Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Completion of the Exhibit-Space Floor Plans

Museum Curator Susie Cox gave me a deadline...I must have the completed floorplans turned in by December 10th... I needed that deadline. The core walls of the exhibit area are being produced by a German company and are called mila-wall® panels. My design and plans needed to take into consideration both dimensional and structural aspects of these special museum walls. Working with Jason Hancock, the exhibit specialist at the George Bush Presidential Library & Museum, we will be utilizing some of the mila-wall® panels with additional custom walls that we will fabricate in the Library's shop. Needless to say, I was happy to get this design element wrapped up. A lot of thought went into the details of this. My pencil drawings are now being transfered into CAD drawings that will become the master plans.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Recording the Audio

One aspect of this project that is new to me is the audio recording. Rather than hire someone, I decided it was something I wanted to learn so I invested in the equipment and off I went...

Sound is incredibly important to films and/or multimedia presentations. Try watching a movie with the sound muted. If you're like most people, you will very quickly loose all interest in the matter how good the cinematography. I started the audio project by making a comprehensive list of all the types of images and scenes that I have shot and will be shooting in the vineyard, crush pad, cellar, etc. Then I thought about what sounds I would need to go with those scenes such as tractor motors running, pickers talking in the vineyard or a wine press. Since harvest 2008 is now over many of the sounds that I have "In the Can" so to speak are of the pickers in the vineyard. I noticed that during any break period, (such as when the tractor would run the full bins up to the flat bed truck) they would frequently sharpen their picking knives. The sound of the steel blades on the sharpening stones was an interesting sound that I recorded on several occasions.

The photo above is me with the new Marantz Pro Digital Recorder with a shotgun mic on a boom pole. This is my basic field setup. When I don't need the reach of the boom pole I use a small handle grip that is lighter and much easier to point. Once the raw digital audio is captured I load the files into my computer and Sony Sound Forge software helps me tweak it into something special. Sound Forge is to audio files what Photoshop is for image files. Audio has been a real learning experience for me, but I really like it...

Friday, October 10, 2008

The Honey Bees of Michel-Schlumberger Benchland Wine Estate

As mentioned in the previous post Michel-Schlumberger believes strongly in giving back to the land that gives them the grapes that produce the estates distinctive wines. Winemaking and the resulting wine can mean different things to different people. Making distinctive wines that reflect the terrior of the estate and/or vineyard involves much more than just fermenting grape juice. Winery owner Jacques Schlumberger and winemaker Michael Brunson are committed to the techniques and practice of sustainable/organic farming at the Michel-Schlumberger Benchland Wine Estate.

Today I visited the estate and photographed beehives, sheep, chickens, hawk perches and gardens...all will be featured in wine exhibit multimedia clips. The above photograph shows the estates beehives nestled just above Wine Creek. By the way... if you're interested in bees and beekeeping you should take a look at Barbara Schlumberger's, (Jacques wifes) "Melissa Garden" website.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Harvest Photography in Dry Creek Valley

I love Dry Creek Valley... It is a beautiful little slice of the world located in Sonoma County. It offers a simple, rural lifestyle where you can drive along narrow winding roads passing vineyards and farmhouses where you may see fencepost signs selling natural eggs or heirloom tomatoes, olives and fresh breads... many sold on "honor system" tables by the roadside. Dry Creek Valley is also filled with some of the best Zinfandel vineyards in the world. You also find Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet Franc and a little Chardonnay, among others. Two of my favorite wineries in this small idyllic valley are Michel-Schlumberger and Bella.

Jacques Schlumberger along with winemaker Michael Brunson have built Michel-Schlumberger into a beautiful example of a sustainably farmed benchland winery. An exhibit multimedia clip will feature the winery for it's impressive practices and trendsetting in the area of organic & sustainable farming in the vineyard.

