Somm Thoughts on Napa

 

I first visited wine country in October of 2005. My family and I had moved to Southern California a year earlier and going to Napa seemed like a very West Coast thing to do. This was a short trip that my husband and I took with another couple. The four of us spent time enjoying our digs at Auberge du Soleil, touring wineries via bicycle and dining at restaurants such as Thomas Keller’s Bouchon.

I think we spent two nights in Napa, but to be honest I don’t remember much of the details. Wine country has a way of erasing details. The highlight of that visit, beside bonding with another couple from our new hometown, was the bike tour. But that was because: drinking wine — while riding a bike — in a group of people! The tour guide wasn’t particularly knowledgeable about wine, or if he was, I don’t remember him sharing that knowledge. And the wineries we visited were for the most part not memorable. In a nutshell, my inaugural Napa vista was mostly about drinking wine and having fun. I left loving Stag’s Leap Winery cabernets, but knowing nothing about the reason why.

It took 10 years, but this past December I finally returned to Napa. And this time the visit, which I shared with my immediate family, in addition to being about drinking wine and having fun — was all about education.

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Here’s a bit of what we learned while touring wineries:

  • When it comes to certain wine-related topics (the virtue of viscosity comes to mind), opinions vary.
  • When it comes to using descriptive language to illustrate the smell, taste or finish of a wine — anything goes. Is the finish like sandpaper? Do you like wines that “rip your face off”? Do you smell grass? Say it!

Which brings me to:

  • According to the wine experts we met, what you smell, what you taste, what you like — it is all just fine. They say that there is no right answer (I feel like there probably is) and that there are no stupid questions.

However…

  • You can swirl your wine glass too much.
  • You can kill the smell of your wine, if you swirl your wine glass before smelling it.
  • You shouldn’t say that you don’t like a specific varietal. According to the folks we spoke with, that would be like saying you don’t like pizza, when it reality, you don’t like Pizza Hut pizza. You might LOVE New York pizza or pizza that was prepared to your tastes, if given the opportunity to taste it. (If you don’t like pizza, I am okay with that. I am also okay if you don’t like specific varietals.) (I am just the messenger.)
  • Take a sip (or six) of wine before you take a bite of your food. Wine-coated tastebuds neutralize the sugar in your saliva, which makes the taste of the food come through.

And…

  • The soil in which the grape is grown is the secret sauce. And the consistency and composition of Napa soil can vary greatly. That’s why some Napa wines will rip your face off while others are shy. (I am going to be sure to describe a wine as being “shy” the next time I go.)  Somehow, I missed this lesson completely the first time we visited the region. But I left this time understanding that I am more of a Rutherford gal than anything else.

I also learned:

  • Visiting Napa in the winter, in the slow season, is great! We were the only guests in our Winemaker for a Day program and we were able to get reservations at some very good restaurants . Additionally, when taking vineyard tours/going on tastings, the groups in late December were small. This was especially nice because it meant we were able to ask a lot of questions.
  • While touring a vineyard (if you have paid for a tasting), you can usually order wine at the wine club price without actually joining the club. And if you do join the club, you can drop out before any additional wine is sent.
  • Staying in Yountville, during the off-season, is smart. It is probably also smart to stay there during the peak season. But you will pay more.

Three full days of wine tasting and vineyard touring was about my limit, but I am glad that I live a short plane ride away. I’ll be back, Napa. And in the meantime, I’ll slowly work my way through the bottles of wonderful wine that we bought while there.

Cheers!

sit stay

Sit, Stay

“What you have to do and the way you have to do it is incredibly simple. Whether you are willing to do it, that’s another matter.” Peter F. Drucker Photo © 2011 The World According to Jennifer

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Waiting

“I have noticed that the people who are late are often so much jollier than the people who have to wait for them.” ~E.V. Lucas Photo ©2011 The World According to Jennifer

While I Was on Hold…

In March of this year, I traded my Droid for an iPhone. And a few months later, I started using the photo-sharing app, Instagram. And a few months after that, I created an iPhone photo-based blog. Today, as I was thinking about writing a year in review, it dawned on me that I have a nice visual record of the past nine months. So I am going with that instead.

