RiverHouse by Bespoke Collection. Proprietor Michael Polenske left the world of finance in 2006 and has built a collection of lifestyle businesses centered around wine, art and design focused on both the Napa Valley and neighboring Sonoma County. He purchased the nearly 10 acre Blackbird Vineyard (7 acres are planted to vines) in the Oak Knoll District of the Napa Valley in 2003 and produced a small amount of his first wine that year. The focus of the Blackbird wines has always been on Merlot.
In 2008 Michael opened Ma(i)sonry in Yountville – a collection of both art and premium wine from select producers – housed in an old stone building dating from 1904. Ma(i)sonry would become the foundation for what would eventually become the Bespoke Collection – the umbrella luxury brand overseeing Michael’s interests in art, wine and design. Michael later sold Ma(i)sonry to Restoration Hardware (in 2014) but continues to manage and curate their art collection. His Blackbird wines are also available for tasting there.
Michael’s interests in the art world continued to grow – in 2010 he purchased the I. Wolk Gallery in St. Helena after the founder and local art pioneer Ira Wolk died in a tragic bicycling accident. In 2014 the Bespoke collection opened an art gallery on the square/plaza in Healdsburg (neighboring Sonoma County). They opened another gallery in Yountville just north of Ma(i)sonry. While all the galleries are located within an easy drive of one another – the works at each of the galleries differ as do the artists represented.
After selling Ma(i)sonry, Michael and his staff were interested in finding another location where they could pair art with Blackbird wines. They looked for quite some time before discovering this somewhat rare downtown Napa River front facing space. The space not only appealed to them but so did the views overlooking the river. The RiverHouse opened in September 2016 along the Napa Riverfront Walk just off of Main Street (almost directly behind the Napa Valley Welcome Center). Parking is plentiful in the area including a nearby garage or along adjoining streets.
Michael’s work with art does not end with these galleries – the Bespoke Collection also curates at any one time, between 60 and 80 pieces of sculpture at Auberge du Soleil, as well as at MacArthur Place in the town of Sonoma and Solage in Calistoga. There are even a few prominent pieces displayed at the Blackbird Estate property on the corner of Oak Knoll Ave and Big Ranch Road. Collectively these art spaces are grouped under the ÆRENA Galleries & Gardens – a name taken from The Man in the Arena – a speech that Theodore Roosevelt delivered in Sorbonne Paris in 1910.
Combining art with wine tasting is a unique experience in Napa. One tends to stay longer in this gallery then if one was simply walking into an art only space. Employee and Private Client Leader, Jonathan Hensen describes a main part of his job as sharing information about what they do at the winery and in the vineyard for visiting guests and creating a personal and emotional connection for people to the wine they are enjoying. He says, “emotion makes wine taste better” – and to this we can add, it can certainly add an additional element of fun and enjoyment to the experience. Part of his job is to ensure guests have a memorable, enjoyable and educational experience at the RiverHouse.
While both visually appealing art is on display so to is functional artwork including furniture. All the pieces contained within the gallery are available for purchase. Michael travels to Europe several times a year seeking out unique and interesting pieces of art. They work with a number of artists – often California based but also with Internationally based artists. A number of the artists represented have had their works displayed in a number of prominent museums.
In addition to at Ma(i)sonry, the Blackbird wines are offered for tastings here along with Resolute, a Lake County Cabernet Sauvignon produced from vineyards at 2,400 feet in elevation (2014 was the first vintage). The label on Resolute brings Michael back to his childhood. He recalls his father gave he and his older brother a pair of boxing gloves while they were still children. While shopping for art at the well-regarded Modernism (art gallery) in San Francisco Michael describes being immediately drawn to a particular piece of art. It was an oil painting of a young boy with a crown on his head, boxing gloves on both hands and at least one black eye. This drew Michael back to his childhood experience of boxing with his brother and being the younger yet still tough fighter.
In that regards, this wine is resolute in the wine world – pairing a Lake County Cabernet Sauvignon against a Napa produced Cabernet Sauvignon – perhaps determined to prove its character and quality against it’s neighbor – a region already known worldwide. And Michael is no stranger to promoting wines that perhaps lie in the shadows of other wines or regions. Blackbird Vineyards had to fight the backlash to Merlot caused in part by the Sideways movie which came out in 2004. Not wavering from this varietal and their estate vineyard, Blackbird produces three red wine blends – each of which contains significant percentages of Merlot.
While the Recuerdo Wines are not available for tasting here, they are available for purchase. They are also available for tasting at the Vines of Mendoza in Mendoza, Argentina. We have been fortunate to have visited and enjoyed a memorable tour and educational tasting at this now well known Mendoza based collection of various wine and hospitality properties and offerings (a highly recommended stop when visiting Mendoza). Recuerdo Wines are a partnership with The Vines of Mendoza.
Several tasting experiences are offered at the RiverHouse including the Portfolio Tasting which includes the current releases of Blackbird Wines and the Bento Box tasting – a Bento Box lunch prepared by their culinary neighbor, Morimoto Napa – which is paired with the current releases of the Blackbird wines. Tasting are currently conducted inside but plans call for being able to host tastings on the walkway directly outside.
For more information about the Bespoke Collection and this tasting room, please visit: www.bespokecollection.com/riverhouse