Letters from Lodi
An insightful and objective look at viticulture and winemaking from the Lodi
Appellation and the growers and vintners behind these crafts. Told from the
perspective of multi-award winning wine journalist, Randy Caparoso.
A masterly photographer shows Nature and Lodi winegrowing under a muscular, jarring, different slant of light
Cutout of photograph exalting a Lodi ancient vine Zinfandel harvest by Allison Watkins.
There are photographers and there are photographers. We have invited Allison Watkins of Allison Watkins Studio to share a photo-essay because of her distinctively artistic feel for wine photography. Particularly her Lodi Viticultural Area photography.
Watkins lives in Napa Valley and teaches fine art photography. An inveterate inhabitant of the darkroom since high school, she studied fine art photography while taking her BA at San Jose State University, which led to a Master of Fine Arts at San Francisco University.
While her work has been affiliated with numerous commercial entities, she has also become increasingly known for her photography, design and website development for the wine industry. Among her list of half-dozen or so winery clients at a time, she is currently working with Perlegos Family Wine Co., second generation Lodi grower/vintners.
The Watkins signature entails muscular shades and shadows, and more like miserly dribs and drabs of light to encapsulate Nature. Applied to vineyard settings, hers is jarring, distinctively personal, emotional. Think of musical genres, such as Cajun or blues, where there are no real happy songs, yet can be extremely upbeat or optimistic. It's as if Watkins lives for stormy days, in the sky and mind. She recently shed some light on this perspective, telling us:
When I first stepped foot in a Lodi vineyard I was moved by a feeling of nostalgia and I immediately thought of my grandfather. He was a refrigeration engineer in the Santa Clara ("The Valley of the Heart's Delight") beginning in the late 1930s, and worked for the same refrigeration plant for most of his long, arduous career.
After over twenty years working as a professional photographer, Watkins now finds herself drawn to the wine industry, and is particularly compelled by labors—as gleaned in images fusing hands, dirt, skin, crevices, and colors of photosynthesis drilled down to cellular levels—in vineyards. Connecting her early consciousness of Santa Clara agriculture with the state of California winegrowing today, she adds...
I'm drawn to places in California that have been preserved or protected for agricultural purposes since the Santa Clara Valley wasn't protected at all. It was once full of orchards and fruit trees and now only one orchard exists today. I'm inspired by vineyard owners and the farm workers who continue to protect these [disappearing] spaces, and who also farm organically despite high costs and low yields.
For the rest of this post we'll let Watkins' work and her own words do all the talking...
Harvest Moon, Lodi, 2023.
There are certain vineyards that gauge my interest and one of them is Stampede Vineyard in Lodi. This old vine Zinfandel vineyard is unique in that you can stand in the center of the vineyard, turn around, and see all around you. Old vines allow me to move freely in the space with my camera, and their form is endlessly fun to photograph. They have a lot of character and I love seeing how they change throughout each season. This photograph was shot just before sunrise, one of my favorite times to photograph the grape harvest because these moments are like no other. It is the energy of the grape harvest that calls me back every time.
Old Vine Grape Harvester, Lodi, 2023.
I've always loved conveying narrative within one image, and the harvest season is full of action, so there are many monents that I want to capture. There is so much movement and energy among the vineyard workers and growers that it's impossible to capture it all. During sunrise, I like to look for areas where the vine is lit by a headlamp or the first rays of sunlight and then capture the moment with a fast shutter speed. Harvesters work at very fast speeds and I'm always at awe of the work that has been accomplished by the end of the pick. The moment where the sun begins to rise is especially magical and makes me wish I could photograph places in the vineyard simultaneously.
Old Vine Grape Harvester, Lodi, 2020.
This was a moment when the sun broke through a smoke filled sky. We were dealing with wildfires and the pandemic, and everyone was keeping their distance. My connection to photography became even stronger as I needed a creative outlet during quarantine.
Old Vine Harvester II, Lodi, 2021.
Harvesting grapes can feel like a spiritual act, and I was able to capture this beautiful moment when it felt like the grapes were being held in exaltation.
California Old Vine Zinfandel, Stampede Vineyard, Lodi, 2021.
Jeff and John Perlegos put a lot of care into farming their vineyards and it show in the beautiful formations of the old vines.These old vines are low yield, and when I find a beautiful array of clusters it truly feels like I've discovered gems.
Cover Crop in Early Spring, Lodi, 2021.
I shot this medium format film on a beautiful stormy day in Lodi. There were moments of rain and the sky cleared for a moment and illuminated this flowering cover crop. I used selective focus and shallow depth of field to separate the flower from the craggy old vines, and to give the illusion of the vines framing the flower.
Persephone in Spring, Lodi, 2022.
I captured my sister on a spring day while the sun was setting. Watching the vineyards change throughout the season is soul enriching. I've always loved Greek mythology, and the story of Persephone, leaving Hades and winter behind to give us spring is one of my favorite myths. I used maximum depth of field and a fast shutter speed to stop her in motion and frame her between the old vines. It was important to highlight the flowering cover crop and shoot wide enough to include the sunlight—this conveyed transition—the beginning, and fleeting feeling of the seasons.
Harvesting During the Pandemic, Lodi, 2020.
The crew was harvesting grapes under smoke filled skies and we were about seven months into the pandemic; everyone was shouting through masks and keeping their distance from each other. Despite the air quality and the uncertainty of the pandemic I was happy to just get outside and shoot. Photography has always given me the fuel that I've needed to persevere during difficult times.
Old Vine Details, Lodi, 2021.
I like photographing growers with their vines. This shot taken of Jeff Perlegos shows the sensitivIty and connection between grower and vine. So much work goes into farming organically and the LODI RULES are a great guide for anyone interested in the process of sustainable winegrowing.
Early Spring Cover Crop Details, Lodi, 2021
Jeff Perlegos showing the details of the cover crop that he and his brother plant every year. Documenting the transition of these cover crops illustrates the growth over time and the importance and impact of them on the soil. The light hit the cover crop in such a way that it was illuminated perfectly and it reminded me of a Renaissance painting.
Early Spring Cover Crop Details II, Lodi, 2021
Cover crop is especially beautiful in the early spring.