A Light Safari in Wine Country


PASO ROBLES, Calif. — This state is rife with roadside attractions, from the colossal drive-through redwood trees off Route 101 to the historic Wigwam Motel on Route 66 in San Bernardino.

But there is nothing quite like the mind-bending spectacle now on display at dusk in the hills of Paso Robles here, a popular wine destination. That is the witching hour when thousands of solar-powered glass orbs on stems, created by the artist Bruce Munro, enfold visitors in an earthbound aurora borealis of shifting hues.

Since it opened in May, “Field of Light at Sensorio” — the 60-year-old British artist’s largest such installation to date — has drawn thousands of tourists and become an Instagram phenomenon. The subtly changing patterns of this light safari, activated by a nebula of fiber-optic cables attached to hidden projectors, seem to inspire a cathedral-like awe among ticket-holders, who pay $19 to $30 for an evening stroll along 15 acres of illuminated walkways. (A V.I.P. dinner on a terrace with killer views will set you back $95.)

“It’s like Pandora in ‘Avatar,’” said Marc J. Zilversmit, a criminal defense lawyer from San Francisco, referring to the lush alien world with bioluminescent species in the James Cameron film. “It’s a beautiful CinemaScope of an alternative universe.”

The arrival of “Field of Light” in “Paso,” as Paso Robles is commonly called, is perhaps fitting. A four-hour drive from San Francisco and Los Angeles, the area has morphed from a folksy cowboy outpost with cattle drives to a grape mecca with some 300 vineyards and perfect rows of lavender spilling down hillsides. Mr. Munro’s work, on view through Jan. 5, is only the first phase of Sensorio — an ambitious, 386-acre attraction on a former turkey ranch owned by Kenneth Hunter III, a real estate developer and founder of an oil and gas company, and his wife, Bobbi. Plans for Sensorio include themed interactive exhibits, a 4,000-square-foot wine center and a resort hotel with a conference center.

The stillness is apt to be short lived. The coming Sensorio project is being designed by Thinkwell Group, a Los Angeles-based firm known for immersive attractions like Ski Abu Dhabi, an indoor ski resort, and expansions to “The Making of Harry Potter” Warner Bros. Studio Tour near London. It will include five digital and analog garden zones, tree houses with rope bridges and a light-controlled underground tunnel. Although Sensorio is not a vineyard or a tasting room, it hopes to tap into the region’s wine tourism industry. Some 1.8 million pleasure-seekers visit San Luis Obispo County; Hearst Castle, in San Simeon, is just up the coast.

The Hess Collection, on the steep slopes of Mount Veeder in the Napa Valley, was assembled by the Swiss wine producer and businessman Donald M. Hess. It has a museum director and includes works by Francis Bacon, Robert Rauschenberg and Andy Goldsworthy, among other artists.



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