Jon Wyand has been a photographer for over 40 years. During the years he developed his specialty: capturing vineyards and wine cellars, with Burgundy in particular. His photos are regularly published, and his work has been awarded several times. Because Jon's pictures are very impressive, he will share his story behind the photo with us. We start with Château La Mission Haut Brion!
I defy you to imagine yourself as a vinous ingenue arriving through the impressive gates and spending a weekend at La Mission back in 1979, as a guest of the then manager Francis Dewavrin. Your mission: to spend your time photographing the estate for a book on Great Vineyards, while having the level of experience and knowledge of wine that would barely cover the end of a cork. Imagine then, sitting down to dinner with Monsieur Dewavrin and two guests: none other than Edmund Penning-Rowsell, the doyen (as I was later to learn) of Bordeaux experts, and his wife. Edmund had been given the cellar keys and was asked to find a white wine as aperitif and three reds for dinner to accompany the meal. He returned with a ’61, ’49 and ’29. I had no idea of the privilege and lessons that awaited me.
My memories do not include much of the conversation other than that it was agreed that ’29 was just on its way out, that ’49 was at its peak, and that ’61 needed more time but would be a ‘great’ wine. I remember Mrs Penning-Rowsell keeping rather quiet and her husband making copious notes in a small notebook that lay next to his small wall of glasses. I don’t remember the food at all, only being coached, very gently, so that I could tell the three wines apart by either colour, smell or taste. It was great fun and the ingenue left the table intoxicated with his success. But I, in my ignorance, preferred the ’29 and have kept the bottle ever since.
Fast forward thirty years and I am returning to briefly meet and photograph the man in charge of both La Mission and its neighbour, the great Château Haut-Brion across the road: Prince Robert of Luxembourg, the chairman of Domaine Clarence Dillon, the owner. He had been difficult to coordinate with, and in fact I had flown over just for the day to see him after a previous rendezvous had to be cancelled.
Despite his friendly greeting I’m not sure he likes being photographed, but I am used to that. My problem was to get him to look relaxed rather than erect and dignified. We started in La Mission’s cloister and moved over to the house. I tried several things, including positioning the Prince next to an ornate chimney and then asking him to cross his feet. The natural outcome is for the subject’s weight to fall one side and rest against the chimney. As soon as his shoulder touched it, he uncrossed his feet, smiled at me and said: “Ah, I know what you are trying to do!”
I had tried and failed to trick him but the game had changed and he became more relaxed and eventually stood, feet crossed, with his hand on a table. A small victory, and a lot of experience gained. When, shortly afterwards, he took a quick glance at his watch, we realised our time was up. I started to depart hurriedly and without saying goodbye, which surprised him, but not as much as he surprised me by almost immediately handing me a bottle of 2011 La Mission in return, apologizing for being an awkward subject, and thanking me for my patience. “Thank you, but don’t worry,” I said, “it will be much easier for both of us next time!”