Wednesday, July 28, 2010

What would you put in a China Wine book?

I've been working on this book for about one and one-half years. It's time for a step back and see where we are going.

What do you think should be in the China vineyard/winery book I'm doing?

Why photograph vineyards?

Storm breaking over Fall-colored Brandborg winery's Ferris Wheel vineyard near Elkton, in the Umpqua region of Oregon.

Yesterday, I was trying to figure out why I love photographing vineyards, wineries and the whole world-wide wine industry.

First, I love the outdoors and nature. At 62, I still go backpacking into the wilderness with my 25-year-old son. (Please don't tell Ryan that I put a large rock in his pack last time to slow him down.) Watching a sunrise in a vineyard with two screeching hawks circling overhead, a bob cat meandering ahead of me and a ladybug crawling on a vine is a Yosemite-like experience
for me.

I'm also intrigued why
the vineyard and wine are mentioned something like 412 times in the Bible, and why Jesus used the vineyard so often in his stories. Even the Qur'an has vineyard stories. So why is that?

I also enjoy people, especially the vineyard workers–the unheard heroes who never make it to the tasting room.

Finally, I love art. My background is drawing and painting. (Heck, while working on my Masters degree, I even learned to color outside the lines.) So I'm intrigued with the whole process of making wine, from choosing the varietal to plant all the way to producing the wine. There's technical know-how, craftsmanship and something like creative vision.

All of these loves come together in the vineyard with enough elbow room for me to stretch my craft, technical abilities and vision.
It's raining while Tim harvests Pinot Gris at Henry Estate winery vineyard in the Umpqua region of Oregon.

Monday, July 26, 2010

World's largest energy consumer uses a cows to plow the vineyard

This weekend I heard that China has become the world's largest consumer of energy, a title the country vehemently denies so the government can blame global warming on the world's "more developed" countries.

But, as this photograph hints, the per capita energy consumption in China is far below that of USA citizens.

On my last China trip, I photographed these friendly workers using an energy-efficient cow to plow soil around peanuts planted between rows of vines in vineyard operated by Dynasty winery, near Jixian village, Tianjin province.
Break time for man and beast.

Have you ever seen one of these?

Ok, you Pinot noir lovers, have you seen one of these? And they do have a fragrance. This is part of my Seasons in the Vineyard photographic series.

Recent work: mind over camera

For the last several years, I've been searching for something more to photography than photography. While looking at the work of some early 20th-century German painters called The Blue Rider, which includes my all-time favorite artist, Wassily Kandinsky, I came across this journal entry by August Macke. Somehow it hit home.

"A work of art is a parable, it is man's thought, an autonomous idea of an artist, a song about the beauty of things; a work of art is the noble, differentiated expression of man who is capable of something more than merely saying: 'Isn't that beautiful!'"

The first part of Macke's thought is easy for me. I
often have troubles getting past the "Isn't that beautiful."

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Was I right to charge a fee?

Three weeks ago while Googeling the web for "beautiful vineyard photographs" I came across one of my images on a wedding photographer's site. (Name not listed to protect the guilty.) Since I couldn't remember selling them the rights, I sent an email asking where they had gotten such a beautiful photograph. The reply, "from the internet."

Oh. I responded with a strongly worded email explaining that they were in violation of Federal copyright law. In addition, since the photo was registered with the US copyright office, I was entitled to collect up to $10,000 statutory damages, plus all attorney fees and the normal usage fee. (Lesson here: register your images.)

Never have I gotten an email back so fast–we're talking nano-seconds, along with an immediate apologetic follow up phone call from an unpaid intern. On the verge of tears, she explained that she had done the wedding photographer's web site and taken my photo from the internet. She was a little unclear as to the exact source of the photo, but it sounded like one of the Google's image galleries they list by subjects. On those galleries in small print are words something like "these photographs might be copyrighted". (Lesson here: should we let Google post our images for free with all the intended or unintended consequences?)

Now in tears, the intern explained that there was no way they could afford $10,000 and the wedding photographer had just fired her. She had been working for free with the hopes of being hired sometime in the future. As we talked, the intern said she would have to pay out of her own pocket whatever I demanded.

Wow, what to do? I consulted 5 people for advice. All of my advisors agreed that I should charge her something. So I sent an invoice to the intern's private residence for a discounted web usage fee of, as I recall, $225. The intern asked if she could make payments, else she would have to take it out of the family food budget. Of course.

Did I do the right thing by charging the fee?

