winemaking

Photographing the craft and grit of winemaking

Adrian Chitty's work, in a Chehalem Cultural Center show, celebrates the unseen people who "work so very hard to get that wine in your glass"

A couple of years ago, A to Z Wineworks received an email from someone named Adrian Chitty, who was having a “family adventure” in Bali and wanted to talk about embedding himself in the Newberg-based winery as part of an artistic residency. The proposal, according to Deb Hatcher, one of the winery’s four founders, “seemed incredibly suspicious.”

Nevertheless, the email ultimately led to A to Z launching a residency program with Chitty, an Oxford-educated software engineer retired from 20 years in the fast lanes of London and New York, as its first artist. Chitty moved to Oregon with his wife and children and spent two full seasons with the winery, working various jobs and shooting thousands of photographs depicting every stage of the winemaking process. As it happens, his residency overlapped with both the pandemic and Oregon’s fires, and his digital camera captured evidence of both.

photographer Adrian Chitty
Photographer Adrian Chitty

The best of those images, nearly three dozen of them, compose Transformations: A to Z Wineworks’ Artist-in-Residence — a Year in Review, a new exhibition at the Chehalem Cultural Center in Newberg. It runs through Feb. 28.

The photographs, of uniform size and in color (and, adds Chehalem’s Carissa Burkett, for sale), are astonishing and beautiful visions of the grit of winemaking. Prior to the residency, Chitty noted, his experience of wine industry photography was seeing the glamour of wine depicted by professional photographers with an eye to getting customers in tasting rooms: lush, rolling vineyards and sunlight shining through glasses of wine, sipped by smiling, attractive people on patios.

“I wanted to show the mechanics of how wine is made and I wanted to celebrate the people who work so very hard to get that wine in your glass,” he said during an online artist’s reception last week. “They are a dedicated army of people who put care and attention into these labor-intensive processes. I wanted to celebrate these unseen people.”  

What struck me about the exhibition was the technical depth of the text that accompanies each photograph. Exhibitions like this traditionally roll out an “artist’s statement” as a welcome mat, which is where you’re most likely to gain some insight into the genesis of the project, what they were trying to do, their emotional trajectory during the creative process, etc.

This show has that, but much more. Chitty continues the discussion with each image. Viewers get not only a detailed description of what they’re looking at (because it’s not necessarily clear what the subjects are actually doing) but also why he shot that photo and why he likes it. Consider, for example, the text for the image titled Preparing:

The weather in October 2019 gave us cold, clear days, and the steam from the hot water cleaning processes would billow around and catch the sunlight. These steel barrels get used for short-term operations at the winery such as temporary storage of wine, smaller fermentations, and catching runoff juice from the sorting table. Cleaning them is a daily occurrence during harvest. There is visual balance here, with the weight of the two barrels balanced by Cynthia and the hose.

Photographer Adrian Chitty documented the winemaking process over two seasons at A to Z Wineworks in Newberg. “Preparing” (October 2019) captures cleaning steel barrels used for temporary storage of wine or short fermentations. (All images are giclée prints from digital camera, 18 by 12 inches.)
Photographer Adrian Chitty documented the winemaking process over two seasons at A to Z Wineworks in Newberg. “Preparing” (October 2019) captures cleaning steel barrels used for temporary storage of wine or short fermentations. (All images are giclée prints from digital camera, 18 by 12 inches.)

You get stuff like that throughout the show, illustrating the artist’s mind at work: “Ana’s arms create a strong symmetry, and the splashes of color from the hi-visibility vest and nitrile glove contrast with an otherwise largely monochrome palette,” he writes for one. Another: “It’s the gesture that makes this image work for me. This is a simple composition, with the color contrast drawing the viewer to the subject.” It’s like dollops from a course in photography.

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