When I was a wee lad of four, my civil-engineering dad’s work took us to live in Puerto Rico. By the time we left, at age six, I took with me my (now long gone) vintage GI Joe and a fluency in Puerto Rican street Spanish. I’ve come to realize that I also brought home a love of travel. The never-ending wonder of new places, new people, new customs, new foods, new vistas and climates gives me a rush to this very day.
And so it was on a recent wine tasting trip to Walla Walla, Washington, a region that has earned international viniculture renown.
One of the best parts of wine tasting trips is that it allows me to get the most out of my vacations. Away from the rigors and demands of work, I can freely pursue many of my passions unfettered. Things like tasting new dishes by creative chefs…
…communing with nature on sea-side runs in the environs of Seattle…
…snapping artsy pictures…
…and, of course, woodworking.
Just when I think that there’s absolutely nothing left in this universe for a woodworker to do with a retired wine barrel, they go and prove me wrong. Take this stool for example.
Just look at how the artisan wove the curved staves into the design. The gentle slopes add visual interest while providing the tensile strength to safely support a reveler. The seat is cool too, the product of edge-gluing five stave fragments. In so doing, it leverages the curvature of the staves to provide an ergonomic fit to the sitter’s bottom.
I’ve always admired woodworkers that combine both form and function into their work. That’s because function—the building of a solid object out of wood complete with tight-fitting joinery—requires a large measure of left-brain planning and execution. By contrast, the rendering of a pleasing form draws upon right-brain creativity and vision. When a craftsperson melds together both form and function they create a woodworking gestalt that is decidedly greater than the sum of its parts.
Another example of this concept is a hand-carved doorway at a business mogul’s former estate-now-turned winery.
The detail work is splendid because the carved relief is about two inches deep. And that adds three-dimensional mass for the eye to weigh.
Note the intricacy of the horse’s mane along with the muscular tone that brings to life the shape of the underlying sinews, muscles and tendons. The cottage relief brings to mind a ski lodge and I can all but smell the smoke drifting from the chimney.
One appointment-only tasting at Garrison Creek Cellars offered a breathtaking show of function-based woodwork. This picture from the Cellars’ Website gives an expansive view.
The concrete floor is strewn with barrels aging vini-delicious elixir. From this base the ceiling rises about 60 feet to an arched apex. The Douglas-fir beams and slats are native to Washington State and had to be special ordered from a local miller.
To the right, you can see the curved ceiling support beams. These are laminations of multiple layers (10?!) of boards.
Surely, the laminated beams, along with their arched shape, provide significantly more strength and support than single beams at a parallel angle to the floor. Interestingly, the builders couldn’t keep themselves from adding some creative design elements like the finials at the bottom of some vertical support beams.
The sheer mass and size of the room as well as the exposed roof beams inspire an architectural awe.
That’s similar to emotional experiences I’ve had standing amidst European churches and cathedrals. For a moment, upon tasting the wine-maker’s articulation of a Syrah, I was moved to fall to my knees in homage, eyes to the heavens and arms outstretched as a symbol of my gracious acceptance of such a gift. But the moment passed and I sipped the wine to mingle with a prosciutto-loaded cracker instead.
Back home, I get to enjoy still another one of my passions, writing about it all. Wine, women and woodworking. Such are the rewards of a travel-rich life.