Breezing past the front desk guy at the Paul Mahder Gallery in Healdsburg, I breezily explain, "I'm headed for the wine!"
Toward the back of the capacious contemporary art gallery, I find GrapeSeed Wines co-founder Dave Trebilcock, who takes me on a tour of the joint. It's one of those post-war double Quonset huts built in the 1940s that formerly housed a warren of antique dealerships. Now it's the largest gallery of its kind north of Los Angeles, Trebilcock explains as we stroll museum-wide avenues between canvases both vast and bijou. "So, is there a Paul Mahder and all?" I ask.
Yes, he's the guy I breezed past on the way in. Having run several successful galleries in San Francisco, Mahder has the equanimous yet discerning air of one who curates in the proper sense—that is, he curates the work of 45 artists of world renown (three of them Sonoma County locals), not "curated experiences," curated wine lists, grocery lists or whatever new abuse to this lately trendy term folks wish to subject it to next. While in wine country, he explains, he thought it would be nice for visitors to enjoy wine while viewing the work ("I don't mind it being taken as a museum," says Mahder), but he'd have to get help with the hospitality angle.
Enter GrapeSeed. The biz works like this: originally a crowd-funded concept similar to Naked Wines—get it, seed money—it's been walked back due to complications involved in funding wine, to something more like a wine club. The wines are only available direct.
Still, the business model helps winemakers like Jessica Boone, who mainly labors over vats of Zinfandel at her place of employment, to delve into Pinot with her Eighteen Miles brand, which is exclusive to GrapeSeed. With its sinuous lick of smoky oak and cherry cola notes, Boone's 2016 Pinot Noir ($55) is classic Russian River Valley.
A collaboration with Mahder, the Gallery Collection 2015 Russian River Valley Chardonnay ($39) features Klee-esque (if this rube may venture an artful guess) work by Wosene Worke Kosrof on the label, and there's more to this initially toasty wine than meets the nose: a surprisingly lean, long-lingering, tangy savor of Meyer lemon. Although the appointment-only, seated tastings (available on the spot if you venture through the gallery's side door to the tasting room area) look fancy, the basic entry fee is reasonable, so you might have some change left over for some of the merch—the mixed-media work Near the Golden Gate by Ernest Ely is available for $12,000.
GrapeSeed Wines, 222 Healdsburg Ave., Healdsburg. By appointment Wednesday–Monday, 10am–6pm. Tasting fee, $15–$20. 707.974.1880.