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Unveiling the Hidden World: Napa’s Matthiasson Winery and UC Davis Collaborate to Illuminate the Power of Insects
By Tim Carl
NAPA, Calif. — Matthiasson Winery and UC Davis have joined forces to emphasize the power of insects through building a handcrafted mural. Created by students and local community members, the not yet completed mural will focus on the vital role insects play in maintaining healthy vineyard ecosystems.
Emily Meineke, assistant professor in the Department of Entomology and Nematology, explained that the mural will showcase approximately 80 different insects that inhabit vineyards.
“This visual representation aims to raise awareness of a world that often goes unnoticed but is essential for maintaining the overall health of these vibrant ecosystems,” she said.
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Meineke has been collaborating closely with Diane Ullman, a distinguished professor of entomology, and co-founder of the UC Davis Art/Science Fusion program. Ullman has been incorporating art into education for nearly three decades, utilizing creativity and accessibility to shed light on the critical role of insects on various aspects of life, from food production to waste management.
“The mural will serve not only as an artistic display of insects and their environments but also as an opportunity for students and viewers to recognize the positive contributions these creatures make,” Ullman said. “As the process for our students involves understanding the intricate details of body form and function along with an organism's role in its natural environment, a deep understanding is crucial.”
However, the mural will not feature solely insects. Community members are also participating in the project, coming together at the winery to contribute their own clay creations that include representations of various organisms such as quail, squirrels, spiders, worms, flowers, valley oak leaves, plants and symbolic round blobs representing yeasts, and more, all of which will adorn the final structure.
Building ethically based businesses
The entire process aligns with the Matthiassons’ mission of promoting the benefits of organic viticulture. Steve and Jill Matthiasson, who have been actively involved at UC Davis for decades, have been pioneers in advocating for organic farming. Their approach extends beyond grape cultivation and winemaking, encompassing initiatives that enhance wine quality, combat climate change, and foster healthy environments and communities.
Their strictly organic practices have earned them widespread acclaim, with their wines highly regarded by customers and critics alike. Steve has been honored as winemaker of the year by both the San Francisco Chronicle and Food and Wine Magazine, and the winery has received the prestigious James Beard Award multiple times. Renowned wine reviewer Eric Asimov of The New York Times has described their wines as having an agricultural stamp, possessing freshness, liveliness and vibrancy akin to the finest produce found in farmers markets.
Jill said they strive to create an ethically based business with their winery. They view their work as a means to do good, uplift people and restore the environment. A central aspect of their mission involves establishing vibrant, healthy, synergistic connections with the environment and the local community. They believe this approach will foster a sustainable future while also allowing them to maintain a vibrant business.
Building the mural
As the clay creations take shape and the mural nears completion, the collaborative effort between the winery, the university and the local community stands as a testament to the power of interdisciplinary cooperation and the shared goal of environmental stewardship. The mural represents more than just an artistic expression: It serves as a visual reminder of the delicate balance between humans, nature, and the unseen world of microbes and insects.
On this day families conversed and laughed while working with clay, their hands stained with red-brown hues, while the nearby vineyard was emerging from its winter dormancy. Verdant shoots pierced the sky, accompanied by numerous bluebirds soaring or perched on birdhouses scattered throughout the vineyard.
The final mural will be unveiled later this year and is anticipated to be 10 feet wide and 6 feet tall. The Matthiassons say it will be the first thing people see when they drive up to the winery.
Steve mused about the mural’s impact, anticipating visitors' curiosity.
“‘So what's that all about?’ they’ll ask,” he said and then smiled. “And then we’ll tell them.”
Contact Matthiasson Winery for more information.