I was shooting for some sort of undersea scene, perhaps an attractive coral reef with colorful ocean crustaceans. But -- as I am not a watercolorer, watercolista, water ... a person who paints with watercolors -- my small masterpiece appeared to have been the victim of a horrific crash involving a spinach truck and a parrot, subsequently stomped on and set on fire. I couldn't even determine which way was up. That poor parrot.

Art is all about inspiration, and nothing gets one inspired to view great art like making something pathetic of one's own. So I tossed in the proverbial towel -- the one I'd used as a drop cloth in my hotel room -- and headed out for some real creativity.

Fortunately, I was in the Napa Valley at the onset of the region's fourth annual "Arts in April" celebration, so there was plenty to choose from. It's a monthlong pairing of the visual arts with the culture of fine wine, presenting dozens of special installations at various vineyards, plein-air workshops, gallery tours, lectures, artist receptions and more. Some hotels provide art exhibits, tastings and even in-room art supplies for their guests.

Such was the case at the historic Mount View Hotel in Calistoga, where I spent a night in one of the three charming "artist's winery cottages" off to the side of the main building. The small canvas and paints provided were a nice touch, but, well, wasted on my poor, mutilated parrot.


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While on this mini-getaway, I'd hoped to attend one of the in-vineyard outdoor painting workshops, but it was raining during my stay -- I'm not complaining! -- so anything plein-air was plain soggy and probably needed to air out.

But I did get to stop by a couple of displays at wineries. At the uber-sophisticated Alpha Omega Winery in Rutherford, I came across a collection of works by artist Melissa Chandon, known for her big, bold, stylized landscapes of Americana -- scenes she absorbed as a kid when on family road trips, things like old cars at old gas stations, graphic billboards. One huge image, spot-lit against the dark wooden walls of the winery, was of a bright red barn in an even brighter green meadow. It was simple and soulful.

My next stop was an off-the-main-drag gem, the very homey, family-run McKenzie-Mueller Vineyards & Winery, a small production facility way out on back roads in the Los Carneros region of southern Napa Valley. It's usually only open for tastings by appointment, but for "Arts in April" they welcomed drop-in guests to see the family's own artwork and photography.

Back along a barely paved driveway, past a green farmhouse, I was greeted by a sweet white dog and the super nice Sam Mueller, one of Bob Mueller and Karen McKenzie's five grown children who help out at the winery. Sam, a budding artist herself, led me back to the barnlike tasting room, where dozens of landscapes and abstracts and portraits were scattered around the walls and floor.

"We're definitely eclectic here," Sam says. "As you can see, nothing is even hanging straight."

And therein lies the charm. Some of the not-so-straight pieces included a couple of large canvases with old Chevy trucks, painted by Karen McKenzie. "My mom teaches art at Napa High School," Sam says, "and my grandpa was the head photographer at the Napa Register some years ago, so we have some of his work. It's a very family-oriented exhibit."

Later in the month, there are events like art conversations with author Alyson Kuhn at The Oxbow School in Napa, on April 15. Or the complimentary art tours April 17 and 24 at Silverado Vineyards, to see their collection of original Belle Epoque posters (1880-1920). Or the agricultural "art crawls" on Saturdays in April at Long Meadow Ranch, Winery & Farmstead in St. Helena.

Back at the Mount View, before I left, the hospitality manager, Cassi De Trinidad, offered to put my small painting into the hotel's art contest. At that point, I was highly inspired. To laugh.

Follow Angela Hill on Twitter @GiveEmHill.

  • Napa Valley's fourth annual "Arts in April" festivities. Find a full events schedule of events at www.visitnapavalley.com.

  • Mount View Hotel & Spa, 1457 Lincoln Ave., Calistoga; www.MountViewHotel.com. Offers an Arts in April special and Artist Winery Cottage art contest.

  • Alpha Omega Winery, 1155 Mee Lane, Rutherford; www.aowinery.com

  • Mckenzie-Mueller Vineyards & Winery, 2530 Las Amigas Road, Napa; www.mckenziemueller.com