Shades of Blue

mchWe’ve been known to evangelize from time to time on the fantastic availability of inspiration along the entire spectrum of art forms and media.  This month, our inspiration is coming from the performing arts segment of the spectrum in the form of some swingingly syncopated song and dance.  We are speaking, of course, of jazz.  Coming off of two back-to-back celebrations of jazz in the Mother City Hop swing dance festival and the Cape Town International Jazz Festival, we feel the tone has been set for our April workshop and it is decidedly blue.  Specifically, the shade of blue that recalls one of the richest creative eras for jazz in modern history: the Harlem Renaissance.        

In the same way that we could spend months deriving inspiration from the expansive genre that is jazz, so too could we dedicate workshop after workshop to the literature, poetry, dance, music, and philosophy of the Harlem Renaissance, the African-American intellectual movement that emerged in New York City after World War I.

douglasThe historic significance of this epoch in American cultural evolution cannot be overstated: as the artists and intellectuals at the center of the movement told the story of the African-American struggle for freedom and advocated for equality, they produced some of the most sobering, controversial, and insightful commentary on the human experience in the modern world.  What’s more, they laid the foundations for much of the discussion around societal progress in future decades with the Civil Rights movements of the 60s and the social justice movements of today.  Their commentary came in the form of illustrious language, stirring imagery (like the work of Aaron Douglas, seen left), soulful song, and resonating rhythms that continue to enrich our lives a century on as both art and manifesto.

weary bluesIndeed, the relevance of Harlem Renaissance art in our modern socio-political context has been mounting in force over the past five years.  As people around the world, to include the same American subjects of Harlem Renaissance discussion, grapple with the single biggest threat to humanity in inequality, the work of such prolific writers as James Baldwin and Langston Hughes have rung true as testaments to the evil of oppression, the strength of the human spirit, and the power of art to transcend.  Hughes’s “The Weary Blues” grants a perfect insight into this world–click on the image to read the eponymous poem.

So too do the great jazz artists of the time—Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington (pictured left with his band)—continue to move us, offering catharsis for our pain as well as a promise of joy to come.  This is the lows of the blues and the highs of swing.

First with the lows, the dark side, the blues.  It is, after all, at the core of our theme for the month as it is at the core of jazz.  It is impossible to separate the blues as an art form from its source material—that is the oppression of black people in a post-slavery, Jim-Crowe, pre-Civil Rights Movement America.  Segregation, inequality, and economic struggle were the stuff that the blues were made of.  It is said that all meaningful art is born of suffering, which is fundamental to the human experience.  Well, the blues artists of the 1920s built an entire musical genre to give shape, sound, and feel to that suffering.

But jazz as a genre is an ever-lengthening tapestry of instrumentation, expression, nuance, and invention, begun centuries ago with the percussive rhythms of African musicians, passed down through slave spirituals in foreign lands, and carried forward today in the broad portfolio of jazz from musicians around the world.

jazz4 P2- MOTIV: Smith, Bessie, FOTO: SVT BILD fats waller

The blues represent just one segment of the jazz tapestry, albeit an immensely influential segment.  As the blues musician Willie Dixon famously said, “the blues is the roots and the rest is the fruits.”  We can thank them for Motown, soul, R&B, a good chunk of country music, bluegrass, rock n roll, most pop music, hip-hop, rap, and almost anything else in modern music that’s any good.  We, of course, will be exploring the sounds and shapes of the genre during our workshop with the likes of Billie Holiday, Bessie Smith, and Fats Waller (click their pictures above for a sample), among others.

The blues is the roots and the rest is the fruits.

But when jazz artists of the early 20th Century weren’t getting low, they were getting…ahem…high.  We are talking about swing, the hoppin, jivin alter ego of the blues.  If the blues were about reflecting on the pain, swing was about forgetting the pain for awhile to live a little.  And it’s impossible to talk about the swing genre without talking about the dance that accompanied it: the Lindy Hop.  You may know it as the Jitterbug, East Coast swing, the jive, or plain old swing dancing.

