Handmade Wine Chillers

Ceramic artist Michael Wisner learned much of his craft from Juan Quezada, the self-invented Mexican master who rediscovered ancient methods of Indian pottery. “I knocked on his door and told him I loved his work,” Wisner said. “And I ended up staying there for three months." During an 18-year period, Wisner estimates, he spent two and a half years with the recipient of Mexico’s coveted National Art Award. “I was keenly interested in his process, his attention to detail and his acute knowledge of materials,” Wisner said. "He’s constantly challenging himself, and you’re imbued with that when you work with him.”

Artist Michael Wisner not only hand-dug the clay on site at Newton Vineyard for his limited-edition wine chillers and coaster sets, but hand-built and shaped each object as well.

Wisner’s most recent challenge came from the winemakers at Newton Vineyard in Napa Valley. For its third annual "Eco Chic" collaboration, Newton asked the Denver-based artist to develop a limited edition wine bottle chiller and coaster set. The artist responded by visiting the vineyards and harvesting clay from the soil where its grapes are grown. "It’s in the top two percent of any clay I’ve ever found," he said.

Once he’d designed and shaped the chiller and coasters, he fired them at 2,200 degrees for a pure, ivory white tint. The chiller’s shape, he said, resonates with the landscape of the mountain where the grapes are grown. Its abstracted pattern resembles the neck of a wine bottle on its positive impression, and a wine glass on its negative.

When chilled to 55 degrees Fahrenheit, Wisner said, the taste of Newton Vineyard’s Chardonnay "explodes in your mouth."

The artist signed and numbered an even 100 chillers and sets of four coasters. They’ll make their debut, appropriately enough, on Earth Day, 2011. Sets will be sold for $400, and can be found at newtonvineyard.com.

The artist said that the goal of his work is to "allow nature to have its say."


Once he’d made the chiller’s cylinder, Wisner sculpted the object with a cutting blade.

To see more images of Wisner's design, please view the slideshow.

Wisner impressed and incised his pattern into the clay, using a tool he fashioned from a hacksaw blade.


Wisner can judge the temperature inside his kiln by the color of the clay as it’s firing.

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Each hand-made chiller and coaster was signed and numbered by the artist before being fired in a kiln.

When fired at 2200 degrees Fahrenheit, the tan clay turned a pure, ivory white. No glazing was necessary.

Both the chiller and the wine are placed in a refrigerator for two hours before consumption. The chiller will keep the wine at optimum temperature throughout dinner.

Wisner crafted only 100 chillers and coaster sets, to be released for sale to the public on Earth Day 2011.

A pioneer winemaker in Napa Valley, Newton Vineyard is known for its unfiltered and naturally fermented wines.

The finished chiller and coaster sets are the result of what Wisner calls a "dance and a collaboration with nature."

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