Vineyard Photography

Observing plant growth is one part of my creative process. Each photograph begins with my observation of the development and maturation of the grape vines in the vineyard. I plan my photographs by focusing on how to convey the beauty of the vine's life cycle and which part of the life cycle to capture. When can we see the first developing shoots after bud burst? When are the clusters of grapes most beautiful? What colors do the grape leaves turn in fall? Planning and observing are portions of the process, but the exciting part is the actual vineyard photography and the post-production that afterwards takes place in my studio. Two important criteria I use to portray the "personality" of a plant are the angle of viewing and how close I set my camera. I light each trunk, cordon, fruit cluster, leaf or tendril to reveal in detail the magnificent beauty of natural form and function of each grape variety. Just as individual vines have a natural cycle, so too does the entire vineyard. After several years, conditions of sun and shade in the vineyard change. Also, many of the perennials, cover crops and trees mature. The vineyard offers me a wide variety of photographic opportunities to view not only its beauty, but also the passage of time experienced visually through the "soul" of the grape vines. 




 It's almost harvest time! This time of year is highly anticipated. I've been monitoring the weather, searching and waiting for veraison - the first signs

of color in the clusters. Meanwhile the grapes take on more color every day

and the vineyard looks radiant as it slowly  starts to shed the greens of

warmer months for the yellows, browns and burnt oranges of autumn. 


Now in September it's the best season to take pictures in the vineyard,

as usually early in the morning right after sunrise the light is soft and even.  Personally, I think no time of year offers more readily available opportunities

to create great vineyard images and it's well worth embracing every chance

I get to take my camera out and get some shots of beautiful wine grapes! 

Taking captures in the autumnal vineyard is something I always look forward to. Harvest is over, the vineyard a quiet place, the air is crisp and the scenery stunning. Ideally. But it's not always like that and while heading for the vineyard photos I'm really happy with, I often encounter obstacles and challenges to overcome. Today - unfortunately - I can give you a really sad example out of my creative journey: 

The captures I've chosen to illustrate this story depict by far not the kind of post-harvest  foliage in seasonal transition I intended to share on my website. This year I have no still perfectly shaped red-golden leaves spreading this magical touch of vineyard romance to show. Reality is, that October arrived in the arms of a violent hailstorm midway through harvest. Big hailstones have smashed beautiful clusters of ripe grapes to the ground and left the vulnerable vines with a foliage pierced and torn. It's heartbreaking what a few fateful moments can cause and reminds us once again that in agriculture almost everything ultimately depends on the weather. To me these are the truly magical moments when a creative approach with the camera can transform subjects from "nothing" into something. In case of the hail victims: grape vines still so unique and well worth looking at. I call this: beauty in decay. 


It takes two words only to describe this stunning scenery: autumn foliage.

The vine leaves, however much damaged by hail, started to turn in shades of gold, fire and chocolate. Different grape varieties change color at different times creating breathtaking views and surprising us with mesmerizing vineyard treasures.

The vines seem to sigh and turn inward in anticipation of the slower pace

autumn brings. There is such a splendour to be seen in this season of transition

and incredible photo opportunities are waiting! The cloudy days we're enjoying now give to everything in the vineyard a soft light which makes for quite a contrast to the almost unbroken summer blue we were used to. I really can't figure out

a more perfect weather as only overcast conditions allow to take pictures

all day because the clouds diffuse the intense sunlight, giving an even lighting

to work with. It truely is a phototographer's delight and definitely one more

reason to grab the camera and head out to the vineyard as much as possible

before a November storm ultimately rattles down all the beautiful leaves. 


December has arrived, the vines of the season are now spindly and bare-branched, ready for the well-deserved dormancy, waiting for the day to begin a new chapter. 


And: the wooly weeders are back in the vineyard for the winter months! For me this is cuteness overload and I cannot stop taking captures of this lovely crew. 


Turning out sheep (or other farm animals) into the vineyard over winter, when the grass is green and the vines are hybernating, has become increasingly popular over the last years. For good reasons! Sheep do not only a great job in weed control and as grass mowers but also contribute to naturally fertilize soil and vines. 

That's what Best Management Practice looks like and to go even further this is what we call Biodynamic Viticulture, a farming philosophy that involves managing a vineyard holistically as a regenerative living organism. Vines are fertilized using compost created in the vineyard and soils are regenerated naturally through waste droppings of the vineyard animals. Sustainable, organic farming at it's best, I'd say! And on top of that, are sheep not a great addition to the vineyard landscape? 

Here's to another time of year  in the vineyard that will never cease to

fascinate me: the pruning season! Pruning, by definition, is cutting back the

canes to appropriate lenghts in order to encourage healthy growth for the next season. This work is done once the leaves have fallen and only the canes are left.


It's important to know that pruning has nothing to do with haphazard hacking

of branches and to realize that this particular work in the vineyard is very time consuming, takes a lot of training and also lots of time to think and reflect. Depending on the varietals and/or circumstances, for one vine spur pruning (cutting canes short) might be a good thing, while for another cane pruning (replacing the entire cordon) might be the much better solution.

There may be rules to pruning, but in the end it's all about the exceptions. 


What makes pruning so unique is the mixture of art and knowlege,

experience and philosophy, frozen hands and a melting heart. 

It's spring! Rising temperatures stimulate  the vines to start converting starch

they have stored in their woody tissues into sugar. Sugary sap moves through

the vine and growth of green tissues start, the growing season has begun! A lot happens now from bud break, shoot development, small clusters of buds, flowering, berry set to berry development and the macro lens comes into play. 


The tiny vine flowers must be pollinated before they become grape clusters.

Most grape vines are hermaphroditic, which means they are self-fertile

and do not need to have male and female plants in order to pollinate.

Wind and insects are indispensable for pollination, however. 


We monitor the vineyard carefully now and daily inspect the shoots for berry development and if there is too much fruit on the vine (overcropping), we

remove some shoots. This allows the canopy to get better sun exposure and air

which is important for keeping the grape vines dry and disease free.

For the same reason, trunks are routinely stripped off all unnecessary shoots.