Sunday, April 26, 2015

My journey to the pink wine oasis in the Silk Road desert

My winemaker friend, Fred Nauleau, at CITIC Guoan Wine Co., wanted me to see a winery way out in the Xinjiang Silk Road desert.

On the way out, we passed this billboard advertising our destination winery, Chateau JunYan. Since my Chinese is three broken rungs below minimal, I don't know exactly what I'm supposed to do with the advertised wine; but the visual clearly shows the countryside we are about to visit. Maybe pouring red wine on a tree in the desert is an ancient local tradition. 
Chateau Jun Yan, Xinjiang, China.

Where did I put my water bottle? My winemaker host and driver told me it was probably only a two hour drive to the winery. But he had never been there before. Four hours later, our journey becomes more suspenseful when we passed a series of cemeteries in the dunes.  Xinjiang, China.

A few thousand rolling sand dunes later, we arrive at Chateau Jun Yan (some spell it JunYan). While I've been to more Chinese wineries than the average Oregonian, this one surprised me. It's a wine oasis. It's an architectural ......(fill in the blank) wonder. Chateau Jun Yan, Xinjiang, China.

Even though they only get 2 inches of rain during a good year, no worries about water in this desert. The owners claimed that under their feet flowed an unlimited system of aquifers. (I quietly reminded myself that this was China, the new wine frontier, which still had unlimited resources.) Chateau Jun Yan, Xinjiang, China.

But why paint the winery pink? Ah, a few photos below, you will find out who the real boss is here. Chateau Jun Yan, Xinjiang, China.

Even though you see acres and acres of a newly-planted green forest and huge vineyards in the background, this photo is just a reminder that we are in the desert, as in sand dune-type of desert. Chateau Jun Yan, Xinjiang, China.

Besides building a large winery, the owners wanted to create an entire resort where nouveau riche Chinese visitors could relax with a glass or three of JunYan wine. Since no respectable oasis resort should be without white geese in a pond, the owners dug a lake among the dunes and imported a flock of geese. I'm ready for my glass of wine now. Chateau Jun Yan, Xinjiang, China.

No winery resort in the desert should be without a lawn, complete with a cast iron sign warning—in three languages: "Don't bother the growing grass." Chateau Jun Yan, Xinjiang, China.

Drip irrigation allows the newly-planted Cabernet sauvignon vines to survive the dry heat. Check out how the vines are planted in a valley. That's so that they can be easily buried under a protective blanket of dirt for the sub-zero (as in less than 0 F) desert winter. Chateau Jun Yan, Xinjiang, China.

Since photographers are suppose to shutter snap at sunset, I did a golden-hour selfie shadow on the new vineyard. Note the acres of plastic for weed control. Also, I'm not showing a photo of all the discarded chemical containers, confirming they are not farming biodynamically.  Chateau Jun Yan, Xinjiang, China.

So these are the proud owners. Having made their fortune with a fleet of factories, they are building their winery resort dream. Can you tell who is the real boss in the family?  Revealing her cutthroat business personality, she actually bribed a farmer for some of Xinjiang's best grapes that were contracted to my winemaker friend, Fred. But then that's business in China, the new wine frontier. Chateau Jun Yan, Xinjiang, China.

By the way, you can order my China wine book by contacting me directly.

What makes these wineries perfect for wedding photography in China?

Wedding photography is big business in an increasingly affluent urban China. And it seems that newly married couples want their photographs to look as if they traveled to some romantic distant chateau. That makes some wineries a perfect photo location. 

Those considering wedding photography and wine lovers, check out these winery locations. And, you shutter clickers, peek at Chinese photographic techniques.

This wedding couple and photographer waited in line for an hour to get this popular viewpoint at the US$103 million Chateau Changyu Baron Balboa, which stands like an oasis in the desert near Shihezi, Xinjiang.
After their professional photography session, this couple wandered around the Chateau to take their own happy snaps. Chateau Changyu Baron Balboa,
Shihezi, Xinjiang.

As they head for a photo session, the bride, groom and photographer are dwarfed by the scale of the Dynasty Winery Chateau architecture.  Dynasty Fine Wines Group Ltd., Tianjin, China.
The wedding party and photographer pass the French Louvre museum copy pyramid. And why not? Dynasty Winery is a Sino-French joint venture with the huge
French alcoholic beverage company,
Rémy Cointreau.  Dynasty Fine Wines Group Ltd., Tianjin, China.
Under the watchful eyes of giant iron guards, this bride waits her turn to be photographed inside Dynasty's winery.
Dynasty Fine Wines Group Ltd., Tianjin, China.
This is one of the photographer's favorite places at Dynasty's winery. The general manager told me that the cost to rent just the winery photographic space costs between $700 to $1000, depending on the status of the customer. Photographer's fee is not included.  Dynasty Fine Wines Group Ltd., Tianjin, China.

Being only one hour out of Beijing, makes Chateau Changyu AFIP Global a favorite photo location for wedding couples.  Chateau Changyu AFIP Global, Miyun County, China.
Most of the photographers seem to use the same standard poses. Chateau Changyu AFIP Global, Miyun County, China.
Even the roof makes a suitable location for some wedding photographers. Chateau Changyu AFIP Global, Miyun County, China.
Ready, set and smile. Chateau Changyu AFIP Global, Miyun County, China.
Chateau Changyu AFIP Global offers a faux church so that a couple can be married and photographed in the same winery village.  Miyun County, China.
This focused photographer is not in the least distracted by the grape sorting line a few feet behind him. After all, Chateau AFIP Global is a very active winery during harvest. The wedding party did have to move when the tanker truck pulled out. Chateau Changyu AFIP Global, Miyun County, China.

My photographs bring emotional magic to Ethiopia's Konso tribe.

