Upon arriving at the Donum Estate, you’re greeted with a refreshing glass of rosé and a larger-than-life bronze polka dot pumpkin instantly recognizable as the work of celebrated contemporary artist Yayoi Kusama. The California winery receives visitors by appointment only, so the team has been waiting just for you. This year marks Donum’s 20th anniversary, celebrating an evolution from one of Sonoma’s best wineries to one of the world’s largest accessible private sculpture collections as well.
When Allan and Mei Warburg purchased Donum in 2011, their vision was to blend wine, art and land. To that end, they began commissioning and acquiring sculptures for the 200-acre estate in 2015. More than 40 works from their private collection are scattered across the bucolic property, including Keith Haring’s “King and Queen,” Yue Minjun’s “Contemporary Terracotta Warriors” and Ai Weiwei’s “Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads.” The open-air museum features artists from 18 nations, from Cameroon to Colombia to Japan, with additional installations scheduled this year.
“It might seem unusual to place an art collection on a wine estate, but to us, it makes complete sense,” Allan says. “The works are placed in the landscape to complement and enrich the experience and the estate. We don’t want to be seen as just a sculpture park within a wine estate. It’s about putting great things together and watching them grow and interweave with one another.”
Donum produces single-vineyard, single-appellation chardonnay and pinot noir in a Burgundian grand cru style, hand harvesting grapes from small parcels in Carneros, Russian River Valley and Anderson Valley to showcase each region’s distinctive terroir. And a new Bodega Bay vineyard with 20 acres of planted vines will begin bearing fruit in 2023.
“Donum has inspired a global community of artists,” Allan notes. “We love hosting artists at Donum, walking the land, drinking wine and having discussions that have the potential of turning into something incredible. We want to continue to work with the great thinkers and makers of our time indefinitely.”
In 2019, Donum completed construction of its new winemaking facility, a long, linear structure wrapped in perforated metal with an underground barrel cellar. Making the wine at the estate minimizes travel time for the grapes, plus the destemming process utilizes oscillation rather than a mechanical brush for greater care and precision.
Winemaker Dan Fishman started out at Donum as an intern and took over winemaking in 2012, then added vineyard management to his role in 2019. Under his guidance, the team has fully transitioned to organic farming and adopted many biodynamic practices. “The philosophical aspect of biodynamics appeals to me,” he says. “You can convert to organic, but you’re still substituting organic chemicals for conventional and battling nature. With biodynamics, you’re really trying to work with nature, encourage beneficial insects, and put a lot of thought into soil and cover crop.”
Being surrounded by world-class art influences Fishman’s winemaking as well. “There’s this energy to these great pieces of art that you have to experience in person,” he explains. “Energy is something I think about a lot with wine, too. In wine, energy comes from the earth and from the land — it’s an expression of the energy of a place.” With the Mikado Tree pinot noir, for example, Fishman was inspired to create a light, playful wine from a single block of young Swan clone vines named for Pascale Marthine Tayou’s monumental sculpture, an arboreal aluminum and concrete interpretation of a children’s game of pickup sticks.
Donum has become known for its exemplary chardonnay and pinot noir, but for the first time this year, the winery is releasing a Champagne-method sparkling wine, a 2016 vintage blanc de blancs. “In California, it’s really hard to have the extreme minerality that you have in Champagne,” Fishman notes. He prefers a drier sparkling wine, and the extra brut blanc de blancs he’s created has just two grams of sugar per liter. Some 250 cases will be produced, and in a couple years a blanc de noirs — a Champagne-method sparkling wine made from pinot noir — will join the lineup. What better way to toast to 20 years?