(Amazingly, just today, by accident, I found another site with one of my photos illegally used. What would happen if I actually started looking?)

The Winner: Oregon's most beautiful vineyard view

At the end of June we asked viewers to vote for Oregon's Most Beautiful Vineyard View from 7 posted photographs. We were amazed at how many people voted. We were also amazed at how many people emailed their vote directly to us instead commenting on the blog (mostly because they didn't want to sign up for a gmail account which Google requires to comment).

These three views were by far the front runners, with a difference of only a few votes between them.
Number 1 vote getter. Mt. Hood with fog in the Willamette Valley seen from Elk Cove Winery's five Mountain Vineyard. Many voters said that Mt. Hood in the background made it Oregon. One of the most unusual comments declared that she loved the photo but thought that the man-made harvest crates along the left ruined the photo as a beautiful landscape.

Number 2 vote getter. Stormy morning light on Knudsen vineyard seen from Bella Vida vineyard in the Red Hills above Dundee, Willamette Valley. A number of voters remarked that this is the photo they would like to hang on their wall.

Number 3 vote getter was only three votes behind #1. Sunrise over the northern Willamette Valley seen from the David Hill Winery vineyard near Forest Grove.

Monday, July 19, 2010

What does this photo say?

"What do you want the photo to say?" is one of the first questions I always ask clients before starting a new assignment. The answer helps guide me while executing the vision. Just today, I re-learned that what the photo says to me is not necessarily what it says to another person–like the editor.

On and off for the past month I've been working on a story about a system of rigorous farming techniques developed by the founder of the Waldorf School, Rudolf Steiner. Called Biodynamics, it's organic farming, which prohibits the use of synthetic pesticides and herbicides, but with an overlay of Steiner's holistic philosophy and the use of homeopathic-like preparations. Today, an increasing number of vineyards and wineries–especially in Oregon–are adopting Steiner's intensive techniques.

Since Steiner taught that the whole environment, moon and other planets influenced vineyard plant growth, I wanted to create a photograph illustrating the concepts. Somehow I wanted an ethereal, other planet-like feeling with the moon dominating the sky over the vineyard. So I went to the Doe Ridge Biodynamic vineyard on a full moon night, set up my shot with the rolling hills in the background and the full moon dominating the sky.

But how to make it feel ethereal and other-planet like? I didn't have any preconceptions, so I winged it. Setting my D3 on a tripod, I stopped down to f14
with ISO set at 200 so I could have a long exposure–81 seconds. After clicking the shutter, I ran up and down the vineyard rows manually flashing my Nikon SB 900 strobe holding a bluish filter over the head to light the posts and vines. Using the small aperture creates the starburst effect.

I liked the look, but wasn't sure the photo really illustrated Steiner's ideas. I haven't spoken with the editor, but her choices spoke. While she was suppose to choose 3 total photos to illustrate the story, she chose 9, which always feels good. But she didn't choose this one.

What do you think? What does this photo say to you?

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Can you taste biodynamic farming?

Doe Ridge Vineyard in Oregon's Yamhill-Carlton AVA. The left half is biodynamically farmed while the right half is sustainable LIVE. Will there be a difference in the wines from these halves of the vineyard?

Can you detect any difference between wines made from biodynamicaly grown grapes as opposed to more traditionally farmed fruit?

Tomorrow a panel of 14 tasters will blind taste wines to answer the question. (Don't tell the tasters, but it will be a double blind situation.)

The idea for this blind-panel tasting germinated while I was dreaming up a dramatic finish to a biodynamic farming story I'm doing for Wine Enthusiast and Oregon Wine Press.

Here's the situation. One half of the approx 40 acre Doe Ridge Vineyard
is biodynamically farmed, the other more traditionally. It's one vineyard on the same hillside separated by a wooded ravine all in Oregon's Yamhill-Carlton AVA. So both parts have the same Pinot noir clones, the same geographic orientation, with vines the same age. The wines are made by the same winemaker, Laurent Montelieu. The only difference: one side is farmed bioD and the other sustainable. Wines tested will be from 2008 (the first year of full harvest) and 2009. While Demeter hasn't yet formally certified the vineyard, winemaker Laurent confidently says, "any day."

I want to thank Laurent Montelieu, winemaker & proprietor of Grand Cru Estate/Solena/NW Wine Company and Anthony van Nice, general manager at Four Graces Winery (owner of Doe Ridge Vineyard) for having the guts to allow us to do this impartial blind taste test.

What's your vote? Will they taste a difference? Why?