Cheryl and I had an urgent need for a staycation day. Our brainstorming came down to one close-to-home possibility: di Rosa.

Di Rosa is not a blush wine. It’s a small, contemporary art museum that has struggled to entice passersby off the Carneros Highway.

While di Rosa’s been open to the public for well over a decade, I’d never visited. The metal sheep that until recently adorned a berm by its entrance were darn cute, but not cute enough to lure me.

Cheryl and I rationalized a di Rosa visit this way: It’s only six miles from our house. In this case, proximity trumped everything else.

Weekday tickets were $12, the tour was 90 minutes. Even bad art is tolerable for 90 minutes, I reasoned.

Our expectations could not have been lower. The possibility for surprise could not have been greater.

Di Rosa greets guests professionally. A docent whisked us and a half dozen others into an open-sided jitney. We’re going on a ride, she said.

We found ourselves zipping along a large lake with geese paddling in formation, past vast views of rolling vineyards. I felt we were entering a wine-themed Jurassic Park.

We arrived at a cluster of buildings nestled against giant eucalyptus. One was a 19th century stone winery that the museum founder, Rene di Rosa, and his wife Veronica had turned into their home, then filled with paintings and sculpture by Bay Area artists.

Now the house is part of the museum complex. With the Main Gallery closed for redesign, the house would be the tour centerpiece.

This proved not to be an issue. What a home! Rustic, wood beamed. A turret with a “witch’s hat” crown. And every square foot filled with art.

I’m talking wild art. Wacky art. Humorous art. Nice art. Art art.

Best of all, none of it had labels. The works just sat there, covering walls and floors and kitchens and bathrooms — all for your relaxed contemplation, no need to scrunch up your eyeballs to read small print.

The docent identified some of the works. Their creators had become famous, she said.

We wandered room to room, floor to floor, giddy with discovery. Nothing that di Rosa collected was boring in the slightest, even if you didn’t like it.

Honestly, this house tour was the grandest fun.

Exploring an art house is way cooler than entering a traditional museum where everything is confined to sterile white boxes.

That Rene di Rosa was an inspired fellow. He had the vision and money to take 200 acres of Carneros and make it his personal art preserve.

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I met him several times before his death in 2000. He exuded an impish, Bohemian spirit. When protesting one cause or another in front of the Napa County Administration Building, he would wear a gorilla suit.

In short, di Rosa was easily as interesting a person as any piece of art he collected.

After touring the house, we walked the grounds amid jack rabbits, peacocks and diving swallows. Sculptures of all sorts, including two by Napa’s own Gordon Huether, peeked out from hill and dale.

I’m generally not moved much by big sculptures intended for public places, but at di Rosa, where large numbers of pieces sprawl across a natural landscape, it’s a different experience.

Two whimsical works are by di Rosa himself. Flailing human arms reach up from the dry ground in a piece called “Field Hand.” Another features the carcass of a car hung upside down from a tree.

According to the docent, di Rosa said, “Cars kill people. I’m going to kill a car.”

In summary, di Rosa is a magical realm. What Hearst did at San Simeon, di Rosa did on a smaller, more artsy scale in Carneros.

So much charmed us. The jitney ride. The lake with its geese. The walk about. The house to die for.

And yes, even the art.

Kevin can be reached at 707-256-2217 or Napa Valley Register, 1615 Soscol Ave., Napa, 94559, or kcourtney@napanews.com.

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