Field Trip #589: How To Deface A Winery And Not Get Arrested…
by Andrew Morrison | I’ve spent the better part of the last few weeks zipping up and down from the Okanagan Valley camping, resort-hopping, eating, sippng and generally taking it easy. In that time I’ve visited dozens of wineries, old and new.
Though I’ve long loved their products, the architecture and design has often left plenty to be desired. The lack of representative style has always irked. More often than not – perhaps out of fear that they won’t be taken seriously – owners tend to produce on a stunted aesthetic that replicates what they see and over-respect in their French, Spanish, Italian and Californian counterparts.
It’s aspirational thinking, and as a consequence we have not a few absurd-looking Italian villa-flavoured Burgundian chateau buildings with Spanish tiled roofs and Napa-inspired tasting rooms painted in seven shades of Tuscan regret. It may be a sad testament to a tremendous lack of self confidence on our part (not to mention taste), but I prefer to think of it as an opportunity to do something different.
We saw a similar crisis in Vancouver’s restaurant scene throughout the 80′s and 90′s, back when a restaurant was only impressive if it precisely mirrored what was being done elsewhere. “Local? What’s that?” Hall of Fame restaurateur John Bishop once told me of the general attitude in those times. It was as true of design as it was of food. Thankfully, a lot has changed since then. In the past decade, we have come to accept who and what we are, and what a glorious restaurant scene we have on account of that still accelerating progression. It should be the turn of our wineries next. When I heard that some graffiti artist friends of mine had been invited up to Summerland last week to paint the soon to open Okanagan Crush Pad, I didn’t even unpack from my return the night before and jumped back on a plane to join them.
The OCP caused quite a stir when it was announced last March, not least because it’s the first operation of its kind to open in BC. Overlooking a 10-acre vineyard (Switchback) and Lake Okanagan, it aims to offer a broad range of services to wine-making clients that aren’t equipped to do everything themselves. Shepherding grapes from vine to glass, it is the full meal deal, aiding in branding and bringing the final product to market. It was sorely needed, and stands to be a big help as the industry continues to grow. Labels like Haywire, Bartier-Scholefield and Bartier Bros. are the first through their pipe, and we should expect to see many more in the years to come (they can produce up to 25,000 cases each year).
Precisely because the business is so unorthodox, its design demanded difference. When I first saw the schematics, they reminded me of a concrete gun emplacement on Hitler’s Atlantic Wall; the kind meant to beat back Eisenhower’s boys from Calais to Cherbourg in 1944. Not at all sexy, save for in a martial, Gunther-take-your-black-turtleneck-off sort of way. Twas all angular and concrete; as far removed from the soft same-same dotting the nearby shores and hillsides as one could imagine. For certain, it didn’t scream “modern and self-assured BC” as plainly (predictably) as Naramata’s new Poplar Grove building did when it recently opened, but mirrored rather the very punk nature of its core concept.
The Okanagan Crush Pad was designed to be a meeting place for the wine industry rather than a pitstop for the public to picnic, sip and buy souvenir aprons for their aunts back in Canmore. It functions as a den for mad alchemists and comes complete with obligatory workshop and laboratory. In a press release from a months ago, architect Brad Tone said it would have “a distinct, modern, and engaging personality of its own.” Naked concrete, glass and steel, however, are seldom “engaging” on their own. Another element was required.
Enter the artists…
When OCP principal Christine Coletta called Robert Squire at Gastown’s Catalog Gallery about spray-painting an Okanagan winery with street art, his first instinct was to decline. “Um…” he paused into the phone, “you really don’t want that.” He thought she was half-cocked. Coletta was nevertheless persuasive, so Squire enlisted the help of artists Dan Climan (who did all the signage for Save On Meats) and Scott Sueme to join him on the trip up, together with Catalog’s owners, Alex Usow (interview) and Mark Brand (see also Sea Monstr Sushi, Boneta, The Diamond, Save On Meats).
When I arrived up the driveway, past the big concrete “O”, it was clear that they’d already been at it for a couple of days. Though sequestered at a little motel in Summerland, they’d nevertheless turned the empty shell of the winery into a home of their own, not unlike French kids let loose in an abandoned section of the Maginot. The evidence of their habitation was everywhere in detritus, from dozens of spray cans and a requisite ghettoblaster to spent cigarette packs and day-old boxes of pizza.
They’d been hard at work, of course. The front of the winery was already dressed darkly in what looked to me to be a swathe of naval Dazzle camouflage from the First World War.
I said as much to Climan and was told not to say the word “camouflage” to the architect, because Tone apparently hated the notion and was very sensitive to any mention of it. It looked pretty awesome regardless, and nowhere near as awfully Dreadnoughtish as it might sound. The dark, geometric zigzag traversed the frontage in three panels, each one subtly introducing a colour from left to right to blend in with the natural surroundings.
To the left, yellowish green morphed into the Switchback vineyard; in the middle came blue to match the sky; and to the right was reddish brown to pair with the earth. The piece was cut with windows, panels, and a massive garage door, making the entirety of the building look like a functioning mechanism of the surrounding terroir.
It was fun watching them work as a team. Street art is not something I would normally associate with schedules, meetings and paychecks, but rather furtive looks over the shoulder and well-laced shoes ready for a run. I’ll leave the full reveal for when the official word comes this week, but they did a superb job. Articulating a vision as unique as Tone and Coletta’s in their vernacular style might have put the zap on their brains a little, but I think the bigger impact on the crew was the Okanagan itself.
Very few of them had been to wine country before, and they were pretty well floored by it (nearly all of them were Nova Scotian imports). Truly, you’d think nothing could make Mark “Fuck You Pay Me” Brand’s jaw silently drop, but damned if it wasn’t on the dock when we retired after the job was done for drinks at Coletta’s house on the lake. A massive storm brewed up out of nowhere, producing double rainbows stretching the breadth of the lake, intense lightning strikes and resounding thunderclaps that echoed up and down the Valley. It was one of the most dramatic sunset sequences I’ve ever seen, and definitely the highest number of times I’d heard the words “holy fuck!” uttered in astounded reverence. The look on all of their faces, beers in hands, was priceless.
Though it was only a 24 hour Field Trip, it was one of the more memorable ones, as some of these photos may attest…