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Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Vision to Visuals: Building An Aesthetic

As part of a project for the Greenmarket Tavern in New York, photographer Larry Letters created a collection of images to tell the story of wine

Letters chanced upon the idea of creating photographs solely focused on wine on a trip to Portugal in 2008. When touring Porto, he took a boat up the Douro River to explore the Douro Valley and the wine and gastronomical cultures there. Realizing that back home in California, he was living in the center of a rich wine culture of its own, Letters decided to tell the story of what goes into the process of winemaking through his photographs.

“I began during the 2009 Harvest, photographing every part of the process I could,” Letters says. “The tasting rooms, although imperative to the industry, and as grand as they can be, were the last place I wanted to explore. I’d much rather talk to the vintner, or the cellar workers, their families and friends, walk through the vines with a vineyard manager, pull some berries off a cluster to eat, smell the oak from a new French barrel, watch the meticulous sorting of fruit that happens prior to fermentation, taste aging wine out of the barrel or, better yet, from the press pan after crushing. All of this and much more contributes to the potential a given wine has to become memorable.”

Letters’ photographs of night harvesting of grapes are absolutely spectacular and show us a side of winemaking that most of us aren’t aware of.
“I think my work symbolizes a global connection we share over wine,” says Letters, “as well as the importance of knowing where what we consume comes from. I often have no idea myself. This project has made me appreciate every glass I drink and to think past what the label looks like. Pure toil goes into making a crafted wine. With the theme of the Tavern being local food/global wine, I feel this is symbolic because a restaurant is a place to commune with those we care about, to nourish ourselves, to reflect upon that nourishment, and to celebrate our likenesses and differences.”

In the words of Florence Buchanan at FnK, who worked closely with curator Erica Cassano and Letters to choose the visual story for the restaurant: “Through the heroic quality of his portraits of the men and women who pick the grapes, Larry shows us the human side of how our wine gets to the table. We haven’t seen illuminated vineyards before or grape pickers with miners’ lamps. Like the chef, the photographer must be as much a master of technology and science as he or she is about art. You just can’t get great, consistent results through guesswork.”

Enveloping its patrons within a rich visual tapestry of what goes into the making of the delicate wine that’s served at the restaurant, the Greenmarket Tavern founders provide a beautiful gift to its patrons—a treat made all the more poignant within the rich photographic history of this neighborhood in New York. Now that’s the entrepreneurial creativity of our new decade!

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