As a dance, Lindy Hop mirrors its musical counterpart in every sense: its roots sit firmly in traditional African dance, as a result it is entirely built on rhythms, its current form reflects a series of dances that came before (Charleston, tap, black bottom), and it is the grandfather of many contemporary dances we know today, in rock n roll and hip hop especially.  At the time of its birth in 1927 Harlem, it played a crucial role in both jazz and  Harlem Renaissance history.

savoy 2Picture it: Harlem’s Savoy Ballroom, host to the greatest swing bands of the day led by Chick Webb, Count Basie, Benny Goodman, and home of the hottest Lindy Hoppers in town.  Unlike up-market contemporaries such as the Cotton Club who specialized in shows that featured black performers in degrading minstrelsy roles for the entertainment of exclusively white patrons, the Savoy was one of the few clubs in town that opened its doors to all and to African Americans from the local Harlem community in particular.

frankie lindyPeople came to the Savoy for the music and the dance, which is to say that they came for the art.  Frankie Manning, the famed Lindy Hopper credited with inventing the first air step (one of those crazy acrobatics that you see in the movies—that was him, see left) was an evangelist for the kind of togetherness and bonding that took place on the Savoy dance floor.  It transcended race, background, profession, and all manner of superficial delineators in the name of the art.  As he put it, “It’s a love affair, between you and your partner and the music.  You feel the music, you feel your partner, she feels you and she feels the music.”

As Frankie or any Lindy Hopper of the time would have told you, the dance was nothing without the music.  The two fed off one another: the dancers getting inspired by the sounds and styles of different bands to improvise new moves and create new performative artworks; the musicians feeling the energy from the dancers and adjusting their sets, songs, timing, and rhythm to match them.  It was Harlem Renaissance inventiveness and boundary-pushing at its finest.


These were the highs—the times when people could escape the darker reality of the real world and find solace in music and dance. It is here where the elements of improvisation and change that are so characteristic of jazz start to shine through in both sound and movement.  Here, it is about experimentation, taking chances to create something bigger and better than before.  It’s about evolving, as an artist, as a person, as a community.

In this way, jazz gives us some powerful ideas to consider for our wine painting, and any art endeavor for that matter.  You can expect these ideas to re-appear as fodder for future workshops and blog posts, so heavy are these themes, but they are worth considering in brevity here:

Art as a response to and reflection of dark realities

Artistic expression as catharsis for the real troubles we face as individuals and a society

Performance art as a space for escaping the natural world to explore alternative possibilities

Improvisation and experimentation as processes to be practiced and enjoyed toward the creation of good things

Art as a force for transformation and unification

We are far from being through with jazz as a source of inspiration, but this is a good place to start.

Salute to a Bygone Era

Last month we paid tribute to the Victorians the only way we at Shades of Grape know how: with prudent amounts of wine, gloriously inspirational artwork in all its forms, and a little Romance.  This is a quick look back at our Very Victorian Valentine’s Day wine painting dinner and our magnificent dinner guests who made the night so special.  They were game, they were inspired, and boy could they paint.

Let us first set the scene!  We always want to inspire our guests with atmosphere, music, and example artwork.  But we pulled out the stops for Victorian night—our artists needed to step into another world.  So we surrounded them with artifacts of the era.




It was a two-night affair—too good for just one sitting—that brought us two distinctly fabulous groups of student artists.  Night one brought engineers, a dancer, and even a scientist-poet, among many other art lovers.  That night, some rediscovered their curiosity for the painting artform, others were introduced to it for the first time.



Night two brought a gaggle of would-be artists visiting from the UK and a couple of proud Capetonians who held their own, blending the themes and ideas suggested to them into their own wild wine-based concoctions.


A skull–an artifact of the dark side of Romance–from one diligent student who labored meticulously in the back row, was a class favorite.


