Since 1975, you are an independent travel photographer who is specialized in wine regions, vineyards, and cellars. What made you decide to choose this specialization?
When I first photographed wine, I was not really a wine drinker and knew nothing about it. But in seven weeks I found out a lot, not least that it was an environment I enjoyed, be it château or small domaine. And to be honest the pictures reflected this. The move to specialization took time and happened almost without a decision, it just became my thing. Being given assignments by Wine Spectator’s then London office under Tom Matthews and James Suckling has set the foundations. A relationship that started in 1988 and I still get calls!
You have photographed many great winemakers and you have been in lots of different cellars. What was for you the most impressive visit? At which winery was this and why?
Being any sort of photographer has its challenging and memorable moments and they usually happen when you are out of your comfort zone. My first wine trip was like that. I was faced with a seven-week trip through three countries. I was visiting great estates but knowing literally nothing. But I took to it “like a duck to water”. It was just shooting landscape, portraits, and work as I had been doing for a while. One of my first visits was to Château La Mission Haut Brion where I stayed as a guest of the then owner’s husband Francis Dewaverin. Only after I had arrived, I was told there were two other guests for dinner that evening: Mr, and Mrs Edmund Penning-Rowsell. Edmund was THE Bordeaux expert back then (1979). He was given the cellar keys to choose a white as aperitif and 3 reds for dinner. He returned with La Mission 1961, 1949 and 1929! Edmund was dining with a pen and notebook beside him making constant entries. Very kindly, I was not only allowed to share the wines, but I was also tutored through the tasting. So, I could identify each by taste, smell, and colour. Not hard when the vintages are twenty years apart, but for me something that I remember forty years on. My favourite, as a complete ingenue was the ’29 for its softness. Besides, I still have the bottle!
When you are shooting at these wineries, are you also lucky enough to taste some of their wines?
I am very upfront with growers about my level of wine knowledge, they can spot a fake very easily. I almost never refuse an offer to taste and only then because of my schedule - I’m occasionally compensated with a bottle to take home! I remember sending Michel Ampeau in Meursault prints of his father who had recently died. As a consequence, I was invited to taste at my next visit. It was all old vintages, bottles that he produced like a magician from behind a barrel we were standing at. It went on for over an hour! A barrel tasting is more usual, and I suggest only 3 appellations, that’s all I can manage to register and to be honest my mind is still on the winemaker, watching for a picture.
You have multiple ‘Roederer Champagne Artistry of Wine Awards’ on your name and this year you won the Errazuriz Wine Photographer of the Year Award for the third time as well. What is according to you the secret to capture the perfect picture?
I often hear the camera does not matter, it’s the eye that counts. Well, a good eye needs to work with a camera that can capture what that eye sees, particularly in cellars! For me the sense of place is important, wine is about people and place. Lighting is the key for place. I am always up early for landscape and get close for portraits using a widish angle to include environment. Winemakers won’t like the constant click of the camera during a tasting. So, while you are tasting, observe your location and the winemakers’ expressions. When you get a break, ask for a photo. That will be appreciated... I always shoot three frames quickly to combat blinking. And smile, you are there to enjoy yourself, it’s the winemaker’s vocation to bring pleasure. Besides, relaxed and engaged photographers take the best pictures!