in California and consecrated on July 4, 1823. Founded to convert Native Americans to Christianity it served that purpose until 1834 when the Mexican government secularized all of the missions into parish churches.
After 1881 the chapel and its adjoining buildings were sold and used variously as a hay barn, winery and blacksmith shop. William Randolph Hearst purchased the property in the early 1900’s and deeded it to the State in 1906, the same year it sustained major earthquake damage.
Like most missions, it today serves as a museum featuring exhibits of mission life, religious paintings, and artifacts. From the mission we walked one block to the north side of the plaza to tour the Sonoma Barracks, a two-story structure built to house Mexican army troops after General Vallejo moved his garrison from the Presidio at San Francisco to Sonoma around 1834. While Joanna, Shauna and Matt spent time looking at the exhibits, I spent 20 minutes or so watching a nice documentary film on the life of General Vallejo.
As I sat there I marveled that I, a California native, educated in the state’s public school system and having visited innumerable missions couldn’t recall ever having studied anything about this individual. It was if a period in the history of the State had been overlooked, dismissed simply because it was the Mexican (Spanish) history, not the American side of the story.
I rejoined the rest of the group and after a short walk up a couple of sides of the plaza; we adjourned to La Casa Restaurant for an early dinner. We’d eaten here many years ago with Shauna and Matt and were glad to return, as it might be our only opportunity to eat some west coast style Mexican food during this trip.
Starting with a margarita apiece, Joanna and I split a three-item combo consisting of a beef Taco Dorado (fried the way I like them), a carnitas soft taco and a delicious Chili Relleno (Fire roasted chili, peeled and stuffed with Mexican cheese, fried in egg batter and topped with ranchera sauce). The meal was satisfying, hitting the notes we’d hoped for, for a moment bringing us closer to our California roots.
After dinner we bade farewell to Shauna and Matt, glad to have been able to spend so much time with them this time around. We drove over to Napa to our lodging for the night, the Best Western Inn at the Vines.
We’ve stayed here a number of times, finding it convenient to the heart of Napa and yet reasonably priced for its location and the quality of its rooms. Having had a number of busy days prior to our stay and knowing we’d hit the ground running the next day back in Oakland, we were content to spend a quiet evening in the room, reading and watching a bit of mindless TV. Sometimes doing nothing is the best reward.
Di Rosa: http://www.dirosaart.org/
Ellie’s Mutt Hut: https://www.yelp.com/biz/ellies-mutt-hutt-ukiah-3
Los Carneros: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Los_Carneros_AVA
Seagram and Sons: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seagram
Sonoma State Historic Park: https://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=479
La Casa Restaurant: http://lacasarestaurants.com/
Best Western Inn at the Vines: http://www.innatthevines.com/