July 1, 2020

Oh, snap! It’s Matt Wilson, Smashing Wine Photography (literally)

By Angela Oemcke

When we came across Matt Wilson, a British wine photographer living in Chile, on Twitter we knew we had to reach out to see if he would be keen to join us on the Cellr Blog. Aside from his great tweets Matt takes what are possibly some of the most epic photographs of winemakers we have yet to see.

Read on to hear what Matt has to say about visual storytelling in wine, connecting with wine consumers, marrying into wine through Andrea Leon, breaking the rules (and his Macbook), working with winemakers, and more as well as a generous serve of his incredible photography.

If you want to follow his story catch him on Twitter @Photos_in_Chile and Instagram @Matt.Wilson.gc, and check out his website for more information or to get in touch. 
We also encourage you to check out his 3-D online exhibition that only just launched yesterday here.

Let’s dive right into it, why do you feel it is so important that winemakers are photographed with their wine and not the wine bottle? 

The reason why I don’t like winemakers being photographed with bottles of their wine is mainly because they make wine, not glass. The “holding a bottle” shots are all so boring, and just for marketing purposes. Winemaking is a very hands on process, so I think the winemakers should be shown with the product, not the marketing and packaging product. It’s a bit like photographing chefs with knives or pots and pans, or photographers with cameras. These are just tools used for the real work.

The “holding a bottle” shots are all so boring, and just for marketing purposes. Wine making is a very hands on process, so I think the winemakers should be shown with the product, not the marketing and packaging product.

When did you realise your passion for photography and eventually wine photography? 

I was interested in photography since I was very young. My Dad was always making photographs of us as kids, and it always interested me when he would get us to pose in certain ways or do certain things. I began making photographs in the early 80’s. The first work I did was in 1986 when I was a skateboard photographer, then I got into music and fashion photography. I studied photography in New York in the early 90’s. It was not until I met my wife, a winemaker that I ever considered working as a wine photographer. So in a way I married into the industry.

What is it like being married to a winemaker, is it as awesome as it sounds? 

All my wine photography is because I married a winemaker. I was completely clueless about wine before I met Andrea. She has taught me pretty much everything I know about wine. How to drink it, how to appreciate it, how to pair it with food. She has a real passion for everything around wine, the terroir, the process, the marketing (she is my biggest critic).

The downside would be during harvest. I lose her for around two months each year. She works at least 6 days a week and around 14 hours a day. The one thing I always have to do is have cold beer in the house. If she comes back from a long day and there is no beer in, I am in trouble. There is a saying in Chile, and probably beyond “behind every great wine is a cold beer”

Winemaker Andrea Leon, also Matt’s wife.

I think that winemakers and the industry as a whole need to connect better with consumers. Some do but not enough. Stories need to be told about the people involved in the wine making, growing and process. Not just the rich owners telling how their great grandfather planted the vines in impossible conditions because they had the money to pump water 6 kilometers up a hill.

You are based in Chile, but have travelled all over the world. What has been your favourite destination to photograph for wine, and why?

I was in South Africa last year and I really loved Stellenbosch. Gorgeous light and mountain ranges, with great skys. I also love Sicily, especially around Etna. Great towns and also skylines. I always like a crazy horizon to work with. In Chile Casablanca is one of my favorite places to shoot. Rolling hills, good light and skies with lovely clouds.

Cottenera Winery, Sicily
Firriato Winery, Sicily
Kingston Vineyard in Casablanca, Chile

Most people who buy wine do not care about the terroir, they want to know about the animals at the winery or how close to the sea it is for a picnic.

From your observations as a creator within the wine industry, what do you think winemakers should be doing to connect with wine consumers? 

I think that winemakers and the industry as a whole need to connect better with consumers. Some do but not enough. Stories need to be told about the people involved in the wine making, growing and process. Not just the rich owners telling how their great grandfather planted the vines in impossible conditions because they had the money to pump water 6 kilometers up a hill. In my photography I always try to show lifestyle. If you want to get new young consumers talking of terroir, you will only attract the very technical ones. Most people who buy wine do not care about the terroir, they want to know about the animals at the winery or how close to the sea it is for a picnic.  My input is never the technical side, I understand it’s importance, but not for most consumers.

You take some very left of field photos of winemakers, what has been the most challenging shoot you have done so far? (please provide a photo)

Probably my most challenging shoot so far was of winemaker Grant Phelps chainsawing a barrel of wine. We needed to work out how to make this photograph without actually dying!  We planned this photograph for about 3 years. We had a high pressure hose going into the barrel pumping wine in. Grant had the chainsaw and I was only a few feet away. The barrel erupted and wine went everywhere. I lost a lens and a MacBook in this shot. When the photograph was first published we got into lots of trouble, as we had broken so many health and safety laws. That actually made it cooler in our eyes.

Grant had the chainsaw and I was only a few feet away. The barrel erupted and wine went everywhere. I lost a lens and a MacBook in this shot. When the photograph was first published we got into lots of trouble, as we had broken so many health and safety laws. That actually made it cooler in our eyes.

Which wineries do you think are exceptional visual storytellers? 

I think good storytellers are Bonny Doon, MollyDooker, Garage Wine Co, Two Paddocks and Yalumba. They seem to get what storytelling is about. I think in Australia and New Zealand they do it very well. My first two trips to Australia were cancelled due to Covid 19, I was really gutted as I was going to help some wineries tell their stories, lets hope I get to go soon.

What is your favourite photo you have taken of a winemaker to date, what was the story behind the photo and which of their wines would you recommend?

My favorite photograph of a winemaker… well I have two, the first is of my wife, Andrea Leon. I had to photograph in some carmenere vines in Autumn, so we got her in a red dress and had the colors all Autumnal as well.

The second is of French Winemaker Jacques Lardiére. I photographed him 7 years ago when he left Louis Jadot winery in Burgundy after more than 40 years there. His whole personality is in this photograph. There is some video of me actually making this photo.

Jacques Lardière

What is a photography project you have done, or are currently doing, that you are really passionate about? 

If you haven’t already, we encourage you to check out his 3-D online exhibition that only just launched yesterday, here.

I always try to get passionate about any project I do. It’s not always easy if following a brief. However, one project I really loved working on was a recent exhibition I made of wine people in Chile. The exhibition was in monochrome and I shot all in my studio. I went old school on lighting and had a lot of fun shooting everyone.

If you had to pick three wines to drink for the rest of your life what would they be and why? 

I always get uncomfortable when asked about wines to choose or recommend. My input in the wine industry is never about the actual wine as a drink!  However the three wines in my life that have really made an impact on me are:
(1) Ben Rye 2005 by DonnaFugata winery in Sicily
(2) Gruner Veltliner Ried Kaferberg by Weinngut Brüdlmayer
(3) My wife’s Petit verdot Collection 2014 for Lapostolle.

If you want to follow Matt’s story catch him on Twitter @Photos_in_Chile and Instagram @Matt.Wilson.gc, and check out his website for more information or to get in touch. 

If you haven’t already, we encourage you to check out his 3-D online exhibition that only just launched yesterday, here.

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