About a dozen wineries have teamed up with local artists this year to create Livermore Valley’s second annual Painted Barrel Trail. The public is invited to buy raffle tickets for a chance to win a painted barrel, plus a case of wine. Raffle tickets are $20 each, or six tickets for $100, at participating wineries, and at the Livermore Valley Winegrowers Association’s office. Winners will be randomly selected and notified immediately after Barrel Tasting Weekend, which is March 23 and 24.

Wineries participating in the 2019 Painted Barrel Trail and Raffle are: Big White House Winery, Charles R Vineyards, Embodied Wines, Fenestra Winery, McGrail Vineyards and Winery, Murrieta’s Well, Omega Road Winery, Page Mill Winery, Retzlaff Vineyards, Wente Vineyards Estate Tasting Room and Wood Family Vineyards.

We ask this year’s artists what inspired them to take up their talents and put brush to wood. Here are some of their stories.

Wood Family: Ben Fish

Born in Antioch, and raised in Oakley, Ben now resides in Livermore. He has been working at Wood Family Vineyards as the cellar master for over three years. When he isn’t pouring in the tasting room or assisting in the winemaking process, Ben is developing his art. Landscapes have been his focus in recent years, inspired both by travel and the landscape of his home region.

He said that he was excited to work on another barrel this year. The one he did last year, according to Rhonda Wood, literally stayed in the Wood Family: “Our very own Holger won the barrel! It is sitting in front of his house in Livermore under his front porch.”

This year’s design embodies the winery motto: It’s All Good at Wood. Says Ben, “The composition is a panorama that stretches around the barrel: on one end, you see an idyllic beach, perfect for parking a woody and setting up a picnic with some WFV wine. From there, we see a golden sunset sky, vineyard-topped hills rolling beneath. On the farthest end of the composition, we arrive at the very literal origins of the winery, a depiction of the estate, where for so long these great wines were made and poured.”

Says Ben, “One story I can share, which I think artists in particular will understand, happened at this most recent barrel tasting event in February, when we had the barrel in-progress on display. On the first day, I was positioned pouring wine some distance away from the barrel, but I had a clear line of vision where I could see people placing their jackets and full glasses of wine on it... all I could imagine was a glass of inky petite sirah spilling all over my puffy clouds and green vineyards. So the following day I printed a clear ‘work in progress’ tag and placed it on top. Needless to say, I felt a lot better that day.”

To learn more, check out @ben.fish.art on Instagram.

Embodied Wines: Skyler Wolf

Given owner Kimmie Spear’s proclivity towards birds of prey, the theme for the Embodied Wines barrel is birds. Spears says of artist Skyler Wolf, “She is my right ‘wing’ here at Embodied Wines, assisting me with winemaking and tasting room. She is also state licensed falconer and helps me keep the birds happy and healthy.”

Skyler herself admits she didn’t really have a set concept for the barrel this year. “I knew that something about the piece had to represent our winery and that in its complete form is birds. Raptors were a no-brainer and I knew they had to be the center of attention, so I filled the center panel with raptors and one corvid. The birds pictured are mine and Kimmie’s two red tailed hawks (Toko and Aztec), Bodie, our Harris’s hawk, Bart, our lanner falcon (fairly large and similar to a Peregrine), and then a ferruginous hawk, harpy eagle, American kestrel, pygmy falcon, barn owl, sea eagle, lesser headed vulture, Australian magpie, and Eurasian eagle owl.”

The barrel is described as not only a work of art and a labor of love, but a diorama of passion for the wild things that inspire and move us: a paean to the natural world and our tribal roots.

Fenestra: Del Valle High School Students

Again this year, Fenestra’s barrel was painted by the art students at Del Valle High school, and their teacher, Lela Witherspoon, who is a cousin of Lorna Edwards, Fenestra’s Tasting Room Manager. This is the second time that Del Valle art students, who range in age from 16—18, worked on a barrel for the Painted Barrel Trail. This year, it was a totally different set of hands and minds on the case.

Witherspoon said she had fun showing off the art from last year’s barrel, explaining how they executed it. A visitor to the Fenestra tasting room during Barrel Tasting weekend, Linda Bugbee, won last year’s edition.

