Painting 'en plein air' and Moravian wine: A match made in Mikulov

While guests of a new wine-and-canvas experience may feel like they're in Provence, the heavenly landscapes of Moravia lend artistic inspiration.

Elizabeth Zahradnicek-Haas

Written by Elizabeth Zahradnicek-Haas Published on 28.04.2022 16:51:00 (updated on 28.04.2022) Reading time: 4 minutes

California's Sierra foothills and the Pálava Mountains of South Moravia may be thousands of miles apart, but the two regions are connected by wine, and if you ask artist Katerina Rutherford, a plein-air painting tradition.

Rutherford, a Morava Czech and her husband, Mark, a California native, moved to Mikulov six years ago to paint and make wine. Their resulting business venture, Art Wine Mikulov, invites visitors to drink in the beauty of the region – both literally and figuratively – via a unique travel experience that pairs painting in the open air with wine tasting.

The concept is a simple if somewhat relatively new one for the Czech lands: tourists come to Mikulov to paint the region's sweeping vistas of rolling hills and vineyards while sipping the rich red wines produced from the Rutherford family vineyards beneath the Holy Hill (Svatý kopeček), a peak of the Pálava limestone mountains.

Paint-and-sip events that see participants imbibe while putting brush to canvas have gained popularity around the world, but Rutherford believes that the Art Wine Mikulov experience stands out as something rare for the Czech Republic.

“It’s a unique service where you don't open a bottle from a store, but you taste the wine that belongs to this area, directly from our vineyard and paint on that very same spot from which the finished wine emanates,” she says.

And what a spectacular spot it is: Rutherford, an accomplished painter and art instructor of 20 years, describes the landscape as oceanic (“here you feel like you are by the sea, there are so many layers of colors. It’s beautiful.”).

The mild weather and picturesque scenery drew the couple to the area in 2016. After buying a wine cellar and vineyards in Mikulov, they began to  produce rich reds such as Merlot, Pinot Noir and Saint Laurent thanks to their vineyards’ southern exposure and limestone-rich soil. The Rutherford winery recently added vineyards in nearby Hlohovec and Valtice. Winemaking takes place in their large wine cellar located in Lednice.

Aside from its striking natural appeal, Mikulov and the surrounding area are dotted with galleries, boutiques, and wineries, as well as breathtaking cultural monuments from cathedrals to castles.

The winery represented a dream fulfilled for Rutherford’s husband, but Katerina soon longed to get back to teaching art and did so in 2018.

Her studio occupies a historical Renaissance sgraffito building in Mikulov’s central square. While classes often end on the terrace with evening music and sipping Rutherford wines, in good weather the class spends the days capturing the beauty of the Pálava hills, lakes, and vineyards in vibrant brushstrokes and tasting at local wineries along the way.

Rutherford teaches painting according to the School of Seeing, which puts a primary emphasis on a conscious “color seeing,” meant to broaden the perception of the full color spectrum.

“You feel the subject matter and heaviness and air, how the landscape rolls or the shadows fall, the difference between cool and warm light – every painter should learn it,” she says.

While plein-air painting can appear to be complex, Rutherford’s classes accommodate all skill sets, from beginners to advanced. Her students range from teenagers to 75-year-old retirees.

“I tell my students not to worry about their skill level, just to see the beauty of the color combinations, switch your way of seeing: the sky is blue, trees are green and brown, grapes are purple," she says.

"When they open their senses, the colors around them become richer and they begin to recognize all the nuances of the blues, greens, and purples,” she says. Connecting the experience with wine tasting enhances the senses, as well.

The classes take place across three full days, starting with a meet-and-greet on Wednesday evening and ending with a Saturday evening reception and wine tasting. Art Wine Mikulov also offers a one-day Saturday course. All classes can be taught in English and nearby accommodation can be arranged. Art supplies are provided for an additional fee.

If you haven’t yet visited the center of Czechia’s charming wine country, Art Wine Mikulov presents the perfect introduction to the pleasures of South Moravia: Mikulov’s stunning Old Town with its preserved Jewish quarter, boutiques, and galleries, as well as the area’s notable museums, waterparks, and bicycle paths. Mikulov is easily reached by car. Students arriving by train can be picked up in Mikulov.

Rutherford can organize custom classes and tours of the area that cover the UNESCO Heritage Lednice and Valtice chateau complex, one of the Czech Republic’s most visited sights. Her husband's “Geeky Wine Walk” a fun explainer tour on why Mikulov's terroir yields excellent wine grapes can be booked in addition.

Pandemic restrictions undoubtedly caused widespread anxiety, overthinking, and excessive worry. As the post-Covid tourist season begins, Rutherford is offering her clients a high-end art and wine experience in the Pálava, a UNESCO-protected Biosphere Reserve – and a fresh start.

“After having painted for three days in various places in the Pálava, you will begin to see again,” says Rutherford. “It’s time for everybody to begin again with a colorful, new perspective on life.” 

This article was written in cooperation with Art Wine Mikulov. Read more about our partner content policies here.

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