Monday, December 31, 2012

Burgundians favor low hanging fruit

In Burgundy, the fruit hangs low.
This is a First Growth (premier cru) vineyard just above the village of Gevrey Chambertin, the namesake of the largest appellation in Burgundy Cote de Nuits.
This is that same First Growth vineyard above Gevrey Chambertin. The vines stand just above the hips of that good looking Latvian-American, who at 5'7" and shrinking, is no giant.
On the plus side, growing the fruit so low to the ground allows the rocky soil to give off ripening heat during the cool nights.

On the negative side, moist soil could provide the perfect culture for grape diseases and rot.

With the fruit hanging so low, harvesting is no easy task in this Village Level vineyard just outside of Gevrey Chambertin. Notice the pickers in the foreground stooped over and on their knees. They are so relieved to stand up to dump their grapes into the carrier's bin.
The variety of characters seen during harvest in Givrey Chambertin provide visual entertainment.
For the most part, in 2012, the rain and moisture held off long enough so that the fungal spores did not get a chance to develop until after harvest. So low hanging fruit was a plus.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Creation of Earth seen from a 737.

I saw this magical view on my way to Yellow Knife, Northwest Territories, Canada.
If I were to imagine the creation of Earth, it would look something like this.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

What does God look like?

What does your vision of God look like?   
Does it look like the bearded fellow in Michelangelo Buonarroti's Creation of Adam (Man) painting.

This is my photo illustration of God as described by the Mursi tribal elders in the Omo Region of Ethiopia, the ancient former Christian empire. DNA tells us that modern man came from the Omo Region. My conjecture is that the Omo Tribe myths and archetypal dreams I studied and recorded predate modern religions.
This is my vision of God. We live in a field of time. When we die, we leave that field to enter the unphotographable Great Unknown. I'm breaking through the wall of time to peek at an admittedly poor vision God. Note that I was hiking through an Alsatian vineyard when I poked through the time barrier. 

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Do you count your blessings?

Paulo Coelho writes in The Alchemist about the baker's daughter: "for her, every day was the same, and when each day is the same as the next, it's because people fail to recognize the good things that happen in their lives every day that the sun rises."
Sunset and fog over Adelsheim's Bryan vineyard near Newberg, Yamhill County, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
 When people ask, "How are you?" I can only reply: "When I remember to count my blessings, excellent."
Vineyard worker offering a photographer whose camera and lens cost more than the worker makes in 20 years, some table grapes at the end of a long day of harvest, Hebei province, China.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Do you know your role?

Somewhere I read that no mater what we do, every person on earth plays a central role in the history of the world.
Commuters in Beijing, China.

Vineyard worker at Haras de Pirque Winery, Maipo Valley, Chile.
Vineyard worker, Shangri La Winery, above Lancang River, Yunnan Province, China.
Vineyard worker, Mountadam Vineyards, Eden Valley, Barossa, Australia.
Vineyard worker, Willamette Valley Vineyards, Willamette Valley, Oregon, USA.
Vineyard Worker, Henry Estate Winery, Umpqua Valley, Oregon, USA.
Field supervisor, Mountadam Vineyards, Eden Valley, Barossa, Australia.
Right now I'm wondering what my role is. Can you see your role?

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Have you given up your life's dreams?

Sometimes people tell me that they wish they could do the things I've done. What stops them?
Catholic Church door in Cizhong Village in the most remote part of Yunnan province, China.
I know the answer all too well. Many times in my life—right now is one of those times—I've teetered on giving up following my dreams. Oh the excuses stab a thousand deaths. What's the purpose? It's too hard. I've got to earn more money (for that new lens). And what about retirement?

Then comes the warning sign. I feel uneasy, out of sorts, an internal churning. My very insides being splattered against the wall of daily life. Something's stirring.  

Then I know it's time for a spiritual adventure. Visiting vineyards is just an excuse.

That stirring led me to become what some China wine experts say is the only Westerner to have visited all of China's wine growing regions. While seeking the best Chinese region to grow wine, I stumbled on Tibetan culture, mountains of Yunnan and what just might be the world's most amazing vineyards.
With an ancient Catholic church in the background, teacher Zhang performs his morning Tibetan ritual of placing juniper and cedar branches into the burning incense burner on the roof of his home and guesthouse in remote Cizhong village on LanCang (also called Lantsang, Lansang and Mekong) River, Yunnan Province, China.
Tibetan Buddhist Feilai Temple, located 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) away from Deqen Town, (Shengping town), Yunnan Province, China, Asia.
Views from narrow National Highway 214 high above the muddy Lancang (also called Lantsang, Lansang and Mekong) River area near Teilai Temple area, Deqen, Deqin County, northwest Yunnan Province, China. These are big mountains that extend into Tibet.
Check out the people behind the Cabernet Sauvignon vineyard near tiny Yunling (Yunlingxiang) village along narrow gravel DeWeiXian road above roiling Lancang (also called Lantsang, Lansang and Mekong) River, Deqin County, Deqen, northwest Yunnan Province, China.
Vineyards in Beng (also called Bu) village on LanCang (also called Lantsang, Lansang and Mekong) River, in the Heng Duan (Hengduan) Mountain Range, Yunnan Province, China.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Seeing the light

Without darkness you can't see the light (in life too)
Mt. Jefferson lit by star light on a moonless night during a backpacking trip with one of my grand kids.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

The Wine Is Not Orange In Oregon

Looking at the warm salmon-colored fermenting juice in the glass, what varietal would you guess? 

