Olafur Eliasson unveils a prismatic tasting pavilion at a California winery

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How do we really taste wine? At the Donum Estate winery in Sonoma, California, owners Mei and Allan Warburg and the artist-architect duo of Olafur Eliasson and Sebastian Behmann argue the answer lies not only in the glass you hold in your hand, but also in the glass shining overhead

“When you take beautiful art and you put it into a beautiful landscape and you enjoy some great wine together, it’s a much larger experience than if you enjoy each one of them by themselves,” Allan Warburg said at the 1 August unveiling of Eliasson and Behmann’s Vertical Panorama Pavilion (2022), which was commissioned for the estate. “I will bet that our wine, if you taste it in here, will taste better than if you are tasting it anywhere else.”

The opening of Vertical Panorama Pavilion, three years in the making,marked a reunion for the Warburgs, Eliasson and Behmann. Mei, a Chinese native, and Allan, a Danish national, split their time between Beijing and Hong Kong, and due to Covid-19 restrictions have not returned to Donum since 2019, when Doug Aitken’s Sonic Mountain (Sonoma) (2019), a melodic installation of 365 wind chimes, debuted. Also unable to travel to Donum since 2019, Berlin-based Eliasson and Behmann relied on Zoom calls and virtual reality technology to develop their project.

Vertical Panorama Pavilion at the Donum Estate, 2022, by Studio Other Spaces (Olafur Eliasson and Sebastian Behmann) Photo: Adam Potts

“There are so many ways that art and architecture can either dance or fight together. Working with Sebastian has made me a better artist and him a better architect,” Eliasson tells The Art Newspaper. “It’s like that old expression ‘one and one makes 11’. Sebastian and I are 11 when we work together.”

The duo, whose collaborative design practice is called Studio Other Spaces, carefully considered Donum’s focus on organic, sustainable production, as well as its specific terrain and meteorological parameters to translate the winemaking process into a physical experience. The pavilion is accessed via winding paths lined with bricks glazed white on one side, which gradually grow into the site’s walled foundation. Inspired by the history of circular calendars, the pavilion’s roof features 832 laminated panels of recycled glass and is supported by 12 stainless-steel columns. From afar, only the translucent rainbow glass tiled canopy can be seen. Upon entering the pavilion, visitors find themselves at eye level with the surrounding roots and greenery due to structure’s sunken soil floor.

Built to accommodate up to 12 guests, the pavilion is simultaneously commanding and intimate. Its custom “potato-like” cushioned seating provides flexible perches for sipping Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, even on a scorching day. Wind, another fundamental contributor to the winemaking process, flows through the pavilion, whose oculus frames the equally key sun and sky. It was paramount for Eliasson and Behmann that the pavilion eschew over-commercialisation and any trace of marketing—no texts, plaques or headsets are to be found.

Vertical Panorama Pavilion at the Donum Estate, 2022, by Studio Other Spaces (Olafur Eliasson and Sebastian Behmann) Photo: Adam Potts

“Don’t hesitate to be courageous and disarm yourself,” Eliasson says of experience of visiting Donum Estate and the pavilion. “That I think is a tasting experience—just the kind of very humble nature of having an experience in your mouth that is amplified by the context.” Vertical Panorama Pavilion is ideally situated to showcase that context: the 360-degree view from its elevated position allows visitors to take in works by Jaume Plensa, Zhan Wang, Subodh Gupta and Keith Haring, among others.

Founded in 2001, Donum Estate, a leader in single-vineyard, single-appellation Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from Sonoma, was acquired by the Warburgs in 2010. They have spent the last 12 years turning it into a major sculpture park, including works by Lynda Benglis, Anselm Kiefer, Louise Bourgeois, Ugo Rondinone, Ghada Amer and Ai Weiwei, whose Circle of Animals / Zodiac Heads (2010) also serves as the imagery on Donum wine labels.

“There’s never been a master plan. The estate just naturally keeps evolving,” Allan Warburg tells The Art Newspaper. “My wife and I strive to have a relationship with the artist so we can really be part of the process and create something.”

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