Last year I attended an exhibition at the TarraWarra Museum of Art in the Yarra Valley, where I was awestruck by Marc and Eva Beson’s magnificent gallery that sits like an earth sculpture in a gorgeous vineyard setting and houses a wonderful collection of 20th century Australian art.
But even this remarkable experience didn’t quite prepare me for MONA – David Walsh’s extraordinary Museum of Old and New Art, which is part of the Moorilla Estate on the Berriedale peninsula about 20 minutes by car or ferry from the centre of Hobart. As Huon Hooke remarked, “As someone who’s as attached to art as I am to wine, I find it hard to express what a monumental achievement Mona is. Imagine if John-Paul Getty had decided to erect the Getty Museum in Hobart instead of a hilltop in Los Angeles. It’s that scale of significance.” (Estate’s Art and Soul by Huon Hooke, Sydney Morning Herald, 1 February 2011).
Designed by the Melbourne architectural firm Fender Kasalidis, the building is carved into the sandstone hillside and has a very subterranean feel. We descended a spiral staircase three flights down to begin our tour with curator Mark Fraser at the welcome bar, which serves Moorilla wines, Moo Brew and excellent coffee. The next few hours were spent exploring the art, which ranged from Sidney Nolan’s Snake, an epic 45-metre-long piece with 1,620 different segments, to Julius Popp’s Bit.fall, a waterfall that cascades down the cliff-like sandstone walls spelling out a baffling array of words.
Lunch was at the newly opened winery, where we enjoyed an excellent antipasto and sampled some very good Moorilla Wines. A favourite was the Moorilla Estate Muse Pinot Noir 2008. It had a delicious savoury and tart fruit palate complemented by a vibrant acidity and fine-grained tannins. In his article, Hooke mentioned that this wine had scored a gold medal at the Tasmanian Wine Show, which he helped judge.
MONA may have only opened in January but the Moorilla Estate, which was founded by Claudio Alcorso in 1958, holds the distinction of being the second oldest winery in Tasmania. Since 2008 the winery has been under the direction of French-trained Conor van der Reest, who has already made impressive inroads in improving the quality of the wines. Hooke singles out the 2009 Muse Syrah as another excellent example of van der Reest’s wine making skills: “The difficulty with shiraz in Tasmania is getting it properly ripe but his nails it, without sacrificing the trademark spice and pepper of cool-climate shiraz. Lovely stuff.” Unfortunately, I didn’t get to try this one!
If you ever need proof that great wine and great art are a match made in heaven, make time to visit the sublimely splendid Moorilla Estate!