Behind The Scenes: Working at Jordan Winery

I want to tell you two things, my gentle readers:

  1. Yes, this blog has been very light on food and recipes lately. I have been traveling and photographing quite a bit lately and my assignments have been occupying my time all over the place. Sonoma, Central America, Vancouver, Australia, and many points in between. Once I get my feet back on the ground I promise you I will return to recipes and food.
  2. I AM THE LUCKIEST FREAKING MAN ON THE PLANET (next to my dad because he’s married to the most amazing mother on the planet).

This post relates to both of my points, particularly #2. Last month I returned to Jordan Vineyard and Winery in Sonoma County’s Alexander Valley to spend two and a half glorious days photographing a variety of environments, products and food. It was harvest season, and just between you and me I seem to end up in some rather fantastic spots during that time of year, and no ma’am, I am not complaining. This year was no different.

You may remember when I wrote about working with Jordan Winery last year. You can read about that here. To work with such lovely people in a dream location is a blessing. This year my assignment was similar but incorporated so many new things that Jordan Winery has going on. I photographed a harvest luncheon as well as lots of bottles of wine and gorgeous food, yet my biggest challenge involved photographing a group of cows who did not want their moment in the spotlight.

Sometimes you hear us photographers talk about waiting for the light, sitting patiently for a perfect moment. I sat there waiting for cows. Indeed I did.

Over the course of 2 days, I’d stop by but the cows would not cooperate. I was assured they’d come when food was brought to them but these cows, well, they ain’t dumb. They took one look at me and hightailed it over the hill, Big Mama never missing a moment to look back at me and give me that look THAT ONLY MOTHERS CAN GIVE. AND MOTHERS READING THIS, YOU KNOW EXACTLY WHAT I AM TALKING ABOUT AND DON’T TRY TO PRETEND YOU DON’T BECAUSE I KNOW YOU USE IT ON YOUR KIDS 289,471 TIMES A DAY.

It’s that look that says “You’ve pushed me too far. Keep pushing and see what happens.”

Needless to say I didn’t push. I’m no dummy.

On the last day, my only moment to photograph these beautiful animals, I instructed those around me (including my assistant Rick) to stay far back. The cows were still avoiding me and in one last ditch effort at levity, realizing I may not complete everything I came her for, I desperately addressed the group.

“Ok ladies, work with me on this! I need you to smile, look directly at me, chew slowly but don’t eat it completely, then take another bite but do this like 3 times in a row. Remember to look at the camera! You’re not eating for real, just for the camera! Go slowly, y’all are gorgeous!”

It’s nothing I haven’t said to someone as I coach them in a photo. And you know what happened? That’s right. It worked.

Big Mama came closer to me, looked directly in the camera, and began eating, taking small bites and repositioning her head after every camera click.

She gave me exactly what I came for, doing the job of a supermodel that has posed for photoshoots for years. Who knows, maybe she has. She never said.

I got my close ups, snapped dozens of photos, put my camera back down and looked at her and said “Thank you. I got what I needed. You are amazing. That’s a wrap!”

The second I said that she turned around, corralled the herd and walked away.

I really had a moment with her.

Speaking of moments, let’s take a look at how I spent my time at Jordan, shall we?

Why am I sad? It’s not because Call Time was 7am because you probably know I’m a SER (that’s Super Early Riser). I was sad because I was freezing!

One big shot involved a beautiful buffet table of amazing food from Executive Chef Todd Knoll. Here I am framing the scene and deciding if I’ll be able to complete it before the light and shadows move. Shooting with natural light means you have to think fast, and if I throw up Photographer Hand Signals like this it will distract everyone from the fact that I am taking sips of wine at 10:38am. KIDDING!!!! I really waited until 11:59am.

I never work without my X-Rite Color Checker Passport. It ensures color accuracy throughout the day as the light changes. What else changes? My waistline, apparently. CHECK OUT THAT BELLY! Ugh. Time for sit-ups.


