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The best place to see Ansel Adams photos west of Yosemite

A visitor to the photo gallery at Mumm Napa views an Ansel Adams photograph.
Photo by Kevin Nelson

Mumm Napa on the Silverado Trail in Napa Valley is most famous for its sparkling wines. But it may also be the best place outside Yosemite National Park to see the photographs of Ansel Adams.

Adams’s black and white images of Yosemite and the American West are among the most beautiful photographs ever made. Gallery showings of his work occur regularly around the U.S. and his posters of mountains and rivers and waterfalls hang in offices and living rooms all over.

The Mumm collection features 27 of his best photographs, displayed in the Rutherford winery’s Fine Art Photography Gallery. To get to the gallery, though, you must first pass by a tasting room with floor to ceiling window views of the vineyards and hills of Napa Valley. After this you will encounter at least two outdoor patios in which the people there are doing exactly what they are doing indoors: drinking bubbly, snacking on artfully-prepared cheese and commenting to one another how where they live looks nothing like this. One patio has chairs and umbrellas as red as ripe cherries.

Given these distractions, I asked an employee if many people actually did make it back to see the Adams pictures. “We make a point of telling people to go back and see the gallery,” she said cheerily, “and they do.”

To further encourage visitors, Mumm lets you take your drink with you when you go. The photo gallery is actually two galleries—the first holds temporary exhibits such as the current show on post World War II-photos from the California School of Fine Arts (whose photography program was founded by Adams). Follow the hallway down and pass through the doors into the O’Shea gallery. Here, you will find some of the most powerful images in the Adams canon, on long-term loan to the winery, including these three:

• Monolith, The Face of Half Dome, Yosemite National Park. Taken early in his career, in 1927, Adams said this dramatic photo of Half Dome’s massive face represented “a personally historic moment” for him because for the first time ever he began to think in terms of how a photograph would look after it was printed and how to technically achieve the emotional impact he desired.

• Saint Francis Church, Rancho de Taos, New Mexico. Adams loved the American Southwest and took many trips there in his 82 years (he died in 1984), visiting, among others, his friend Georgia O’Keeffe, who died two years after him. This photo is of the “wonderful” adobe church that Adams admired for its simple, almost elemental shapes.

• Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico. On a later trip to the Southwest, Adams was driving along a highway in the Chama River Valley of New Mexico when he saw “a fantastic scene.” (The source for this quote, as with others in this section, is Adams’s posthumous autobiography.) This fantastic scene—the moon rising above a cemetery and church in town—made him suddenly stop his station wagon and pull out his camera and gear, resulting in his most famous photograph.

There is no charge to visit the gallery. You can comfortably park, walk in and view the photographs without feeling any pressure to do anything else. If, however, you’d like to stop at the tasting room and terrace and sample some of Mumm’s beverages, no one will object to that either.

Mumm Napa is at 8445 Silverado Trail, Rutherford. The photo galleries are open during business hours. Call the Visitor Center at 707-967-7700 for more on the winery’s tastings, tours and other programs.

The Ansel Adams Gallery in Yosemite Valley is another excellent place to see his photographs. It is in the Village Mall at the foot of the granite walls that Adams himself so loved. See its website for hours and other information. It also maintains a current listing of Adams exhibits taking place around the country.

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