A Year in the Vineyard
A Year in the Vineyard takes you on a visual journey through 4 Monterey County vineyards in the Santa Lucia Highlands appellation. From January to December, photographer Steve Zmak explores life on the vines, from microscopic dewdrops to aerial views of the vineyard landscape, from dawn to twilight.
When I conceived the idea to photograph a vineyard once a month for an entire year, I thought I would achieve a 50-50 balance between black & white and color. Thanks to my lifelong love of black & white photos, I believed my challenge would be shooting enough color. By summer, however, I was wondering if I would take any black & white shots at all.
For the last 10 years as a fine artist, I have focused my work on black & white photography, emulating my photographic heroes: Ansel Adams, John Sexton, Huntington Witherill, Dick Garrod, Will Giles, Martha Casanave, and Jane Olin. But in 2009, I found myself emulating two of my favorite color photographers, Galen Rowell and David Gubernick, as the full spectrum of color became more and more intense with the passing from winter to spring in the Santa Lucia Highlands of California.
The Santa Lucia Highlands
The Santa Lucia Highlands (SLH) is one of nine American Viticulture Areas (AVA) that make up the 40,000 acres of Monterey County wine country. Although the first vines were planted in the 1790s, it was not until 1991 that SLH was recognized as distinctively different from the rest of Monterey County and approved as a unique AVA.
SLH vineyards are planted on the east facing terraces of the Santa Lucia Mountains, overlooking the Salinas River and Valley. The striking landscapes of Big Sur lie to the west of the mountain range.
SLH vines enjoy morning fog and sunshine, followed by cool afternoon ocean breezes. With a climate comparable to Burgundy, SLH has an especially long growing season. Most of the area’s 5,000-plus wine grape acres are dominated by Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes. Rhone varietals, such as Syrah, also flourish in the slightly warmer, more wind-protected canyons and slopes.
My personal favorite of the SLH wineries is Pessagno Winery, located 16 miles south of the Monterey-Salinas Highway along River Road. Grower and winemaker Steve Pessagno farms plots of the Lucia Highlands Vineyard, Sleepy Hollow Vineyard, and his own Four Boys Vineyard—the focus of this collection of photography.
Time in the Vines
During my yearlong shoot, I decided I did not want to document a before-and-after point of view. Instead, I approached each trip to the vineyard as if I’d never been there before. Each month, it was love at first sight.
I photographed by dawn’s early light, and chased the golden light of late afternoon through sunset and into the night. I used reflectors, diffusers, shades, strobes, and headlights. I delved into the microscopic and soared to 1,000 feet above the countryside. Still mornings enveloped in fog gave way to patchy low clouds and windy afternoons—really windy! The coastal air was nearly always present and visible in one form or another as the valley exhaled the radiant heat and inhaled the cool Monterey Bay ocean air.
In January, February and March of 2009, I shot primarily in black & white. As spring turned to summer and then autumn, the pendulum swung in the other direction. To my surprise, color—brilliant, radiant color—began to dominate
In October, I changed direction again. I explored the wind sweeping through the vines using a triple-motion-blur technique that yielded painterly pastel impressionist results.
In November, it was time to capture the autumn colors from the sky. I knew from past visits that the setting afternoon sun backlights the leaves to psychedelic levels. In the autumn, this effect is intensified as the leaves transform into a wider spectrum of color and at different rates, depending on the grape varietal and elevation. The resulting aerial photos show blocks of contrasting greens, yellows, oranges, magentas, and reds, wrapped in deep blue shadows.
In December, I stayed near the winery in the southernmost and lowest Four Boys plot, where the leaves were still turning but becoming sparse, and the remaining berries had shrunk to little red fractions of their peak ripeness.
All these images have been compiled into a book available in 3 formats.
For the collector and wine enthusiast!
Makes a great gift!
Year in the Vineyard Second Edition – 7 inch Soft Cover $30.00
For the collector who wants big bold images, this is the version I bring to job interviews.
Portfolio Edition Book ~ 12″ Hard Cover $120.00