DSC01882And in tribute to the season of love, our artists left with a special souvenir to remember their creative experience by: a selection of chocolates, of course, from Franschhoek’s own Huguenot Chocolates, and a vial of GlenWood wine paint.




In sum, February was one of the most exciting wine painting workshops for Shades of Grape yet, due in large part to our lovely dinner guests and their creative spirit.  Many told us they were inspired by the experience, but we insist that it is we who were inspired.

Continuing with the theme of cultural zeitgeist, look forward to our April session when we will be riding the wave of the Cape Tow Jazz Festival into our workshop  with a class inspired by rhythm & blues, improvisation, and mad soul.


A Very Victorian Valentine’s Day, Indeed

It’s February—month two of the new year—and we are ready to start walking the walk on some of those things we wrote about in our last post, starting with this month’s workshop theme.

We can sense your eye-rolls and sighs at the thought of more commercialized holiday business.  Didn’t we just finish with this? you say.  We hear you.  And yet, we also hear the little voice in your head saying one of two things:

“Goodness gracious, Valentine’s Day is just around the corner!  How on earth will I commemorate the celebration of love with my significant other this year!?”


“Ughhh…Valentine’s Day is here again.  How in the hell am I going to drown out the nauseating ringing of love that comes with this ridiculous holiday every year?  Also, I’m single.”

That sounds like you, right?  Close enough?  We thought so.  Which is why we have concocted a Valentine’s Day workshop that has something for everyone, the lovers and the haters.  Enter our Very Victorian Valentine’s Day wine painting dinner!  Let us explain.


First, the obvious.  We are celebrating with workshops on the 13th and 15th of February.  Lovers and haters alike should appreciate that we are trying to alleviate the stress of getting a reservation anywhere on the notorious 14th , or of having to bear witness to the annual ritual of excessive public demonstrations of affection.  Ease up, don’t fight to get a table at some supposedly snazzy restaurant with the lovebirds who’ve bought into the con.  You’re a rebel: you’ll celebrate Saint Valentine whenever you damn well please.  But preferably with us on Monday or Wednesday (wink wink, nudge nudge).

Victorian word association games don’t tend to start with things like rebellion.  More likely we think refinement, propriety, and conservatism under the great queen’s rule, but in its own way the Victorian Era ushered in a fair amount of contrarianism.  And we are taking full advantage in order to put a refreshing twist on your homemade valentines this year.

Spanning the bulk of the 19th Century, this epoch in European history saw the ebb and flow of different romantic conceptions, as effused in art, literature, invention, and society itself.  There is a great deal of culture packed into this historical age that we could chew on, but perhaps the most pronounced is the dichotomy between the rise of Romanticism at the start of the century, and the subsequent wave Realism in the latter part of the century.  It is this duality within the era that makes the time period an exciting study for the lovers and the haters at our table, and serves as brilliant inspiration for our wine art.

When we speak of the Romantics and the Realists (note, with capital “Rs”), we are not speaking of sentimental saps and cynical grumps, but of the followers of two different artistic philosophies, which in themselves reflect the general trends of the time period.  No cultural movement exists in a vacuum—it arises as a response to what came before and what looms ahead.

Caspar_David_Friedrich_-_Wanderer_above_the_sea_of_fogIn this way, the Romantic movement came as a reaction to the foreshadowed rise of industrialization and scientific experimentation from a subset of artists.  These folks were having none of it and demonstrated their aversion with ideas and artwork that contrasted with the perceived industrialist values: emotion over rationalization, natural beauty over synthetic, spontaneity over orchestration, and subjectivity over objectivity. They were not interested in conforming to a prescribed universal standard or in portraying things exactly as they were, but rather as they felt they were, or could be.


