A Brush With Varietals
Artist and writer Meagan Morrison of @TravelWriteDraw recalls a whirlwind tour of California’s most picturesque landscapes, where wine, art and memories combined for the trip of a lifetime.
Creating artwork for wine labels has been pinned to my vision board for a decade. My art, quite literally, draws from my favorite lived experiences, and wine is something that enables you to recall those memories in the most sensory of ways. You can imagine, then, how excited I was to be given the opportunity to create four original works of art for the launch of the newly blended Steven Kent wine made exclusively for The Ritz-Carlton.
Truth be told, up until this point I knew little about the process of creating wine, or how to articulate the notes I was tasting. Also, being a native of Canada and a New York resident for the past nine years, I knew little about the vastly different landscapes and terrain the West Coast offers. But that was all about to change as I packed my bags, art supplies in tow, and prepared myself for the trip of a lifetime across California.
Our first destination was Palm Springs. When I exited the airport and laid eyes on the majestic desert mountains, I was immediately enchanted. I felt the stress of the city ebb away as we drove up the winding road to The Ritz-Carlton, Rancho Mirage. The air was thin, the temperature high and the mood laid-back. That first night in Palm Springs, when I saw the electric-colored sunset cast over the mountains, I felt compelled to pull out my sketchbook. I’m most inspired by the unfamiliar because it teaches me something new. In Palm Springs I learned the beauty of stillness.
From the heights of the San Jacinto Mountains in Palm Springs, by way of the highways of L.A., I arrived in Santa Barbara, and was immediately struck by the dramatic change in climate. The Ritz-Carlton Bacara, Santa Barbara was lush, fragrant (with all the natural wildflowers growing around the property), cooler in contrast to Palm Springs, and surrounded by a gorgeous ocean bluff.
The next morning, we headed to the harbor to experience the town by sailboat. Though it was overcast, it was incredible to see the area from a different perspective.
Twenty-four hours later, we set off on an early flight to San Francisco, where we began our food tour with Jason Rea, executive chef of The Ritz-Carlton, San Francisco. Though I’d visited San Francisco before, I’d never explored it through this specific lens. There were so many delicious stops — açai bowls at Basik Café, coffee at Saint Frank, vegan Mexican fare at Gracias Madre. Best of all, though, was our meal at The Progress, a locally focused restaurant serving family-style meals alongside incredible wines. All that dining and imbibing didn’t allow me much time to sketch, but what I did note throughout my day was the grittiness of the city and the striking views of the bay and the Golden Gate Bridge, which followed us wherever we went.
From San Francisco we drove an hour east to Livermore Valley to meet the engaging Steven Kent Mirassou of Steven Kent Winery. The landscape of tumbling hills, with row upon row of grape vines, was so visually striking.
I loved talking to Steven about the process of making wine, how to properly taste wine, and the connection between art and wine and memory. What I learned is that wine is a bit like a time capsule: It captures the way the weather interacted with the landscape during a single growing season years ago. Then, when you drink, the flavors become associated with the moment you are tasting them.
In a way, art functions similarly, because it conjures up feelings and memories in the viewer. The trip to the winery really connected my entire California trip in my mind. I realized how my memories of each property would inevitably inform the artwork. Not only would the wine inside the bottles create new memories in the future for people who encounter it, but my labels would too.
Half Moon Bay
Our final destination was Half Moon Bay. When we arrived, I felt as though we had reached the edge of the Earth. The Ritz-Carlton, Half Moon Bay is built on a massive cliff that overlooks the ocean with a horizon that stretches on forever. The climate can be quite cool, which only adds to the destination’s otherworldly feel. I will never forget the first sunset I experienced over that cliff. It inspired me to stop what I was doing, sit down on the beach and sketch. The sound of the waves crashing on the sand and the gleam of the sun through the clouds are imprinted on my mind.
Back Home in New York
Once I returned to New York City, I began thinking about what made each destination distinct and what key features I could showcase on the labels. For Palm Springs, it was undoubtedly the desert; Santa Barbara, the flowers by the ocean; San Francisco, the incredible architecture; and Half Moon Bay, that spectacular cliff. I started with Palm Springs.
Initially, I sketched in my fashion illustration style, but I soon began to pivot toward a colored paper landscape. It’s a style that I’d played around with in the past, and one that I felt was less literal and more emotional and conceptual.
The purple background for Palm Springs and the desert sunset set the tone for the rest of the group. The background colors were the perfect way to showcase the uniqueness of each property, but also unite them in a cohesive series.
One of my greatest takeaways from this experience was discovering just how diverse and beautiful California is. Every destination delivered a new wave of inspiration distinct from the others and opened my eyes to the beauty of the country I now call home.