This year’s barrel theme is centered around time, the universe, and a love of nature. The idea of the barrel going from day to night was thought of by Jaci Hammons, and the idea of the solar system came from Ian Fritz. The entire barrel ended up being a group effort by a dozen different students.

Recalls Witherspoon, “After we got the new unpainted barrel—and this big thing is sitting there in my classroom, catching their attention—I started asking students for ideas. We had around six different concepts get thrown around. One that I found hilarious was Donkey Kong. Because I’m working with multiple groups across multiple class periods, it was a simple vote. Jaci Hammons concept of ‘Times of Day’ won. Each section was done by a few students in charge of a few elements. Danny Brothers did most of the clouds, Russel Mendenhall did most of the solar system on top, Ian Fritz and Tiffany Guerra did most of the stars. What the students ended up working on really depended on where we were at in the project as it went along.”

The entire project, from beginning brainstorming to completion took around 3 weeks. Of the project, Witherspoon says, “I am very proud! They did a great job.”

Wente Vineyards: Joel Tesch

Wente chooses a different local artist each year to be their Feature Artist and design the wine labels for their Small Lot Artist Series of wines. Artist Joel Tesch submitted his portfolio to them in the late summer of 2017. They reviewed it, had him submit a label proposal, and chose him to do the 2018 Small Lot Artist Series wine labels.

They then asked him to do their painted barrel for this year. Says Joel of the theme, “I went with an overhead view of a Wente Vineyard with the Livermore landscape in the background. I tried to make it stand out with vivid colors and a dramatic sunset. I also have a glass of wine in the foreground on one side, with the sunset sky inversely reflected on the glass for a cool visual effect.”

He says of the experience, “I really want to point out what an amazingly supportive partner Wente has been to me the past year. They treat artists as professionals and went out of their way to feature my art. I was able to paint ‘live’ at several of their events over the year, which was a blast for me and seemed to be fun for the guests. I was fortunate enough to sell a lot of paintings. My own little joke was that there is no better place to hang/sell your art than in a wine tasting room...the more people drink, the better the art looks!”

Asked if he would do it again, he says, “Absolutely! Although I would plan a sturdy table or bench to elevate it this time. I spent a lot of time on the ground painting this one!”

Access more of Joel’s work at www.joeltesch.com or on Instagram:


Omega Cellars: Vena Marie Geasa

It was fun following artist Vena Marie Geasa, another local teacher and artist, on Facebook, as she worked on the barrel for Omega Cellars. Alexandra Henkelman was so excited when she saw vineyard scenes, along with a wonderful old pickup (1940 Ford, reminiscent of the one her dad is restoring, being incorporated into the design for the barrel. The theme is “A Saturday Afternoon in Livermore Wine Country.”

Vena explains the backstory behind the barrel concept. “The first time I went to Omega Road, I not only met the Henkelmans, but also their travel agent, Margaret, who is coordinating their river cruise this fall. She also had her two rescue pups with her. We all had a lively conversation that day and I hit it off with humans and canines alike. That day, I threw out the idea of a river around the barrel with vineyards in the background and a cruise ship; I also talked about including the dogs on the barrel. When I started to gather reference images, the idea of an old truck driving through the vineyards came to me. So the river shifted to a road. And the crossroads would be marked by street signs, showing where Omega Road and S. Vasco Road meet.”

“Alex shared that her dad was restoring a 1940 Ford pickup and we agreed that it would be perfect if the truck were that model. We also thought it would be fun to put the Omega logo on the door of the truck. I added that I wanted to include my dog Maggie and possibly my daughter Rachel. Alex was also dog-sitting, so Toby joined Maggie in the back of the truck. When Alex and I looked at barrel choices, the patina of the barrel was so beautiful that I knew I did not want to cover it up. I tried to let the ‘canvas’ inform how the painting developed. That weekend, I went for a walk in Sycamore Grove Park in Livermore and was inspired by a hollow tree along the path. When I saw the bung hole in the barrel, that was a natural fit. The map blowing through the air completed the idea.”

Asked what she might do differently next time, she admitted, “I’m tempted to say that I would choose a design that involved priming and painting the whole barrel. But I really love the role the barrel itself plays in the composition. So, with that being said, I guess I would do my best to budget more time.”