The_RavenThis philosophy permeated into everything, including ideas about lowercase-r romantic love.  Look no further than the Romantic literature of the time for the clues, and note that it was not all warm and fuzzy feelings for these writers.  Sure you had Jane Austen’s happy endings (which we should remember only came after some fair critique of societal structures like classism, slavery, and others that threatened individual prosperity)—but this era also ushered in romantic literature that was decidedly dark.  This was the time of the Gothic writers and poets: Edgar Allan Poe, Mary Shelley, the Brontë sisters, and Nathaniel Hawthorne, among others.  The emos of their time, they concocted spectacularly bittersweet romances filled with secrets, pain, and, dare we say, even a bit of evil?

It doesn’t exactly conjure daydreams of butterflies and rainbows does it?  Good—that’s why you won’t find them on our valentines.  That’s for you haters out there.  After all, what would the rewards of love be without the pain of loss and longing to raise the stakes?  So expect to be inspired by the dark side of love in the workshop.  You can thank us later.

Other aspects of this Romantic period in the Victorian Era that serve as sources of inspiration include the ornate, eastern-inspired floral textile designs of William Morris, the prevalence of the peacock in graphic design, and the flourishes that came to characterize fonts, design, and signets of time.

industrialrevOn the other end of the spectrum, though, we have the Realists.  By mid-century, this group of artists were fed up with the Romantic drama queens; they wanted to come back down to earth.  This they did by choosing to portray the ordinary, everyday scenes, people, and objects around them as they actually existed.  As part of their interest in real life, these artists embraced industrialization and technology—the things transforming the world as they saw it.  No need to tell grandiose, fantastical stories of people with extraordinary circumstances—there was enough interest for them in the stories of real-life working people with terribly ordinary circumstances.

And this perspective was equally philosophical.  It prized the ability to seek truth in observation, as opposed to intuition or feeling.  Enter: science.  It’s not hard to imagine who the Realists in our society today would be: the technocrats in Silicon Valley who believe their technology, in its ability to mine information we never had access to prior, will bring us truth, set us free.  The Romantics are rolling in their graves.

flax rosemary crocus1
Nevertheless, the Realist appreciation for the fruits of modern labor is aligned with some iconic images of the Victorian Era that set our imagination alight with ideas about invention, construction, and exploration.  Think Jule’s Verne’s 10,000 Leagues Under the Sea, the revolutionizing advent of steam power, and the publication of volumes containing scientifically accurate illustrations of flora and fauna, as in Köhler’s Medizinal-Pflanzen (above).  The work of game changing scientists like Charles Darwin was being unleashed and new developments in science and technology seemed to be occurring more and more frequently.  No greater demonstration of this new reality could be found than London’s 1851 Great Exhibition (below), which tantalized the imagination with modern inventions for every want and need.

Crystal_PalaceIn this way, we are inspired by a different kind of love—a love of truth, invention, and discovery.  So look for translations of this in the workshop as well.

And that is just barely scratching the surface of Victorian industry, culture, and society.  There is the rise of the Japanese-inspired design called Japonism, the art nouveau artistic styling, the translation of these styles into commercial design for marketing and advertisements, the countless scientific and industrial developments, and not to mention the manifold foreign influences resulting from English imperialism which permeated all aspects of culture.  We could spend months feeding off of the Victorians for artistic inspiration!

art nouveau japonism le chat noir

But alas, we only have February and it will have to do for us, the lovers and haters that we are.  So here’s to a different sort of Valentine’s Day: one that reminds us that romance is faceted, not all of its sides shining as brightly as others, and not all of them reflecting the sort of love love that we default to on this holiday.  And that is what renders it so precious, and so exciting!

Shades of the New Year

As we sit nearly one month into the new year, wondering what it will bring for all of us as both ordinary people and creators of sorts, we at Shades of Grape are taking a moment to look back at the year passed and how it is colored our view of our future prospects.

We cannot in good faith talk about the year-end without also discussing the way 2016 made us feel.  The truth is, we were all done with 2016 long before December 31st–it’s the one thing the people of the world seemed to agree on. This was the year that seemed to set the whole world on fire, leaving us anxious for this blessed of New Year’s Eves to get here already so we could hose it down, heave a collective sigh of relief, and start fresh with 2017. True, historians and scientists are fond of reminding us that the world as a whole is still far more peaceful, healthier, and happier today than ever before.  But nevertheless, people everywhere felt the burn both within their own communities and across oceans. (We realize this all sounds a bit heavy for a painting blog, but stay with us, there is a relevant connection to wine painting on its way.)


