Getting my feet wet

As I work my way through some preliminary and background posts in my Year in the Life of Wine project, this early work is as much for my own edification as it is my audience’s–and it’s got some fun photographic challenges.

I wanted to do some light coverage of this year’s harvest to feature in these preliminary posts, and that would mean shooting when they harvest at Tablas Creek.  They harvest at night.  And that is a tough thing to shoot–action shots in almost total darkness?  Hey, I’m always up for improving my skill set–and will need to if I’m going to shoot this intensively next fall.  First, thank goodness for cameras that perform well in low light.  That helps a great deal.  As for the rest?  Jump in the deep end of that figurative pool and get to work.

Macro bins full of Mourvèdre as day breaks at Tablas Creek
Macro bins full of Mourvèdre as day breaks at Tablas Creek

The payoff is that it gave me a much-needed handle on how to approach this kind of vineyard photography, and got the creative wheels turning as I think about interesting ways to photograph things next fall now that I have a feel for the technical requirements.

I may have nibbled a few Mourvèdre grapes (Counoise, too), and discovered that grape juice mud is a thing in dusty vineyards.  And it’s sticky stuff.  I was impressed again with the hard work and skill of the harvest crew (all of whom were so incredibly lovely to hang out with as they worked and I shot).

And, most of all, I’m excited to taste the wines that are made from these grapes I followed over the course of a night and morning.  I’m already a fan of Mourvèdre generally, and Tablas Creek’s is one of the best I’ve had.

So.  Never been present for a night harvest?  Go take a look right here, in that case.  Later this week: back at the winery with the fruit from the night’s harvest.

 

Beautiful wines and beautiful food, beautifully paired

I was invited to a trade luncheon last week featuring the wines of one of the oldest Chateaus in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Chateau La Nerthe, at Georgie restaurant in Montage Beverly Hills.

The wines of Chateau La Nerthe
The wines of Chateau La Nerthe

More about the Chateau and Georgie in a moment, but first, about the lunch itself:  it was such a wonderful reminder of why I–and I suppose all of us–love wine so much.  I love to settle in with a glass of something delicious all by itself, but there’s something transcendent when you have just the right great wine with just the right food.  It can be downright revelatory.

If you’ve never dined at Georgie, it’s well worth a visit.  All of the dishes we had at the luncheon are available on the regular menu, so if you see something here that looks good–go get it!

Oyster Escabeche, which was as beautiful as it was delicious

We started out with a thoroughly impressive pairing–Prieuré de Montézargues rosé (one of the labels owned by the Chateau), with a single, perfect oyster escabeche, a Galician preparation topped with a meticulously brunoised pepper relish.  When an Amuse-bouche is placed in front of you and you reflexively grin at the sheer aesthetic loveliness, you know you’re in for a good time.

Herbed Labne on Pita
Herbed Labne on Pita

And so the rest of the lunch progressed–yellowfin poke and the Chateau’s 2012 Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc; kale and tabbouleh salad with the astonishing 2012 Clos de Beauvenir, a Roussane-dominant blend and the estate’s top white.  I will dream about this wine.  My favorite of the starters, the herbed labne–a riff on tzatziki topped with cucumber, cherry tomato and pickled red onion–was paired with the 2006 Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc, which has aged beautifully, drinks beautifully, and still has years of (delicious) life in the bottle.

Export Director Christophe Bristiel discusses the wines of Chateau La Nerthe
Export Director Christophe Bristiel discusses the wines of Chateau La Nerthe

And those were just the whites.

A family-style lunch paired perfectly with the Chateau's offerings
A family-style lunch paired perfectly with the Chateau’s offerings
The made for an unconventional but perfect pairing with salsa verde marinated shrimp
The Cotes du Rhone Villages made for an unconventional but perfect pairing with salsa verde marinated shrimp

On to the heavier plates and the lineup of the estate’s Côtes du Rhône Villages, Châteauneuf-du-Pape Rouge (2012 and 2006), and their Châteauneuf-du-Pape des Cadettes, their premier Rouge, made from a dedicated 20-acre vineyard under vines ranging from 80 to 100 years old.  The food continued to impress as we moved into the heavier dishes, including some truly inventive pairings–especially the salsa verde marinated shrimp which made for a surprisingly spectacular pairing with the Côtes du Rhône Villages.  My favorite dish served with the reds was the short rib ravioli (because come ON you know this is going to be good!) and the des Cadettes.  FANTASTIC.

An artisinal cheese board finished off a beautiful lunch
An artisinal cheese board finished off a beautiful lunch

In short, Chateau La Nerthe produces some of the finest Rhône wines you’re likely to find–know that much (and those of you in the Los Angeles area can find them at Wally’s).  The Chateau has a wonderful history, and I’ll be interviewing their export director, Christophe Bristiel, here in the coming days about that in detail.

 

So I have this little project. It involves wine.

A few months before I started this blog, I was working away on a proposal for a new documentary project.  (If you’ve not read the “about” page here, you may not know that I’m a nature photographer!)  In fact, that proposal is what led me to create the wine-stained lens blog as an ancillary pursuit.

My previous documentary project, the Owens Lake Project, concluded for the most part after six-plus years.  While there will be some ongoing work for years to come, the major work on the project is finished.  Since I like to have a personal photography project going at all times, I wanted to jump right into something new as soon as possible.

The idea I’d kicked around for a few years–and what I finally decided upon–was an in-depth, year-long look at the winemaking process from grape to bottle.  A year in the life of wine, if you will.

logoThis project will be a slight shift away from prior work (conservation photography) in that it will involve writing as much as it would photography–but photography is still the primary focus.

Centered completely at the estate of Tablas Creek Vineyard in Paso Robles, home to some of the most stunning Chateauneuf-du-Pape style wines produced in the new world, The Life of Wine will take an up-close, in-depth look at a year in the life of the vineyard.  Follow along now with the introductory posts, setting the stage for the “new year” in the vineyard, which for our purposes will begin following this fall’s harvest as the vines go into dormancy.  We will go from dormancy to bud break to the end of next year’s harvest, with a parallel look at what’s going on in the winery lab and barrel room as the current harvest begins its next phase of life.

Tablas Creek Vineyard
Tablas Creek Vineyard

Tablas Creek is a pretty special place, and I’m honored they’re allowing me to tell this story through their vines and wines.  I’m excited about showing you this life, and hope you’ll follow along over the next year.

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