A relative newcomer in Dry Creek, Bella Winery has seduced me with it's comfortable, non-pretentious atmosphere. It's almost new age and traditional at the same time. The wines are big and rich...tasting that "Lily Hill" Zin in the wineries hillside cave makes me one happy camper!
Bella is a small winery making handcrafted wines. The grapes are pressed in a medium size hydraulic basket press. These little gems employ old world pressing technique & design in shiny modern stainless steel versions with computer monitored accuracy.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Back on Track: Return to Napa... Harvest 2008

I was very concerned during the long Hurricane Ike delay in Houston that I was going to miss the peak of harvest 2008 in Northern California. It was already an earlier than normal harvest and I desperately needed more photos for the exhibit multimedia pieces. Fortunately, I was able to get what I needed to complete the fact, as it worked out the Monticello "State Lane" vineyard was being picked just after I returned to Napa and it is one of the most picturesque vineyards that I have ever shot in.

In addition to the photography I spent quite a bit of time recording audio for the exhibit. This was something new for me but the results were great. The new mid/high end digital recorders are outstanding in ease of use and sound quality. I recorded vineyard workers picking, tractors, crush pad sounds, geese overhead...everything!
Next I head over the hill to Sonoma to catch the end of harvest there...

Monday, September 22, 2008

Delayed by Hurricane Ike

Well sometimes Mother Nature has plans of her own. I should have been in California shooting harvest photos a week ago, but Hurricane Ike changed my plans just a bit. Ike was a pretty powerful storm, and a very large certainly hit my neighborhood hard. So, as we move into day 10 with no electricity I am grateful that I still have a home. The trees are now off/out of the roof...the insurance adjuster has come and gone and the mess is slowly getting smaller. I talked to a friend of mine who had a home near Galveston, Texas...he lost almost everything made my losses seem like an inconvenience by comparison. Gratefully the residents of Houston and the Gulf Coast are a special people in times like these...almost every night neighbors have fired up their grills and opened up their porches and patios for group meals by lantern light. Everyone is helping each other....

Friday, August 22, 2008

Sparkling Wine Grape Harvest Has Begun in Napa

I never realized when I closed my last posting a week ago that the harvest of grapes for sparkling wine production would begin within hours! The photo above was taken earlier this week in Napa Valley. These are some of the first grapes of the season...Chardonnay that will go into Domaine Montreaux, a wonderful small batch Napa bubbly. Kevin Corley is shown here inspecting some of the first picking bins to go into the winery just after dawn.

I was photographing vineyard landscapes in Alexander Valley, over the hill in Sonoma County, when I got the word from Chris Corley that they would be pressing grapes this week. It seems like just a couple of months ago that I was photographing 'bud break' in some of these same vineyards. Just rows away from where we were picking... small pockets (maybe 1 -2 %) of red grapes are still completing veraison! The sugar levels in these Chardonnay (and Pinot Noir) grapes that will go into a sparkling wine cuvee are much lower than they will be when the regular (still wine) harvest begins in a few weeks.
Even though it did not take long to complete picking and pressing it was the sure sign that things are about to get crowded around the crush pad. For the wine exhibit...every aspect of the 'winegrowing' season will be photographed. There are few times in the year more exciting to be around a winery than at harvest stay tuned to the upcoming posts!

Friday, August 15, 2008

A Matter of Inches

We had a short window of access into the Ansary Gallery of The George Bush Presidential Library & Museum to take all measurements we will need for drawing up Wine Exhibit floor plans prior to the NASA Space Exhibit moving into the gallery. Rarely is this gallery totally empty and we had to take advantage of this opportunity. We met Library Curator Susie Cox on Saturday morning and began measuring. All but a few measurements were completed and noted...the other few were finished today. This task is now complete.

These measurements will enable the 'exact' to be melded into my 'concept' in the production of the exhibit. Just looking at the preliminary sketches done by Engineering Tech Bing Djie, it is reassuring to begin to see the level of accuracy that will be carried from tape to pen, (or CAD) to paper, to the saws, the hammers and finally the installation of all the exhibit elements.

Now I can turn my focus back on the exhibit photography and multimedia production.

