Just up the road a bit from Cornerstone Gardens in Napa, on the border between Napa and Sonoma Counties, is Di Rosa. You know you're there when you turn into the gate and see a hillside of wooden sheep grazing peacefully in front of you. We spent a couple of hours on the gallery tour, and now believe we know a bit more -- just a bit! -- about some currrent trends in art in Northern California. Art near Main Gallery Art near Main Gallery

Rene and Veronica Di Rosa acquired 460 acres of rolling hills in the 1950s from a winery which had fallen into disuse. Rene had been a reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle, while Veronica was building a reputation as a watercolorist and sculptor. They poured their energy and passion for modern art into rebuilding the winery and developing a gallery for their growing art collection, which was originally based on student work from the University of California at Davis. Rene would purchase his favorite works from graduating art majors, some of whom later became famous. Part of the sculpture garden Sculpture garden

Today, visitors enter the Gatehouse Gallery displaying changing exhibits. They range from paintings and collages through sculpture (Lynn-Rachel Altman, daughter of a friend, has lent Empty Head, made from crushed glass, and one other work). We also saw several of what we think are called Installations: for example, a fifties-era automobile completely covered with objects like old phone receivers and measuring cups and Mardi Gras beads and doll parts with a rhino head projecting from the front (we believe the artist also participates in Burning Man in Nevada). Photography is not allowed indoors.

At least one tour is offered every day the gallery is open (access to the main gallery and gardens is only through these tours). We climbed on a tram which took us past vineyards and along the lake front to the main gallery, where we found more sculptures and many photographs. They are arranged more or less chronologically, starting in the 1960s and continuing to current acquisitions. Most of the art is at least somewhat representational. A lot of it is satirical, much of it is surrealistic. Tower of the Di Rosa house Tower of the Di Rosa house All of it represents the enthusiastic collecting impulse of Rene Di Rosa. We enjoyed the group of three life-sized human figures wound about with twine, and spent a fair amount of time with some highly detailed cityscapes (even though we couldn't figure out why San Francisco had four Coit Towers).

The Di Rosa home is as individual as the galleries, featuring a shingle-topped tower which we were told was a reject from the Hearst Mansion. They no longer live there; the home is filled with yet more art objects.

All in all, a visit to Di Rosa is a pleasant outing, and a terrific side trip to a visit to Napa in which something besides wine tasting is desired. Reservations are accepted but not required, the one-hour tour is $10 per person, there is no accommodation for picnics or dogs.