May 11, 2019

Zenaida vineyards
Zenaida Cellars, Highway 46, spring 2003 (watercolor and colored pencil on cold press illustration board)

I had this watercolor framed for my aunt and gave it to her for Christmas. I can’t remember exactly which year, but I think it was December 2005. She has it hanging in the guest room of their house in Long Beach. I often stay in that room when I visit and don’t really notice it anymore. But the last time I was there, I stopped to look closely and found myself remembering a whole laundry list of things related to this very winery on Highway 46 that inspired the watercolor and this story. We lived in Paso Robles from the late 1990’s to August 2003 and my son, the dog and I frequently drove past this spot as we headed for the beach in Cayucos. I remember noticing the vineyard in the early 2000s and stopped to take photos that I used to create this painting. They had a great painterly looking sign out front of a kind of abstract vineyard with black, green and a kind of ochre I think. It was really creative and bold. Besides the sign, I was particularly intrigued with this vineyard because the grape plants hadn’t been in the ground very long. (If you look on the internet for the story of Zenaida it says that the land was part of a 100 plus year old homestead and the current winemaker started developing the land in 1998.) The plants were pretty vertical in shape as the branches hadn’t been tortured, tamed and trained to knit together sideways into what would become seemingly endless rows of thick green in the spring and summer. Then, of course, once the plants matured, the lovely fruit would come on with the lovely wine that comes from that fruit. Back then you could see the soil in between each plant. And the red roses at the ends of each row seemed just as distinctive and important as the pending cash crop. Nothing needs to be added here regarding the beautiful oak trees on that property because if you have read any of my previous blogs, you would know I am obsessed and besotted with oaks. 

As I continued to study this painting my thoughts of this place continued on. We had left Paso Robles by August 2003, but there was quite an earthquake in Paso that December and Zenaida had a bit of damage. A periodical from the time said that they lost about 6 barrels of wine and a 2500 gallon stainless steel tank sprung a leak! Yikes. I knew another winemaker who said that after everything stopped shaking he drove around to see how everyone had faired. It seems others lost product as well. Unfortunately, the building that housed York Mountain Winery had considerable damage after the quake and it was soon condemned. Once the thoughts of that place and time in my life had drifted away from me, I stepped in even closer to really take a look at the paper and pigment. During those years I was obsessed with local landscapes where I used Prismacolor colored pencils and watercolor on my beautiful Strathmore cold press illustration board. The pencils left a kind of pebbly look, that I smoothed out in certain places with light layers of watercolor washes. I remember that I was obsessed with the texture of the illustration board and began wondering if I still had a few pieces that I could resurrect. And then, as quickly as my attention was initially drawn to the painting, I looked away again and walked out of the room, briefly thinking about where I might find pieces of that board in my stash of paper. Such is the fickle and fleeting nature of one CA girl artist.

And all of that was completely forgotten until I stopped at the Southwest Museum Gold Line Metro station on April 20th, when I was participating in the 63rd WW Sketchcrawl. I stepped off that train at that stop and immediately saw a hillside of solar panels that reminded me of Zenaida’s fledgling grape plants that I had seen and painted 16 “springs” ago. Funny how things seem to come together like that. Do you have such “ah ha” moments?  I happily did that sketch (posted on 4/27), channeling the Zenaida Vineyards from spring 2003. I vowed to look for a copy of that art when I got home. (When I first started painting in Paso Robles there was a guy in my neighborhood who had converted the back of his house into a photography studio. He photographed all of my canvases. As for my watercolors I used a printer on Spring Street—Poor Richard’s Press—for my copies of finished art. And when color copy machines got better, I made the color copies myself. I knew I should have a copy of the Zenaida vineyards that Poor Richard’s had made me, circa 2003, somewhere. Now I just take a picture of my art with my phone.) As you can see here, I found one. Funny, I didn’t think to look for illustration board at the same time I was hunting for the “old” Zenaida. I guess I will just have to wait for another moment of madness or obsession to hunt down any of that paper. 

Anyway, once I had decided I was going to write about the Zenaida Vineyards, and Highway 46, as I remembered it in 2003, I wanted to include a photo of their great “painterly” sign. When I looked them up on the internet I realized that they were somehow now called Zenaida Cellars. I thought that OK because in 2003 I don’t think there was a tasting room as yet because they didn’t have any product to taste and then sell. But guess what? They have changed their logo and now there is no sign of that sign anywhere on the internet. Now they have a giant Z for Zenaida instead of that wonderfully colorful sign that signaled the beginning of our journey to the beach and reminded me on my return trip that we were almost to 101 and home again. As you might imagine, I obsessed over finding just one picture of that sign, but found nothing. I should probably contact them directly to see if there was an image of it somewhere about.

I have calmed down since my first manic attack of looking for and finding a copy of this art, but not a picture of the original Zenaida sign. I have calmed down because I decided I should be glad that I stopped to take another look at this watercolor that had reminded me of so much. In the past I have written about the changes I have seen in my California, and I have tried hard not to lament over things I could not change. I mean, who really cares about that stupid sign. Right? This whole line of sign thinking reminds me of some other signs from that time and place. In the early 2000s I did a couple hand stenciled red and white signs for Linne Calodo, which is down the road from Zenaida on Vineyard Drive. Back then their tasting room didn’t even open onto Vineyard Drive, but was actually on Oakdale Drive. It was just a tasting room and some left over cattle fencing from an earlier time. I wonder what happened to those signs? All and all I have photos and art of both vineyards before they grew up and that’s pretty great. I’m glad I saw that area when the hills were still covered with golden safflower, deep pink vetch and just dirt brown nothingness. I’m glad I saw those hills before the Central Coast winery obsession surpassed the farmland it covered over in more ways than one. Thank God the oaks are still there. As I have said before, if those trees were gone, that would be a change I’m not sure I could handle.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s