There is no comparison when it comes to the camera on my iPhone 4S and my Canon DSLR. And for that reason, when photographing professionally, I will always use the latter. But… there is a lot to be said in support of a quality camera that is the size of a deck of cards. There is something about capturing the small, and often undetected, moments in life that really appeals to me. And let me tell you, it’s a heck of a lot easier to photograph people on the street–when they don’t know that you are doing it.  That is reason enough for me, when doing street photography, to choose the camera in my phone over my bulky DSLR.

Interested in learning how to do a bit more with your phone’s camera? If so, this article offers some good tips.

Here are some of the images I captured on my iPhone 4S in 2012.

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All images ©2012 The World According to Jennifer

Happy New Year! And thank you for being a part of my world.

Most of the Time, It Is About Who You Know

I spoke on the phone with Dr. Ruth once. The conversation was short (it was Dr. Ruth after all) and involved no sex talk. At the time, I was working on an idea I had for a photography book and Dr. Ruth was one of several celebrity-ish people I approached about participating. She turned me down, but did so over the phone and only after telling me how much she loved the concept. As rejections go, it wasn’t bad.

I also chatted about my project with Mean Joe Greene, the legendary Pittsburgh Steeler who was known for selling a Coke or two. I don’t think he ever really considered participating, but it was nice that he took the time to hear me out.

And I received the following rejection from Bil Keane, creator of the Family Circus cartoon:

I liked the late Mr. Keane’s “no” so much that I had it framed.

You might be wondering how I was able to get in touch with the above mentioned folks. The answer to that question can be found in Bil Keane’s letter. I had a name; I knew someone. Though, that connection was very limited. In 2002, I photographed former U.S. Senator Sam Nunn and his grandson. I was a portrait photographer in Atlanta and Senator Nunn’s daughter came to me via a word-of-mouth referral, which was how I generated all of my business.

I must have done a good job on those photos, because when I told Senator Nunn about my idea and asked if I could feature him in my book–he said yes. Feeling a bit emboldened, I then requested permission to use his name to secure other participants–and again–he agreed. That was the end of the connection. I had use of a name, but not use of a Rolodex. I made all the contacts myself and included a link to my website in every query letter I sent. Examples of my photography, and the concept for the book, were proof that I had ability. But, there is no denying that my entry (even in the instances where my foot never crossed the threshold) into the world of the celebrity-ish was due to the fact that:

I knew somebody.

With the economy being what it is, and the job market tighter than tight, who you know–and who they know–really does matter. The success of LinkedIn, the online site that bills itself as the world’s largest professional network, is proof of that. As is the fact that being social, both online and in person, is easier than ever. You can connect with people on Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Google +, YouTube–and if you want to go old school–Facebook.

Marty Ingels, husband of Shirley “Partridge Family” Jones, also rang me up. I think his call was to figure out if I was on the up and up. He was funny and his voice reminded me of my dad’s–which I told him. In the end, I must not have passed his smell test. As we neared the conclusion of our conversation, Marty said that he would: “check Shirley’s calendar” and get back to me, but he didn’t.

Had Marty been able to read my Twitter stream, or view my about.me page, I have no doubt that me and Mrs. Jones would have worked together. But alas, at the time our call took place, Zuckerberg was still working on outsmarting the twins Winklevoss. And Twitter was but a glimmer in Jack Dorsey’s eye.

With one child entering college and the other firmly established in high school, I am at a stage in life where I really want to put my creativity and business acumen (I’ve got boat loads of both) front and center. “What I know” definitely remains my strongest selling point, but I am also going to need to get some help from the connections I have made in person and online. “Who I know,” especially in 2012, remains crucially important. In the meantime, I’ll continue to extend my hand to others–because that’s “who I am.” 

Just so you know, not everyone turned me down. In addition to Senator Nunn, famed college football coach Bobby Bowden was, according to his wife, Ann, a go. As was George Clinton, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame musician who among other things is known for founding P-Funk. His inclusion would have been beyond stellar.

Sadly, my book never came to fruition. An unforeseen opportunity (“Let’s move to California and start a business!”) got in the way. But you can bet that I am still patting myself on the back for securing George Clinton’s yes. And Dr. Ruth, if you are reading this, call me. I have a new idea I’d like to run by you.

