Tuscany: The Grape Harvest, 2011 Trip Report

By Terry Eggers on Nov 03, 2011

For photographers, Tuscany is all about the light.  From the warm golden glow on the Duomo in Florence to the magical blue light of an evening in Pienza, it was the Tuscan light that defined our 2011 Tuscany: The Grape Harvest photo safari.

We began in Florence where, during quick windows of fantastic light while the evening sun was at our backs, we photographed the sunlit Duomo and the bell tower from our hotel’s high terrace.  The warm radiance of buildings in the city’s squares and the Ponte Vecchio bridging the Arno also made for outstanding images.

Our convenient base for most of the week was the town of Pienza, in southern Tuscany, where the ephemeral blue light of evening was a particular focus.  For only about 15 minutes after sunset that fleeting blue light, along with the glow of the old street lamps, made for truly special photography.  We shot at numerous locations over several evenings capturing the brief, but sublime, light.

Early one morning, on our way to Podere Belvedere near San Quirico d’Orcia, we encountered a low layer of fog.  The combination of a beautiful pink sunrise and the misty fog made for a magical morning.  As the sun rose, we captured the frequent changes in shadow and composition.  Here, working around and among the vineyards and olive tree groves, we spent the rest of the morning photographing the best subjects.  Our evenings, in the same area, presented us with a different palette of color and shadow.

Traveling only a short distance from our hotel one evening we experienced another very distinctive quality of Tuscan light as we stopped to photograph the Cappella della Madonna Cappella di Vitaleta.  Here, at sundown, as the light changed to a cherry red, it also transformed the curving rows in the surrounding tilled fields with the same warm red hue.  The chapel, one of the icons of Tuscany, shot in this beautiful light made it a special night.

One of the photo objectives that had brought us to Tuscany in September was the grape harvest.  The cool, wet spring and early summer and a heat wave in late summer made for the most challenging and unpredictable harvests for winemakers in years.  In Tuscany, as well as in nearby Umbria, the grape harvest was pushed along very fast.  The whites had been harvested early this year, but the reds—the Sangiovese grapes—were being picked while we were there.  A highlight of the week was our visit to the Castello Banfi in Montalcino.  With the morning light illuminating the vivid green vines strung with the deep dark purple of the Brunello, we photographed the harvest of this renowned grape in the castle’s hillside vineyards.  The finished results of this year’s grapes are still undetermined, but with the skill and care of the vine growers and the winemakers, it will be a good wine—the grapes we sampled certainly seemed very sweet!

Our group enjoyed private access to the Castello Banfi’s barrel room and other parts of the winery operation.  Armed with our tripods, we made long exposures of 20–30 seconds to capture room after room of different sized and stacked casks—some containing enough wine to fill 16,000 bottles!  These amazing rooms cover a large area and our images were illuminated with the warm golden glow of oak.  Topping it all off, we sat down to a four-course lunch—with a paired wine to accent each course of the meal—to celebrate our morning of photography.

We had come for the grape harvest—but also found an abundance of superb subjects all imbued with the memorable Tuscan light of early autumn. Next year, we’ll return in May for a different, but equally compelling, palette of colors.  From the fresh spring green of wheat fields and landscapes punctuated with the brilliant red of poppies to the subtle evening light in Florence and on the stone and tile of timeless, perfectly-sited buildings on open hillsides—join us May 13—23, 2012 as we photograph Tuscany Alfresco.