Sunday, June 1, 2008

Counting Bottles on the Wall

I first met painter Thomas Stiltz at a reception at the University of Delaware in April, but I already knew about him through leering at his life-like paintings of famous wine bottles -- some in pristine lineups, others dishabille in the middle of affaires de table -- on gallery walls from Carmel to Martha's Vineyard.

A former commercial photographer turned serious painter, Stiltz was doing OK until a gallery owner suggested that he take the occasional glasses of wine he placed in his still lives and turn them into real bottles. Although he was hesitant at first, she loaned him a bottle of Opus One -- "1997, I think" -- and the rest is history. Stiltz has since painted through the famous vineyards of California and, more recently, Bordeaux to the praise of critics, wine lovers, and winery owners. The latter are very happy to exchange rights to paint their famous labels in exchange for giclee prints of his paintings, which cost from $850 to $1,500 each. Cakebread, Joseph Phelps, Beringer, Heitz, Shafer, and Chateau Montelena have been his muses in an official series that could be called, "Let Us Now Paint Famous Bottles."

In person, Stiltz is a delightful conversationalist. While he doesn't sleep with his models, he does consume them. "My strength is painting wood, glass, and metal, so wine bottles come naturally," he says. A graduate of Delaware, Stiltz returned to campus to give a lecture and to unveil a print of the painting above, "Five First Growths," (photo by Ella Morris) which he was donating to the university.

Next, Stiltz is turning his attention to portraits of famous musical instruments. While we all love classical music, I fear those of us who love his cellar collection are in danger of suffering from bottle-less shock.

To view or purchase Stiltz' paintings and prints, go to

Added Notes: Look for two new articles in the June editions of these wine magazines -- my report on the 2008 Bordeaux primeurs tastings of the 2007 barrel samples in Beverage Media and a look at Napa Valley Chardonnays 25 years after the Judgment of Paris in Drinks magazine.

There will be no new postings this week. We are away on assignment to Colca Canyon in Peru.

Until the next time...

Roger Morris

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