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Posted by Gerald D. Boyd on November 15, 2017 at 3:52 PM

Sonoma County’s Beautiful Vineyards

If it is true that a picture is worth a thousand words, then the gorgeous photographs in “Vineyard Sonoma County,” a new book by photographer George Rose, is worth many thousands of words.

Rose, a wine industry communications veteran, is also recognized for his thoughtful documenting of California vineyards, wineries and people, spanning a career that lasted more than 25 years.  During that time, he amassed thousands of images, covering Wine Country in all four seasons.  Rose admits that he tends to overshoot, meaning that he must have many other images nearly as good as the select ones he chose for this new vineyard book, focusing on Sonoma County.

Except for a Foreword and Introduction by wine writers Dan Berger and Alder Yarrow, respectively, there is no text.  At first glance, this approach for a “wine” book is unusual. But once you begin to study and appreciate the photographs, there is the realization that this coffee table picture book was meant first as a feast for the eyes.  Return to the photographs one or more times and you then understand that beautiful photography, like all fine art, has a buried meaning that doesn’t need words.

The book opens with the title super-imposed over a stunning profile shot of sunset on Alexander Valley.  A series of two-page photo spreads follow depicting the variety of beautiful vineyard regions in Sonoma County, ranging from a bird’s eye view of Dry Creek Valley Rose took from a hovering helicopter with the green-clad coastal mountains on the horizon, to a late evening timed exposure of fog fingers creeping inland from the Sonoma Coast near Jenner, framing a subtle arc of headlights on the road below.

Between those two images are a burst of yellow California Golden Poppies at Kunde Estate in Sonoma Valley, a snow-clad Jackson Family’s Alexander Valley Mountain Estate, night harvest at Gap’s Crown on the Sonoma Coast, and a striking shot of an illuminated hot-air balloon floating above Santa Rosa with sea mist against a mauve coastal range.

Rose used film and digital in Canon EOS cameras, mainly the Canon 5D Mark III, to capture the thousands of images he has amassed over the years.  The shot of the balloon over Santa Rosa is an excellent example of the striking clarity and sharp focus of today’s digital photography.

The heart of the book is arranged with images from the four seasons in Sonoma’s vineyards.  Short interludes of selected shots, including “Four Seasons of the Sentinel Oak,”  “Clouds Over Sonoma County” and “Workers of the Harvest” are spaced between each season.  Photographing the Sentinel Oak in all four seasons was a challenge for Rose: “Because I could never exactly find the same location each season.”  And capturing images of snow in the vineyards kept Rose on standby. “While it does snow in the higher elevations [of Sonoma County] on occasion, it doesn’t last long, so I had to act quickly.”

The images of Spring show both the awakening vine in its various stages and the critical patient eye of the photographer.  It takes a special intuition to capture the close ups at just the right moment.  Among my favorite images in Spring are Canada geese on a shed roof in Russian River Valley, a nicely composed image in a Bennett Valley vineyard that captures a resting rabbit, and a sea of vivid Crimson clover spread across an open space in Knights Valley.

The section on Summer is bursting with color and images of ripening grapes, contoured vineyards and a magical shot of pinot noir grapes from the Annapolis vineyard on the Sonoma Coast, encrusted with jewel-like drops of water, like so many Christmas ornaments.  Summer also includes an image of the Panorama Fire of 2003 in the Alexander Valley, a poignant reminder of the devastating fires of 2017 in Wine Country.  Rose’s choice of the shot is a bit eerie, since he couldn’t have known what the future would bring when selecting the images for this book.

Of the four seasons, Rose said that the Fall section was the easiest to shoot over the years.  “Fall in Sonoma County is always colorfully vibrant.”  The changing weather has started the annual color show in the vineyards, allowing for the gold and green aerial digital shot of the Grist Vineyard in Dry Creek Valley.   Then, on pages 134 and 135, there’s the striking image of deep purple hues of ripe Zinfandel grapes with a multi-colored grape leaf at its point between life and death.  Spanish architecture of Chalk Hill Estate is highlighted in one of the few images in the collection with buildings.  Fall comes to a close with an other-worldly shot of an illuminated harvester in the Russian River Valley.

A whimsical shot of a smiling plastic snowman and holiday lights in an Alexander Valley vineyard is the greeting image of the Winter section.  On pages 158 and 159 there is an arresting aerial shot of the Santa Rosa Plain, with spots of low-lying mist stretching to the coastal mountains in the west.  “For me, the most satisfying shot in the collection is the Santa Rosa Plain,” says Rose.  “It was simply stunning that winter morning.”  The section ends with a series of shots showing winter’s grasp on the changing vines and landscape and the damage caused by the flooding Russian River in 2017.

A final note of irony accompanies the message on sustainability from the Sonoma County Winegrowers.  Paradise Ridge Winery in Santa Rosa was known for its red wines, scenic location and collection of art pieces placed throughout the estate. The recent fires destroyed the winery, but left the “LOVE” sign.  “It is sad that where I stood to take this photo is now gone and so is Coffey Park that can be seen in the distance,” says Rose.

Publishing a book of this scope is involved and expensive.  “Vineyard Sonoma County” was printed in a limited quantity by Asia Pacific Offset and is priced at $80, including shipping and California sales tax..  To purchase a copy, go to www.georgerose.com.

This handsome picture book will make a great holiday gift for anyone who likes vineyards and wine or just enjoys looking at beautiful photographs.

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WRO Columnist Emeritus Gerald Boyd contributes occasional book reviews in the space from his so-called "retirement"

Marqués de Cáceres, Rioja Reserva (Spain) 2012 ($31, Vineyard Brands)
 This is one of the best vintages ever of Marqués de Cáceres. With a rich, dark purple hue, it delivers a fireworks of flavor dominated by black cherries, spice and vanilla.  The oak adds a subtle spice rather than dominating the show, and the tannins are likewise nicely restrained.  Full and long in the mouth, this wine is both powerful and elegant. 93 Marguerite Thomas

Dr. Michael
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