One of my most moving photographic experiences ever was in the remote Ethiopian village of Busso. The photographs below were taken on two different visits: the first in 2001, then a return trip in 2007. On the second visit, I brought prints made from the slides taken on my first trip.  

The reactions to seeing the prints were tears, joy and pure delight.

Busso is one of my favorite villages in all of Africa. Konso tribe, Ethiopia.

In 2001, I photographed the old man on the left. There he was holding his pillow/chair staring out at the world through his hand-me-down glasses which still had the original sticker indicating the magnification. It turns out the old man died before my return trip. When I gave the print to the old man's son, he cried with joy. It was the only thing he had to remember his father by. I was so moved by the son's emotional reaction, I couldn't take photographs for a few moments.

On my first trip, I was fascinated by the scarification on the woman's face and her warm smile while holding her first child. When I showed her the photograph, she ran to get her children. The baby in the left photograph is now the taller of her two sons standing in front of her in the more recent picture on the right.

I love taking photographs of people doing everyday things, like this woman working her sorghum harvest. Six years later, on my return trip, the elders identified the woman and called her. She just kept running her finger over the photograph as if touching some distant memory.

I wonder if we technologically adroit Westerners have become immune to photography?

My new website born from 15 years of learning from remote African tribes

These Konso tribe children gave me a hard time because I only knew 20 Konso words (and I had to look at my cheat sheet for most of those). But that didn't stop us from having lots of fun together.  We all have five fingers.  Konso tribe, Ethiopia, Africa.

On my first trip to Ethiopia's remote Omo region, the Konso tribe elders were telling me about their myths, stories, beliefs and archetypal dreams.
After several hours of a lively interview, I asked what advice the elders would give to world’s leaders. Now, you need to know that at that time, these guys had heard about Europe but only vaguely knew about the United States.  So world leaders to them mostly meant the elders and chiefs of neighboring tribes.

After a long silence, one elder slowly, deliberately replied: “We’re all made by God. We are all the same, no matter what tribe or what we believe.” 

He then raised his hand with outstretched fingers: “We all have five fingers.”

We all have five fingers inspires the Five Fingers Project.

With those simple words spoken in Ethiopia, near the very place where anthropologists first dug up bones of our evolutionary ancestors, my project, my life's purpose, my life's mission was born. 

Now, after 15 years of hearing tribal storytellers in the human Garden of Eden—Africa, the place DNA and anthropologists say all of us humans originated—I have no doubt those living stories confirm that the Konso elder was right in many many ways. We all have five fingers.

Now I would like to share my personal experiences with the myths, stories and archetypal dreams I learned from Africa's most remote tribes.  And in honor of the Konso elder's insight, I call this body of work The Five Fingers Project.

Please visit the web site born from 15 years of work.

Amazingly, the beliefs of the Mursi tribe nursing mother (Left) have many similarities to Christian beliefs represented by The Virgin as Queen of Heaven by Hans Baldung Grien (Right). We all have five fingers.

Any comments, insights and suggestions are much appreciated. 

Collectors and museums steal these Konso tribe wooden statues

The Konso didn't think to preserve the wagas (wakas) until local and outside thieves began stealing them when the wooden statues became a red hot commodity for collectors and museums. They are cool looking.  Konso tribe, Ethiopia, Africa.

Wooden statues to honor their heros

Ethiopia's Konso tribe carves wooden statues called wagas (wakas) as grave markers to commemorate tribal heros. One elder defined a hero as either one who has been a good tribal leader/administrator or someone who killed a wild animal threatening the village. In the olden days, the tribe erected wagas for a warrior who killed an enemy. 

Since they are unique, collectors and museums from around the world have stolen many wagas. Naturally, the Konso have become quite protective of them. 

But I had spent days interviewing the elders to learn about their myths, stories and archetypal dreams, (plus I have a face even my wife's mother trusted—after I had been married for 8 years), so on both of my trips, amazingly, I was allowed free access to photograph all of the wagas. 

Originally these wagas (wakas) were totally exposed to weather's harsh erosion. Now a small tin roof (seen in the photo below) was errected. Konso tribe, Ethiopia, Africa.
Konso tribe, Ethiopia, Africa.

These are the hero's wifes in the grouping pictured below.  Konso tribe, Ethiopia, Africa.
The hero is the tallest wooden statue. The smaller ones surrounding him are his wives and children.  Konso tribe, Ethiopia, Africa.
This is the well prepared hero from the grouping pictured above. I could never find out why someone gave him a crown of vines. Konso tribe, Ethiopia, Africa.

I photographed these wagas on my 2001 trip. By my 2007 trip, they had disappeared. Konso tribe, Ethiopia, Africa.

This is the son of the hero for whom these wagas were errected. He is represented by one of the small wooden figures behind him on the left. Konso tribe, Ethiopia, Africa.

Konso tribe, Ethiopia, Africa.

Behind the father and his sons, you can make out the feet and torso of some family wagas. Konso tribe, Ethiopia, Africa.

On my second trip to the Konso, one of the village women challenged me when I wanted to photograph this site where waga once stood. The local culture minister jumped in to my rescue to explain I had permission from the elders. I must say, as you can see by his terse body language, he was a little harsh with the poor woman. I wanted to hug her and thank her for what she was trying to do. But me knowing only 20 words of Konso stopped me from any serious communication.  Konso tribe, Ethiopia, Africa.

On my first trip, I was shown this storage room full of wagas recovered from thieves. Then, with a smile, the caretaker offered me one. Wow, I could easily picture the wooden statue in my living room. But that was exactly the problem, so could lots of other collectors and museums. I declined the kind offer and took a photo to hang in my living room.  There is now a Konso Cultural Center displaying wagas.  Konso tribe, Ethiopia, Africa.