Harvest is just around the corner...and I only have the next 8 to 10 weeks to complete all harvest photography and filming for the exhibit. Back to the airport...

Thursday, August 7, 2008

A Week of Photography

The morning fog in the vineyards was beautiful this week. Most of the grapes have completed veraison and the vines seem to be entering a more mature stage showing nice fruit and taking on character. The photograph above was taken in Alexander Valley in Sonoma County. Shortly after the photo was taken, the cool fog burned off, and the elements that formed to create a magical morning scene quickly yielded way to a warm sunny day. I shot four or five hundred photos earlier this week for the multimedia applications that will be part of the wine exhibit. Most of the photos were detail shots in the vineyard but I also did some cellar photography in Napa.

Working in a vineyard at sunrise is very special. You can see so much life there, but not just of the human form... I routinely see jackrabbits, foxes, deer, wild hogs, hawks, quail and waterfowl. For me, this melding of the flora and fauna in the vineyard is just one aspect of diversity and balance in winemaking and in life. In another month the pickers will be out in the vineyards at dawn...working as man has for centuries harvesting the fruit of the vine.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Keeping the Exhibit 'True to Life'

One of my primary goals in creating this wine exhibit is to educate people. Not only in the production of wine, but in the contrasts in wine production styles. Oftentimes this directly relates to winery size. Wine can be such a diverse product. There can be vast differences in the production techniques employed in modern day wine making ... from hand-crafted 'boutique' products to 'refinery winery' blends.

There are many variables in wine making. A winemaker is part chemist, part artist and part farmer. The best always have a 'vision'...of what they want to produce. They combine the season's harvest Mother Nature has provided in the vineyard with the skills and talents they have acquired in the cellar. For me, the goal of a winemaker should be to produce 'distinctive' wines. What do I mean by distinctive? I mean that the wines accurately reflect the characteristics of the varietal or varietals they are produced from. They reflect a sense of terrior, or be expressive of the vineyard or region where they are grown. More on 'terrior' in later posts...

To bring all this back to the exhibit...I want every aspect to be as realistic and accurate to what really happens in a vineyard and winery as possible. Fortunately, I spend a fair amount of time in wineries. Many have been extremely helpful in not only pointing me in the right direction when sourcing winery equipment for the exhibit, but also in keeping my conceptual designs based on reality. Chris Corley of Monticello Vineyards / Corley Family Napa Valley, pictured above, is one such winemaker. Chris has been helping me work through some 'interactive' exhibit details that I hope to incorporate. We talked last week about ways to visually show what happens during a fermentation. This would of course need to be achieved by artificial means that could safely exist in a museum environment, yet look realistic. During installation next September, Chris has agreed to make a quick visit to Texas to inspect everything for accuracy... or keeping things 'True to Life'.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Post Number One

Welcome to The Culture of Wine blog.... I am excited to get this officially started. For those who are interested, this blog will provide a comprehensive behind the scenes view into the making of this unique wine exhibit. I also hope to pass along some educational viewpoints from time to time.
To illustrate this first posting I have chosen a photograph of a cluster of grapes in veraison. This is symbolic to me... Firstly, because veraison is the period in a vines annual cycle when foliage growth ceases and all energy is focused on ripening the fruit. (Notice in the photograph that the cluster is changing from pre-veraison green fruit to post-veraison red fruit). Secondly, this is happening right now in vineyards throughout Northern California. In some ways I feel this parallels my path into the creation and production of this wine exhibit. For the past six months I have worked on exhibit planning & design. I have talked to winemakers, vineyard managers and coopers. I have secured storage facilities for winery equipment and sourced materials. Very soon however, the real production begins. Just today I met with Bing Djie, an engineering tech who has agreed to help produce technical drawings of the exhibit space. These drawings will lend an element of precision to a project that so far has been conceived on sketch pads. For me, creating this exhibit is a dream job. A chance to meld my creative skills as a photographer and artist with my 20 year background in the wine industry.
And so, like the grape cluster in veraison, I must be focused, and get down to the business of bringing this exhibit together.