After we photographed the entire table I went handheld for some details shots. I want you to look at the surroundings. Can you believe how beautiful it is there? Unreal.

Here I am photographing Chef Todd Knoll. Word on the streets is that he used to model back in the day which makes my job that much easier. And I didn’t have to wrangle him like I did those animals earlier.

I’ve earned the reputation as The Most Difficult Person To Work With Ever.* Here I am yelling at everyone. And on the left is my assistant Rick setting up a shot in the dining room. LOOK AT THOSE DOORS. Swoon.

*I’m only kidding. I’m generally easy to work with, I swear. Just DO NOT run your mouth during The Golden Coffee Hour, 6am-7am. Or is it 5am-6am? It’s generally the first hour I wake up. Let’s keep it quiet, y’all. Much appreciated. After that you can talk as much as you want. I know I will.

Here is a video created by Jordan Winery about our Harvest Table shoot. It’s a wonderful glimpse into the process and really exemplifies teamwork. It’s not often that there’s a seamless effort on a shoot, but then that’s Jordan for you. They are amazing and if you ever have a chance to visit them I highly recommend it.

(many of my images appear in the opening collage credits, too!)


Make sure to visit Jordan Winery’s blog, too! Right now there’s a photo contest happening and you should enter. You really should!

Big giant thanks to Lisa Mattson of Jordan Winery and the entire team. You are all so special and I can’t wait to see you again! And thank you to Rick for the BTS photos!

And thank you, ladies!


  1. says

    You live quite the life, my friend… the traveling and the cows! Oh the cows! Love the story.

    I look forward to your recipes, but I also love to follow you on your journeys. So, no matter what your post is about, I’ll be back.

  2. says

    I love every single second of this post…thank you for making me laugh, smile, and be inspired. And I want to tour Jordan, now, too. I love wine and the wine country and if it wasn’t so “cold” in the winter there (yes I am a wimp), I swear I’d love to live up there.

    Random aside is that I once dated a guy who loved Jordan wines. I was barely legal and he was a wine snob. And I fell in love with their wine, too :)

  3. says

    Oh man, Matt you make me smile :) Such a fine gent you are. I totally understand your thoughts on the working with the animals. I would love to show you some examples of that here.

    I had some very lucky moments, and I think I am an animal whisperer. You are so lucky to shoot a harvest, its on my bucket list. I love behind the scenes stuff and your sense of humor :)

  4. says

    Big Mama is awesome, that would have been fun to photograph! well, as long as you don’t push. I can tell she knows that look well.

    The doors to the dining room are indeed stunning, as is everything else – you truly are lucky! (if you ever need another assistant… you know, to make coffee or something).

  5. Vanessa @ Foodopera says

    Thanks for the behind the scenes time lapse vid – amazing how much work goes in to a photoshoot!

  6. Susan Whelan says

    Really enjoyed this post and the accompanying photos. Loved your instructions to the cows! It’s so cool to watch you work, even vicariously through your blog. The photos and video on the Jordan Winery blog are amazing. The colors on the lush table are exquisite.

  7. Lisa says


    It’s always such a pleasure working with you. Your energy, optimism and creativity are so inspiring.

    I’m glad the cows finally cooperated! That was such a moment when Big Momma seemed to be listening to every word and modeling directive you gave her.

    The other behind-the-scenes video we made of the entire shoot is now posted to our blog.

    All the best!

  8. Mrs D says

    Oh, Matt! I love all of the inspiring and exciting things that you post about and will keep visiting your wonderful blog regardless of whether you post recipes, or not.

    Just sayin’!

  9. says

    gorgeous gorgeous pictures! I live in Sonoma and you have captured the beauty of this place. I’d not seen your blog before and stumbled across it via a tweet I got from @saltyseattle..I am so bookmarking this!

  10. nik says

    dude! you speak cow!
    how many people can put that on their resume? 😉
    My first visit to your blog…you are crazy talented and screamingly funny. Thanks for the BTS tour…Cheers!


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