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Art and Wine

You can fall in love at the museum, with a little help from their wine list.

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The Setting

It doesn't take long to figure out that Jumpin' is a success. When I walk up to the entrance a woman offers to sell me her ticket. The presence of scalpers is always a sign of success. Every Thursday evening through the summer, the museum's sculpture garden is filled to capacity with 1,800 people drinking, socializing and dancing. The featured wine this evening is the Honig Cellars Sauvignon Blanc from Napa Valley ($4 a glass). It tastes of crisp, ripe pears with just a touch of greenery to team up with the evening's hot salsa/new wave flamenco band, Innervision.

"It has to taste good and have the right price/quality relationship," says John Van Peppen, director of restaurant and catering services, when I ask how he chooses his wines for this event. "We change wines every two to three weeks, and they always have to be good wines." Ironically, Michael Honig, the winemaker for Honig Cellars is in town and anonymously in the crowd, listening to the music and enjoying a glass of his creation. It is superb.

The Date

I meet Van Peppen the next day in the members' dining room to see what would be in store for potential diners and daters. Thursdays from October to May you don't need to be a museum member to dine there, but after a meal, you'll join. The menu is small and diverse covering everything from salmon with mango salsa ($19.75) to a beef tenderloin ($20.75). John choses the pistachio crusted grouper with hollandaise sauce ($18.75) — The perfect dish for a first date: not too adventurous but not dull.

Now for the wine: I am on the edge of my chair. Domaine Zind Humbrecht Pinot Gris, Alsace ($35). Probably neither of our first-daters have heard of it, but one glass of this elusive masterpiece and they'll be talking for hours. It tastes slightly of an exotic Brazil nut, and it pairs nicely with a bite of the grouper. This is the world's greatest wine that you don't have to take out a second mortgage to afford. John has spent years stocking the cellar with all kinds of wines on this level.

The Engagement

After our dinners and dates, it is time to think about engagement. This brings about the liveliest dialogue from Van Peppen and his fellow staffers. People have gotten engaged all over the museum's grounds. Some choose the members dining room and the bottle of Champagne Veuve Cliquot ($49). The sculpture garden is also popular and romantic, and a bit more private. There are two places within the museum that don't allow wine, but offer a romantic setting. The Faberge Gallery is small and intimate. And the Art Nouveau section upstairs is like going to Paris without the airfare.

Unfortunately, you can't get married in the museum, but you can have your reception at the astonishingly recreated Federal revival Center for Education and Outreach. Elizabeth Ritch, the events coordinator, took me on a tour, and if it is authenticity you want, this is the place.

When you go off to your honeymoon then come home to Richmond, you will no doubt return to the museum and put on those little earphones, but you won't think of the place in quite the same way again. S

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