The truth is, of course, that today is no different than yesterday.  There is nothing magical about 2017 that will make it a better time to live the way we want, do the things we should, or view the world as it is—a wealth of opportunities to find meaningfulness rather than a burden of fires to extinguish.  It’s comforting to replace that 6 in our dates with a 7—tangible, undeniable change—but the power to exact our own forms of change was always there for the taking.  It did not magically disappear during the year and return to us on January 1st.

So forget the dreaded and clichéd new year’s resolutions.  And disregard the idea of change as you know it—a problem to be fixed, a bad habit to break, a new routine.  Let’s rather look at 2017 as a doorway to new, enriching, and meaningful experiences, those which may be less visible and monumental than the gym visits and salads and community service—although those are important too!

Naturally, we at Shades are thinking of one kind of experience in particular that everyone can carry into the new year: the creative experience.  Each of us gravitates toward different avenues of creation, diverse enough that we may not even think of our chosen process as a creative one.  This is especially the case when we associate the creative directly with the artistic and find it too daunting, too inaccessible—another mind trick.  Don’t be fooled. With the new year and window for change before us, we are suggesting that this is the year to release any inhibitions you may have had in the past about the creating, and painting in particular, in favor of finding an experience that can open the door to renewed meaning.  Here’s why.

Implicit in the very act of creating—be it sculpting, gardening, writing, cooking—is a process.  It’s easy to want to jump straight to the creation—the sculpture, the garden, the novel, the meal—but the product itself represents a mere fraction of the creative experience, the joy and meaning of which often pale beside the time invested in the process.  Allow us, then, to share our estimation of the meaningful milestones of this process via our own creative experience: wine painting.


pullquote4First things first: inspiration.  We’re not asking you to have a divine epiphany, discover your muse, or find your calling.  But we all know what it feels like to see, hear, or taste something that gets us excited about the possibilities… just think!

Pro tip: when in search of inspiration, simply step into the world.  Leave your house, put down your phone, and observe.  Inspiration is not hiding under a rock somewhere.  It tends to hang out in your neighborhood, right around the corner just waiting for you to look up and notice—so pay attention! Fortunately, we at Shades do pay attention, and have already found inspiration for our new year creativity.  It is the thing, in fact, that inspired this post, which we think hints at a promising year for anyone who has ever wanted to unleash their inner creative with us.

Every year, the designers, stylists, and artists across creative industries—fashion, design, music—offer us a buffet of trends to absorb and get excited about.  A pallet of new or recycled patterns, shapes, looks, sounds, flavors, textures, and, of course, colors will begin to show up in everything we consume, the material and sensorial.  Whatever your general feelings about trends, fads, and bandwagons—we understand your reservations about consumerism and sheep—we are still inclined to think of them as genuine, collective reactions to what came before.  They tend to reflect a shared yearning to be refreshed with something new, or something we forgot we loved (think of the surge of folky pop music a few years ago that started as an authentic callback to the bygone days of real musicianship—come on, we all felt it, some more than others—and ended with 500 days of Mumford & Sons knock-offs).  But we digress.

The point is that one element of the 2017 trends has already emerged and the outlook is promising: the color of the year.  Caveat: there is, of course, no single authority on seasonal color trends and most of the color experts hedge their bets by forecasting multiple pallets of wildly differing hues.  What we mean is, if you so choose to fact-check this report, you will find that the colors of the year, as espoused by experts (i.e. paint manufacturers), are so numerous and diverse as to be rendered almost meaningless.  Anyone could find inspiration in this lot!  So call it cognitive bias if you like, but when we spotted Plascon’s pick for color of the year—the so-called “In the Mood” (see Plascon’s graphic depiction below)—we took it as a sign.


taupeYou may not realize it if you have never put wine to paper before, but this earthy, rustic shade recalls the same hues of a watery wine-soaked canvas.  True, the different grape cultivars provide us with a paint spectrum that ranges from burgundies to reds to blues, but over time oxidation transforms most of our wine art into a silty monochrome.  Ours is the organic paint of the terroir, real and untainted by synthetic pigments.  And like all nature, it changes, never the same today as it was yesterday.  This reality does not escape us in the creative process—it’s very much a part of it.

