As many friends would attest, I seldom turn down a glass of good red. So when I got a call from a Napa Valley vintner, I was all ears. The conversation bounced from geology, to organic architecture, to a well known Spanish architect with references to Shakespeare. I was being asked to shoot a new winery building in Napa, but there was something about the call that peaked my curiosity. The person on the other end of the phone was not your average grape smasher. It was clear, this was a character with a classical education and a knowledge of wine making and architecture that was exceptional. Once I hung up the phone, I looked him up. It was then that all the pieces fell into place. The winemaker was Warren Winiarski, possibly the most seminal figure in American viticulture in the twentieth century. It was Winiarski’s 1973 Cabernet Sauvignon that won first place in a blind tasting in Paris in 1976 and established the Napa Valley as the world’s premier wine producing region. The California wine industry grosses over $24 billion a year and Winiarski’s Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars’ Cabernet is one of the reasons why. A bottle of 1973 Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon is included in the permanent collection in the National Museum of American History. It sits next to Lewis and Clark’s compass and John Glenn’s space suit. This bottle is also included in The Smithsonian’s History of America in 101 Objects.
Architect Javier Barba is better known in Europe than the United States. His work is modern, but it is infused with an earthiness that can best be described as “organic.” Winiarski first hired Barba to do the design work on the winery’s caves twenty years ago. The caves are some of the largest in North America and house thousands of barrels of the “good stuff.” In the tasting room /visitor center project, Winiarski asked Barba to use the adjacent Vaca Mountains as an inspiration. The Stag’s Leap winery sits at the base of an ancient rift volcano that exposes its palisades a few thousand feet above the valley floor. It is the decaying rock from these old volcanoes that creates the unique soil that is the Napa Valley. Barba’s solution was a stone and glass structure that dramatically framed the mountains and repeated their form with four oversized arches. Our job was simple: photograph a beautiful building in a breathtaking setting and make it look good.
Before I began the project, I spent the better part of the day with Winiarski talking about all manner of things, but mostly winemaking. Razor sharp and full of wit, at 86, he has not missed a beat. He insists that good wine comes from good grapes. If you start with inferior grapes, there is little you can do to create a great wine. Winiarski talked about his blend of hillside and valley grapes and how each has a distinctive flavor that is imparted to the wine. We tasted several vintages from the winery’s vineyards and he was right. They did have very unique flavors. Winiarski is philosophical by nature. He thinks of his wine in humanistic terms. He says, “Life is complicated, but wine is not. It has a beginning, middle and end. People like that.” I wish everything could be that simple.
Sometimes I long for the film days. The cameras and lenses did not change much, only the film got better and that was an expendable. In the digital era, the camera manufacturers are in a constant rivalry to produce the next “world’s greatest” camera. The iPhone has killed their bottom-end, point-and-shoot cameras leaving the legendary Japanese manufacturers with just the serious amateur and pro markets. Fortunately, most of these companies are not going to disappear because they are diversified and produce an array of tech hardware. Both Nikon and Sony have remarkable high end professional cameras that can now do cool things like take pictures in almost total darkness and yield large files that can create huge prints. We are Canon users and have patiently waited for them to update their current offerings. They did so in June releasing a monster camera that outputs a 150MB tiff file in native size. These files will easily make a print that is four feet wide (useful for trade show displays or large banners) with outstanding resolution. We bought the Canon camera and are now trying to learn how to tame the “monster.”
Below are some color tests we shot with the new Canon 5D/S. The RAW files (the straight digital unprocessed file out of the camera) were processed with three different RAW software processors. We were just shocked at the huge difference in color rendered from each software formula. The issue seems to revolve around the software makers not having enough time to fine tune the new camera’s profile. We were left with the painstaking task of creating our own color ICC profile for the camera. This is a work in progress and will are still fine-tuning the color output.
We like to think of ourselves as the most discerning photographers in town and implicitly guarantee our work will shine in a variety of venues. Before we ever bring new hardware into our production stream, we want to make certain that it preforms flawlessly. We thought it useful to give you an inside look at some of the testing we do behind the scenes to ensure consistency and quality.