Assignment: Keenan Winery

People often ask me what's my favorite subject to shoot. I don't think I have one favorite subject, but I do have a favorite assignment - creating a winery profile for books that are published by Panache Partners.  I get to show up at a winery, wander around looking for angles and ideas, co-ordinate with the owners to set up entertaining, food shots, bottle shots, portraits, vinescapes and anything else that catches my eye. 

So, as well as using my technical photographic skills, I get to art direct and work directly with new acquaintances. It hones my people skills as well as my artistic and technical skills. I usually come away feeling tired but rewarded, because after all this is my passion and I'm thrilled to make a living pursuing my passion.

Michael and Jennifer Keenan of Robert Keenan Winery on Spring Mountain Rd. in St. Helena, Napa Valley are great fun to work with.  They understand hospitality and the importance of preparing for a photo shoot. When I arrived in the morning, we talked about all the shots and got to work prepping for the picnic lunch. Jennifer is a natural stylist and had collected everything we needed for the table setting. Summer mornings  in Napa Valley are often foggy, so we had to wait for the sun to come out. In the meantime I checked out the cellars, winery interior and tasting room to keep on schedule and finish up the shoot on time.

A picnic of salmon and chardonnay at Robert Keenan Winery overlooking the Napa Valley floor and mountains on the east side of the valley.

A picnic of salmon and chardonnay at Robert Keenan Winery overlooking the Napa Valley floor and mountains on the east side of the valley.

Close up of the grilled salmon to feature with their Estate Chardonnay. 

Close up of the grilled salmon to feature with their Estate Chardonnay. 

The list is fairly long of shots that I need to get for these profiles and I get to wear many hats. Food photographer, bottle shot photographer, landscape photographer, portrait photograher, etc. We even create
a short video of the winemaker discussing their wine pairing.
Aside from the food and wine pairing, these profiles always include some vineyard shots.

I love it when there are white puffy clouds to break up the sky. Solar panels dot the vineyards at Keenan Winery

I love it when there are white puffy clouds to break up the sky. Solar panels dot the vineyards at Keenan Winery

Wandering around the property, I look for objects of interest. A cool old wooden door that opens to the cellar, the ubiquitous stainless steel tanks of every winery, and rubber boots standing at attention on the stairs to the cellar. I use mostly natural light for these assignments, because there just isn't the time or budget to bring in strobes and my lighting equipment. I work with a tripod, usually at aperture setting on my camera with a cable release. Sometimes I use my Gary Fong Lightsphere.

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Every winery profile has to have a portrait of the owners. Jennifer and Michael live part time in the East Bay and part time in the guest house on the property, continuing the proud tradition of Michael's father Robert Keenan, who started the winery and is known for it's chardonnay.  Their Chardonnay is a refreshing treat amongst all the heavy-handed, buttery oak versions in Napa Valley. Clean and vibrant with a dash of minerality, you still get all that beautiful Chardonnay fruit but in a much more elegant fashion.

Jennifer and Michael Keenan

Jennifer and Michael Keenan

The tasting room is cozy and intimate. Guests who come to Keenan Winery know that they are in the midst of a working winery and will have to find a quiet corner to sip the fantastic wines that are produced from the hillside terraces up to 2,000 feet elevation on Spring Mountain.

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Last but not least is the short 1 minute video of Michael talking about their hillside terraces. I could tell right away that Michael was comfortable on camera and when I asked he informed me that he did amateur theater in High School. It was my lucky day. 

I shoot these videos with my Canon HD Mark III. I am consistently impressed with the quality of the HD video. I knew I could start shooting video when I saw that Canon came out with these cameras. It feels like a camera, it shoots like a camera and the sensors are so sensitive that I can be in a dark cave and still get great quality video. For these wine paring videos, I film a short interview and then superimpose still images from the shoot in Final Cut Pro X.

 

If you'd like to see more of these profiles, the book "Napa Valley Iconic Wineries" is available at Panache or through Amazon.com. Many of the wineries featured in the book sell copies as well.  

It was a fun project and the culmination of over a year of photography and video. I've just started the next project "Sonoma County, Iconic Wineries" so I'm looking forward to being pretty busy this fall going out on assignment.