Of course, it's Pinot Gris. But it's skin-fermented.   

Not exactly what you expect from a white wine. Aren't whites typically stripped from their tannin-holding grape skins to create the more familiar nearly clear Pinot Gris (AKA Pinot Grigio)?    

That's Dag Johan Sundby's hand holding a glass of Pinot Gris juice just taken from below the cap of skins and seeds. Sundby, a native Norwegian and owner of Johan Vineyards in the Willamette Valley near Rickreall, and his winemaker/viticulturalist Dan Rinke decided to try skin fermenting this year.
Actually, the technique is not so unique. At least one winery in New York is also experimenting with skin-fermentation. And it has been used for thousands of years in European regions like Slovenia, Georgia and Italy. 

While I haven't seen skin-fermented wine from other wineries, I've heard it called by the unappetizing title of orange wine. To me, those two words clash. If that title is an accurate descriptor of other winery's efforts, I must say that the salmon color produced Sundby and Rinke at Johan Winery is visually much more appealing. To a Northwesterner, salmon and wine make a perfect pair.

After tasting this uniquely-flavored fermenting juice, I can't wait to see the wine.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Never Let Them See You Sweat?

How many winemakers, creatives and yes, even photographers, who really care, expose the grit, determination and work it takes? I've just learned that "never let them see you sweat" is bad advice.

Fall Breaking Storm over Penner Ash Wine Cellars and the Willamette Valley.
After adjusting each of the 21 individual frames in the RAW File Converter, I stitched this panorama together. But it has rough edges and flat contrast, even after adjusting before stitching.
Check out the adjustment layers that created the more painterly look below. Each area is carefully selected and painted. This is the kind of work I did on canvas during my Masters of Art Degree.
I'm working to create an emotionally engaging image; one that brings joy and a sense of awe.
Isn't it the sweat that makes a piece of work individual?

Thursday, November 29, 2012

After a glass of Pinot, I apologized to Ansel Adams

Over Thanksgiving I struggled with perfection. 

Visiting friends and relatives wanted to see photographs from the September France trip my wife and I took. Groaning, I gave my all too often reply, "the photos are not optimized."

To me, that meant the photos are not ready for Ansel Adams-level show time.

Things haven't changed all that much since the film days of Ansel. A photograph from any digital camera is just raw material used to make the final image. In fact, I shoot in RAW format, which provides a pile of digital data that need to be interpreted. That interpretation is like Adams' idea of "the negative is the score, the print is the performance."

But creating a performance is a lot of work. After making a dozen or so big adjustments in the RAW file converter, I literally paint minute adjustments with Photoshop layers. Check out the screen capture of my layers palette for this simple photograph of the Gevrey Chambertin Chateau (recently bought by a Chinese businessman).

Photo as it came from RAW File Converter with about 6 basic adjustments.
Notice the addition of a sky layer with a stack of adjustment layers on top.
The final photograph has much more drama.
 The image becomes a painting, a visual performance.

But, if each France-trip image took 5 to 15 minutes to optimize, it would require at least 60 hours of painting to create a simple 100-image Holiday "slide show." (Add to that, first, I had to edit the 11,000 or so images I took during the three-week trip.)

I had to let go of perfection.

That's where wine came to the rescue.  After a glass of Oregon Pinot from White Rose Winery, I "optimized/painted" some key images—three hours—and used the JPGs straight out of the camera for the rest of the show—one hour. The show was done. Simple. No perfection.

Sorry, Ansel, it wasn't a stunning performance. But it was good enough.


Thursday, November 15, 2012

Early Oregon Wine made in a German's barn

In 1860 Oregon's wine production was something like 2,600 gallons, but we're not sure how much was fruit wine as opposed to the Vitis vinifera fruit kind.

Sometime in the 1880s, two German immigrant brothersEdward and John Von Pessls ventured north from California to plant Zinfandel, Riesling, and some kind of Sauvignon in southern Oregon. When one of their German immigrant buddies, Adam Doerner, visited the Von Pessl brothers some time the 1890s, Doerner thought, "hey, I could make wine here in southern Oregon also."

So the aspiring winemaker brought some Riesling and Sauvignon (we wish he would have kept better records as to the specific varietal) cuttings from the Beringer Brothers in Napa to the Umpqua region (that's in southern Oregon for all the Rush Limbaugh fans who didn't know). And where do early Oregon winemakers make their creations, in the barn. 