Without ascribing imaginary meaning to “In the Mood” as part of Plascon’s “Terrain Colour Story” (although we do find it pretty cool that they are feeling the earthy vibe as much as we are—the universe is totally talking to us), we can appreciate it as a source of inspiration for our own creativity that we accidentally stumbled upon while mindlessly flipping through a random magazine at a coffee shop.  (Tip of the hat to Ideas Magazine for that one!)

Andy Warhol said, “You have to be willing to get excited about nothing.”  We get that.  That’s us right now.  Because sometimes nothing is all it takes—a chance spotting, a glimpse of something seemingly insignificant that ignites a spark in some tucked-away neural network in your brain.  If it teases you with the possibilities and points you in a direction, then it’s all you need.

pullquote2So chart the course—step 2.  Once we have embraced the creative process over the product, we can be tempted to get preoccupied with the verb—doing the thing we have been inspired to do.  Pump the breaks, my friend, and savor the road-mapping stage.  This is the time for dreaming, planning, and anticipating—the things that grant you the full payoffs of the doing and product.  If you’ve taken one of our classes you know that we encourage students to plan their artwork before they break out the brushes.  Sketch it, mentally map it, but you need to block out your canvas.  This is not a chore to endure, but a vital step to enjoying the doing—it’s part of the fun.  We don’t dictate the process in our classes as much as we recommend things, but experience tells us that when students skip the mapping and go straight to the doing, they are more likely to get frustrated as they paint themselves into corners.  Yes, pun intended.

So this is the time to translate your inspiration into something workable.  And it can be in more than one way.  We continue to parlay our own inspiration—literally the shades of grapes as recalled by “In the Mood”—into specific paintings, blog posts, and all aspects of our workshops. Indeed, we have started roadmapping some special classes for the coming months.  (More on these in future posts.  Teaser: stay tuned for our extra special Valentine’s Day workshop…we can’t wait!)

pullquote3Just do it.  There is such a thing as taking the planning stage too far.  Particularly for the perfectionists of the world, or the less-artistically inclined, there is yet another temptation, this time to over-prepare, to wait until the perfect plan is assembled before acting.  Another illusion to keep you from fully immersing in the creative experience.  The reflex to over-refine is the same one that told you “you’re just not the creative type” to begin with.  It’s the root of the same myth that perpetuates the idea that some people just have talent—they come out of the womb as brilliant creatives of exceptional skill, so why should we bother?  Savants and prodigies—the rarest of exceptions to the rule—put aside, the so-called “talented” among us built the path to their status, paved in practice sessions, mistakes, and failures.  But of course, we never see their rough drafts, their first attempts.  And another thing: who said this was about creating perfect work to begin with?  Not us!  Process over product, remember?

So now is the time to make your first attempt.  Experiment, play, be bold!  But don’t stop there.  When you’ve finished, whatever the outcome or your feelings about the process, do it again, this time a little differently.  And then again.  Or if process really isn’t gelling, consider returning to step two and channeling your inspiration in another direction, perhaps with another medium.  This is all part of the overarching creative process—it’s what it’s all about.  Pretty meta.


That, good friends, is how we see change in the new year—only through the purposeful seizure of small, sometimes invisible, and somewhat elusive experiences that unleash new thoughts, feelings, abilities, and creations in our own little worlds.  We hope we are leaving you full of energy, excitement, and anticipation of the creative experiences that await you in 2017, and that at least one of them will be with us—see you around our table soon!

