Visiting Wineries

The ‘150 Wineries in 150 Days’ Tour

HDR of the shady porch at the Sharp Rock winery, overlooking their vineyards
Back Deck View (Sharp Rock Vineyards)

About the Photo:
This image was taken on the back porch outside the second-floor tasting room at Sharp Rock Vineyards on a very hot and bright day in July. I loved the wood tones inside the porch. The empty old wooden porch was beautiful and contrasty as it as lit by the sunlight washing in through the open side that overlooked vineyards, but the bright sunlight glare from outside made getting the right exposure a challenge. I decided to try a high dynamic range shot. I set the camera to auto-bracket a 9 EV range and fire continuously through the nine shots needed. Then I leaned back into the corner, braced my elbows on the walls to either side, framed and shot. Later I merged the images to HDR using Photomatix Pro. (PhotoShop CS5 has added a new “merge to HDR” function that also works well, but I still find that PhotoMatix Pro does a better, more thorough job and produces brighter, more saturated HDR images in many circumstances. For a really great tutorial on using PhotoMatix to produce HDR, see Trey Ratcliff’s site, Stuck in Customs.)

About the Wine Tour:
In early July Nancy and I began work on our new iPhone travel guide app, Virginia Wine In My Pocket. For our research, Nancy and I are trying to visit every winery in the Commonwealth of Virginia. This is a travel guide, not a wine critic’s guide, so wine festivals don’t count; we have to actually see and set foot in the winery and taste at least some of the wine on offer there. Just to make things fun, we also decided to set ourselves a deadline. When we started, there were a bit over 150 wineries in Virginia, so we gave ourselves 150 days to visit them all. It’s turning out to be a challenge. So far, Nancy tells me we’ve visited about 40 of them. Since we started this, it’s been all wineries, all the time: No time for photos or posts on any other subject.

As we travel about and visit Virginia wineries, we are not asking for favors or anything … we just show up during their visiting hours, ask for a tasting, and chat with whoever happens to be there at the time. Of course, I’m also usually shooting pictures like a manic tourist, so we do tend to attract a little attention from the staff at each winery; It must be awfully off-putting to have some shutterbug apparently more focused on taking pictures than on tasting the wine. Sometimes we are lucky enough to chat with the owner, and sometimes we just enjoy the company of whatever friendly staff happens to be around at the moment. So far, we have always enjoyed the nice staff and the wineries we’ve visited; we always have a great chat and enjoy our time. Our experience with owners is nowhere near so consistent. Most of the owners we meet are wonderful, kind, and interested in our project. Sometimes they let us taste additional wines; a few have gone so far as to spend hours with us, showing us the property and discussing what they are doing and why. Nobody has ever turned us away or refused permission to take pictures for our App.

Rarely, we come across an owner who is positively rude or secretive about their wines and winery. I never understand that attitude: I can’t imagine why someone would put themselves into daily contact with the public if they basically don’t trust or like their customers. Why not just hire some nice young person to be nice to the visitors, if one can’t find it in oneself to be nice? But then, I guess sometimes they have good cause. Just for myself, I doubt very much I would like to run a winery; especially on weekends there are thousands of visitors and many of them are just out to drink wine or party. We have also seen a number of self-proclaimed “wine bloggers.” Since it really doesn’t take a lot to print some “business cards” on your computer and then claim to “review” wines on a free blog, lots of people seem to do it. I hope most are not actually trying to get free stuff or special consideration based on their supposed expertise; alas, I suspect many are. I guess I can see why some owners might view bloggers with suspicion.

But that’s not us. Nancy and I do not review wine. We report on what there is to do and what it is like to visit the winery. We’re building a TRAVEL guide.

(Nikon D700 with Nikkor 24-70mm 1:3.5-5.6 G zoom at 24mm, HDR processed from nine images shot at f/4.5, 1/30 second shutter, ISO variable from 200 to 1400 for exposure compensation of -4EV to +4EV across nine individual shots.)