If you asked me how I envision a shoot at a vineyard going, I’d immediately start to describe experiences from past projects I’ve shot — sun-drenched days in lush fields photographing dozens of workers amongst the vines, dressed comfortably for warm weather, and with a cold drink handy to beat the heat (or at least a few glasses of wine after the shoot wraps…) Things that would probably not be a part of that description would include my heaviest coat, hand-warmers, breath hanging in the air, frost on the ground, and about a gallon of hot cocoa to get through the pre-dawn chill.
I was in Hydes Maryland, just outside of Baltimore on the first day of a weeklong assignment with Crowley Webb for M&T Bank. It was early December and we were in town to shoot a variety of stories about businesses and community organizations in the Baltimore area that had found success through their partnerships with M&T. The first shoot of the week was at Boordy Vineyards, and it was going to be cold.
As the state’s oldest winery, the land that comprises Boordy Vineyards has been worked by Rob Deford’s family since the 1700’s. As the president and a chief winemaker of the vineyard, Rob presides over the four generations that currently work and live on this historic land — hand-harvesting grapes from the 46 acres of non-irrigated vines spread across two micro-climates in both the Long Green Valley and the western Blue Ridge Mountains at the family’s South Mountain Vineyard. Boordy vineyard produces approximately four hundred and fifty thousand bottles a year.
Even when I’m photographing wineries in New York’s Finger Lakes region or even Southern Ontario in Canada (where we’re no strangers to the ice and snow), we tend to stick to the warmer months for these sorts of projects (or at least that’s when magazines and clients tend to assign them to us) so when my assistant Brandon and I arrived at the winery well before sunrise and found hard ground covered in frost we weren’t quite sure what the rest of the day would have in store for us. I’d never photographed a vineyard in winter — but I’m so happy I have now.
My own experiences with viticulture and vinification had been limited to a handful of past projects, some relatives who were briefly in the business of growing grapes for ice-wine in Canada, a disastrous attempt at home winemaking when someone bought me a kit as a last minute-birthday gift (I am still apologizing to everyone unlucky enough to taste that failed experiment), and an overly enthusiastic if unrefined appreciation for drinking the end product of a vineyard’s efforts (i.e. I like drinking wine a lot), but outside of a few personal favorite bottles I’ve come to appreciate I lean heavily on people like Kelsey from SommMom to help me out when I need to choose bottles to impress someone at a party or give as a gift.
I’ve always had a misled belief that wine was a seasonal thing — tend your grapes in the growing months, harvest, and repeat next year. I now have a more fully realized sense of just how year round the tasks of grape growing and winemaking are. My talks with Rob as we photographed him set me straight on just how much goes into the process of caring for the vines and land during the winter, and how active the process of fermenting, blending, and aging Boordy’s wine is. December now feels like a wholly appropriate and beautiful time to photograph a northeastern winery like Boordy — and seriously? That sunrise was everything I needed to make me love Maryland on a winter morning.
We were working with a fairly large production team with both a full video crew shooting a commercial spot as well as me running a small and agile stills unit that was tasked with telling these stories like I might for an editorial assignment – weaving in and out of the moments between takes of the commercial shoot to build lighting setups on the fly or find quieter more journalistic moments in totally different parts of the farm at any given moment. It was an incredible amount of freedom to have on such a structured shoot, and allowed us to find just the right shots and moments to tell a parallel but different kind of story than the commercial did – one better suited to the print ads and out-of-home uses these images were destined for. I’ve loved working with both Crowley Webb and M&T on this and the other stories in this series like the Meyer Brothers Cider one I shared a few months back – more of which are coming soon!