Shades of Spring

Change has been in the air for a few weeks now.  Muggies have been nagging, noses running, eyes watering, and that can only mean one thing: spring is really here.  The promise of spring does not sound quite so romantic when you put it that way, but we are not fooled in Franschhoek—we will gladly take the hay fever and bug bites in exchange for fresh new sprouts and beautiful blossoms that let us know new life is emerging in our Valley!

And there are no better greeters of the season than the Franschhoek Lions Club, who host the annual Franschhoek Open Gardens festival, coming up this weekend on 21-23 October.  Open Gardens celebrates spring with a tour of ten of the town’s most delightfully curated flora.  And they do it for a wonderful cause: all ticket proceeds go to Fleur de Lis, the local Home for the Aged.  Please see more about the festival program and where to get your tickets here.

ogBeyond the noble cause that underpins the festival, Open Gardens offers something else that SoG is particularly excited about: a fantastic opportunity to appreciate the art form that is gardening.  So much of the visual art we produce as a society across all media is inspired by botanic beauty and yet, day-to-day we fail to recognize the green life all around us as a living, breathing exhibition.  The acrylic rose-bouquet-in-blue-vase of the still-life pales beside the organic vines, stalks, and blossoms of the garden.  And the care and mastery with which such skilled gardeners and landscapers as those of Open Gardens compose their leafy canvas leaves little doubt of the artistry at work here.

As our own homage to this art form, and the lovely OG weekend that exhibits it, we present our October class theme: Medizinal-Pflanzen.  It is so-named after the 1887 series from Franz Eugen Köhler that featured over 300 expertly rendered drawings of medicinal plants, brought to life with a technique called chromolithography.

flax lemon rosemary

You have no doubt seen some of these drawings, or similar depictions of plant life, in a text book, as wall décor, or even on Etsy (these renderings are making a comeback in certain circles).  As with garden exhibits, these illustrations excite us for the way they walk the line between the natural sciences and artistic interpretation.  The artists of Medizinal-Pflanzen captured in excruciating scientific detail the inner-workings of the plants, flowers, and herbs we gaze upon in our gardens but rarely appreciate in their complexity.  They take us beyond the blossoms and fruit we love to reveal the roots, seeds, organs, and sometimes even the cells that give them life.

crocus1As a flora-inspired theme for our wine painting, the medizinal-pflanzen give us a lot of nice things to work with.  Scientific though they are, the illustrations in themselves are an interpretation of nature—they are not the truth, but one person’s view of the truth, just as in all art.  We, in turn, can interpret these depictions as we see and experience them.  In the short span
of our class, we will not be able to capture every component, nor every sub-component detail in our own renderings, so we are forced to choose and respond to the things that call to us (or which we are not too intimidated to attempt!).

crocus2There is also something elegant about the composition of these drawings that plays right into our workshop approach, and which will be highlighted by our monochromatic pallet.  Putting the masterful drawing skills of the Medizinal-Pflanzen artists to one side, the scattering of the plant’s dissections across the page does not appear at all different from the kinds off doodles and sketches any of us might absentmindedly scrawl over a piece of scrap paper.  We hop from some geometric design, to a stick figure man, to a cartoonish animal, to a pretty petally flower, the result being a nonsensical collage of some strange brain dump.  In our class, we can channel that process into a slightly more sensical collage, one that still allows us to experiment with different techniques and styles as we try to capture plant bits that vary in complexity and detail.

Our pallet is both an enabler and enhancer of this process.  Confined to our GlenWood Malbec, merlot, and shiraz, we can forget about the color spectrum and focus on the contours, shadows, and highlights that will really bring the plants to life.  And when we are finished, we will find that the wine has done its job, allowing our work to stand on its own, unencumbered by excessive colors, and enriching our flora with its deep shades of grape.

So please, come to Franschhoek Open Gardens festival this weekend to get as inspired by spring as we are.  Then join us for Shades of October where we will channel our inspiration into wine art over some nice wine and a lovely lunch.