I’m (not) with the Band

I photographed my first concert this week. The headliner was Fitz and the Tantrums, a Los Angeles based band known for their hit single “MoneyGrabber.” Fitz and the Tantrums are quite animated on stage. Being animated is good. Except, as I learned on this particular night, when it leads to eyes being closed, tongues that appear (accidentally, and not Gene Simmons’ style) outside of the mouth, and excessive sweating. Other than that? Concert photography is a piece of cake.  A piece of cake with an ingredient list that includes: funky, and unpredictable, lighting; 700 music fans, who paid for their ticket and don’t really want someone poking them in the back of the head with a telephoto lens; and a bunch of mic stands and amplifiers that have a way of blocking crucial parts of the band’s anatomy.

This was not an easy assignment, yet, I had a blast! I thoroughly enjoyed the challenge and am looking forward to shooting another concert next month.

I don’t know about you, but I get bored pretty quickly when I look at concert photography that only includes photos of the band. Even if it is a band that love. I prefer shots that include, or feature, the audience. As I learned this week, it is not always easy to capture the crowd and band in the same photo. I was part of the audience for this show, and I took photos the entire time.  In the future, I’ll stand in a photo pit and will shoot only the first three songs of the band’s set, standard protocol when it comes to concert photography. It will be interesting to compare the two experiences.

You can see my photos and read a bit about the Fitz and the Tantrums show here.

As is always the case, some of the photos I took didn’t get posted. I try hard to tell a story with my images and as I shared in this post, editing is key. Here are a few of my favorites that did not (was trying to avoid redundancy) make the cut.

Michael “Fitz” Fitzpatrick is the lead singer for Fitz and the Tantrums. I wound up using a few other shots of Fitzpatrick in the photo essay I posted on Patch, but I really liked this one too. 

I liked this shot of Noelle Scaggs, Fitz and the Tantrums vocalist and tambourine player, quite a bit. But, in the end, I decided to use a slightly different shot of her shaking her tambourine in my published story. 

Yup, I liked, but didn’t post, this shot too. 

What do you think makes concert photography interesting? Do you prefer shots that capture the energy of the crowd? Or images that show band members interacting with each other? Or, are you all about the instruments? I’d love to hear, even if your answer is that you don’t like, or have any interest in, this type of photography.

Do You See What I See?

To me, photography is an art of observation. It’s about finding something interesting in an ordinary place… I’ve found it has very little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them.

~Elliot Erwitt

So, to answer the question I posed in the headline:  No, you don’t see what I see. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Take this photo, for example:

I made this photograph on a very busy street in Rome. People were everywhere, yet, I captured what is unquestionably a solitary moment. I remember making this photo. I noticed the little girl was lagging behind her family. I loved the color of her dress and hair, and how she had the confidence (or was this was an act of defiance?) to do her own thing–even on a busy street.

This photograph says as much (if not more) about me, the photographer, as it does about the subject. This particular moment caught my eye because of who I am. It wouldn’t surprise me to know that other people, on that same busy street, noticed things that I missed completely. Lighting, exposure, composition and focal length, are all important.  But it is the intangibles, at least in my opinion, that matter the most when it comes to “making” (not “taking”) good photos.

Recently, I’ve heard a few people lament that if they had a “better” lens they could take really good photographs. Um, no. The quality of the lens (and other equipment) only comes into play after you have developed an eye, and learned how to express a perspective.

Writers have access to all of the same words in the dictionary. Yet there is little debate that those words take on the distinct tone of the person using them.  The same is true of a photographer. You can put five of us in an identical setting and you will get five unique visual interpretations. Well, that’s true if you have five people who know how to “make” and not “take” photos.

All of this has been on my mind lately because I am working on claiming, honing, and honoring my photographic voice. As with all things that are viewed subjectively, it is sometimes difficult to have absolute confidence in this voice, but I am getting there.

I am a photographer–hear me roar! (how was that?)

By the way, I have a new website dedicated to my work, you can view it here.

Photo: ©TheWorldAccordingtoJennifer