Behind The Scenes: Working at Jordan Winery

by Matt on November 4, 2011

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!