Doerner's barn winery still stands, but without the wine making equipment.

You can read more about Oregon Wine history in my book, Oregon The Taste of Wine, available in bookstores and at Amazon.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Chinese buying France, French buying China

Chinese buy France:  A Chinese business man recently bought this chateau, the only one in Gevrey Chambertin appellation, which is home to some of the world’s most prestigious (and most expensive) red wines with 26 Premier Cru and 9 Grand Cru vineyards.

French buy China: French wine and spirits maker Moet Hennessy earlier this year partnered with Shangrila Winery (a subsidiary of Chinese liquor maker VATS Group) to develop vineyards and produce a super-premium red wine in this remote region of China's Yunnan province bordering Tibet.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

We discovered Chandonnay with the bones of Mary Magdalene

My wife Eddi and I decided to take the back roads from Gevrey-Chambertin to Chinon in the Loire Valley. We got lost winding through small villages, found huge chateaux not listed on any guide books and stumbled upon the bones of Mary Magdalene.
The hilltop Abby and community of Vézelay.
According to legend, near the end of the first millennium a monk brought bones of Mary Magdalene to Vézelay, France from Saint-Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume. In 1058, the Pope confirmed the genuineness of the relics, leading to an influx of pilgrims that has continued to this day.

Vézelay Abbey was also a major starting point for pilgrims on the Way of St. James to Santiago de Compostela, one of the most important of all medieval pilgrimage centers. 

In the 9th century the Benedictines were given land to build a monastery. The current Basilica was built in the 11th century. The town and the Basilica of St Magdelene are designated UNESCO World Heritage sites.

Bernard of Clairvaux preached the Second Crusade at Vézelay in 1146. In 1189, the Frankish and English factions of the Third Crusade met at Vézelay before officially departing for the Holy Land.

Today, Vézelay is a commune in the Yonne department in Burgundy.  Bourgogne Vézelay is the local wine appellation. Vineyards descend to the edge of the town and produce a range of mostly white wines, mainly on the Chardonnay, Melon de Bourgogne  and, of course, Pinot Noir.

Today the town is swarming with pilgrims—some would call them tourists—still seeking. Seeking what?  Well, I'm not exactly sure what they are seeking as they sit in the outdoor cafes sipping local Chardonnay. Surely this could not be the beginning of a new Crusade?

Friday, September 21, 2012

Reflection on history and my cousin's death

A few days after we arrived in France, we get a i-Phone call at 2:34 in the morning. The caller ID said it was my cousin John in Napa. He only emails. He never calls. So I answered even though I knew it would cost me $19.95 per minute.  Cousin Dave answered. Dave's news: his brother, my cousin, had just died. Didn't know the cause. Cousin John was 58; I'm 64. He's dead. I'm in France.

His death colored my thoughts through the rest of France. When visiting the large chateaus, I thought about how most of us live simple lives which will be forgotten in a generation or two. Most of us will never become famous. Even though we live the best we can, history will quickly erase us.

Somehow I found myself photographing lots of cemeteries for the rest of the trip. Was that my meditation on history and death?
Gevrey Chambertin village cemetery seen across Premier Crus Petits Cazetiers vineyard. I like the idea that there has been a vineyard and village here for at least a 1000 years, probably longer.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Oregon Wine Photographer measures Burgundy Vines

After the initial awe seeing the grands curs vineyards in Burgundy, it struck me how low the vines were. Some of the grape clusters were nearly on the ground.
Two things to notice in this Village-level vineyard in Gevrey-Chambertin: 1) check how old those vines are 2) check out how low those clusters hang.
So, I'm not a tall guy, but those vines come barely over my hips. I'm sure glad I don't have to pick those grapes. You nearly need to lay down to pick. No wonder some of the older workers are so hunched over.

New Light on Chinese-owned Chateau Gevrey Chambertin

Now with Chinese-businessman ownership, does the beautiful evening light on Chateau Gevrey Chambertin in historic Burgundy, France, mean a new dawn for the run- down structure?

Sunday, September 16, 2012

French peek inside Chinese-owned Burgundy chateau

This is the group that could not be accommodated  at the 16:30 (4:30PM for USAers) tour and had to wait for one and one-half hours to peek inside the Chateau. The cheerful guide was accommodating enough to take us in, even though the last scheduled tour went in ahead of us stragglers. You should have seen the 8:30 Sunday line.
The lines at the upper part of Gevrey-Chambretin village were surprisingly long this past weekend, September 15 and 16, for peek-inside tours of the newly Chinese-owned Chateau Gevrey Chambertin. Casual me, I miscalculated the local interest. I waited until Saturday afternoon to find the lines stretching 50-people long and had to wait until a later tour as the guide could not accommodate all the French locals ahead of me. 

Finally, got in for the surprise inside.  Tours were scheduled every one and one-half hours. Even the Sunday 8:30 am tour was crowded.