Shades of September

What a thrill to debut Shades of Grape right as the wine farms of Franschhoek were collectively uncorking themselves for wine lovers from far and wide on 24 September.  It was the perfect spring Saturday to spend with friends around a table in the sunlit veranda of Village Grill and Butcher, sipping a few of the Valley’s finest wines courtesy of GlenWood Vineyards, enjoying fresh and zesty morsels from the kitchen, and dabbling in some wine art.  Here’s a look back at our first public wine painting workshop, a teaser of what future guests can expect in the coming months!


When we began designing the workshops, we decided the most important thing was to create an authentic and intimate interactive experience for the guests at our table.  The only way we felt we could ensure the quality of this interaction was to limit the number of seats—just 12 available per class!  And as we saw on Saturday, where we had a small group of fun-loving and totally game wine lovers, our cozy setting and small numbers afforded us an enriching depth of interaction throughout the workshop, just as we’d hoped.

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prize-wineTo get things going, we were privileged to have the winemaker himself, DP Burger, give us a personal introduction to the featured wines.  The genuine (and well deserved) love DP has for his wines shines through in his enthusiastic rendition of the winemaking process for each variety, and it’s infectious.  By the time he had finished taking us through the wine list, we were also ready to fall in love.  And with Saturday’s sunny weather hinting that the summer season is on its way, we were only too happy to indulge in three refreshing whites, including an oaked and unoaked chardonnay—something for everyone, as GW would say—before rounding out the workshop with a shiraz and merlot (a VG+B favorite).

september-menuShades of September also marked the debut of the specially crafted GlenWood pairing menu, designed by Chef Laura Truter and brought to life by the VG+B team.  The light, freshness of these winning combinations has secured the menu’s place at our future workshops—the beef curry basket alone demands to be shared with all future guests. I also have it on good authority that the tomato tart is something special.


pallet2The main event was, of course, the venture into the world of wine painting!  GlenWood supplied us with three varieties from its 2016 batches, straight from the barrel, for our art: a malbec, a merlot, and a shiraz.  The greenness of the wine guaranteed that we would have the brightest shades possible and indeed, I was floored by richness of color they offered compared with more seasoned wines.  In particular, the vivid violet of the malbec was something I had not seen before.  The merlot and shiraz were equally distinct, however, giving us quite a pallet to play with.

Another sticking point when designing the workshops was the format of the painting class: how to keeps us coherent and interactive as a group without enforcing a structure that limits individual style and preference.  Each of us is inclined to interpret the physical world in a different way and we want guests to bring that to the table at our workshops, not leave it at the door.  At the same time, we want to maintain the interactivity with a class where the instructor can engage with all of the students and the students can discuss their process with each other, all on some bit of common ground. I think we managed to strike the balance on Saturday.

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In honor of Franschhoek Uncorked, the celebratory festival that it is, we had as our workshop theme vintage wine and spirit ads inspired by the Valley.  Provided with a range of different posters with varying styles and contents, guests could choose a subject that fit their style and either emulate the piece entirely or let their imaginations run wild.  Saturday saw guests do both: some meticulously translating the subjects into their wine art, others mixing and matching elements of the posters with their own ideas.  I have to say, this bunch was really quite impressive.  From sketch to paint, they composed some really special pieces and employed some clever techniques in the process.  The result was a beautiful portfolio of posters that reflected the unique styles of our artists.  They can definitely be proud of their work.

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The workshop running time is about two hours but guests are absolutely welcome—encouraged—to linger on into the afternoon, perfecting their paintings or enjoying a coffee in the gardens.  With the beautiful spring weather beckoning, our Shades of September crowd did just this, taking some time to soak up the sunshine on the patio while their paintings dried and getting a perk up from some Terbodore—our favorite local coffee!—before hitting the road.  Suffice to say, it was the perfect bookend to our first event and we are super excited to do it again next month.  Stay tuned for more on Shades of October!