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Photographer captures complexity of wine

Photographer Colin Hampden-White has created a series of images representing the complex flavours of noble grape varieties as though each picture was a C17th Dutch still life painting.

Representing Riesling. Photo credit: Colin Hampden-White

He released the images exclusively to the drinks business yesterday, having created and captured representations of the first four of the noble grapes on Saturday at his godfather’s farmhouse in Norfolk with the help of Henry Matson from Farr Vintners.

Speaking to db about the series, which follows his portraits of distillers and winemakers, Hampden-White said the urge to copy the style of an Old Master with photography had been plaguing him for several months.

Inspired by the work of Victoria Hall, a judge in the Louis Roederer Awards last year where Hampden-White picked up The Artistry of Wine Award, he said, “The idea of copying the style of the great masters has been at the back of my head for six months.”

As displayed over the following pages, each photograph represents the flavour profile of Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Riesling, and has been taken in the style of a Dutch still life from the first half of the seventeenth century.

Hampden-White explained that influences for his latest work included painters Willem Kalf, Pieter Claesz and Floris van Dyck, although his photographs include a modern touch to make them entertaining, as well as visually pleasing and educational.

“I put in some modern objects to make it clear I’m not trying to do direct copies.”

Hence, look carefully at the composition representing Chardonnay and there’s a Digestive biscuit included among the more traditional items, while the Riesling image above contains a petrol nozzle.

“I didn’t want to be too serious about it,” said Hampden-White.

He also said his aim was to highlight the vast range of flavours obtained from any one of the noble varieties.

“I wanted to convey the complexity of wine, the range of flavours from a single grape variety.”

Hampden-White plans to add representations for Merlot, Syrah, Sauvignon Blanc and Chenin Blanc shortly, and exhibit the completed series at the Rebecca Hossack art gallery on Charlotte Street in London later this year.

Although he is yet to decide on the cost of each image, he told db that they would cost much less than his previous winemaker portraits (which were priced between £2,000 and £3,000), but would be printed in a smaller size and be produced in greater quantities – possibly creating 30 editions of each variety.

Pinot Noir

Pinot Noir. Photo credit: Colin Hampden-White

Among the obvious flavours represented in this image such as roses, rhubarb, tomatoes and cherries are some more subtle ones, for example leather, signaled by the belt in the far right corner, and violets, represented by the Parma Violets in the bottom left of the picture.

A contemporary twist comes with the modern coffee pot, while Hampden-White said he resisted the urge to drape any brightly-coloured game across the image because it would dominate the composition.

Instead, Pinot Noir’s meaty element is represented by some lamb – as well as bacon – which Hampden-White has drawn attention to with a fork, which includes a grape motif on the silver.

In the foreground, Hampden-White points out there are truffles (not blackberries), among the mushrooms to represent “forest floor”.

To the left of these is some manure, while the cabbage leaf represents rotting vegetable notes found in aged Pinots.

Finally, the smoke comes from a charcoal block sprinkled with incense, while the items are displayed on a piece of silk to represent the texture of Pinot-based wines.

Cabernet Sauvignon

Cabernet Sauvignon. Photo credit: Colin Hampden-White

Arranged on a velvet sheet to represent the grape’s rich tannins are the well-known flavours of Cabernet, from bell pepper to blackcurrants, along with earth, seen in the bottom right of the image.

In the centre of the image a plate contains chocolate, licorice, tobacco and mixed brown spice, along with some cardamom seeds as well as figs and blueberries.

Hampden-White said the Cassis bottle was from the 70s, while other modern objects include the stick of graphite, leather gloves and a cigar box.

Fresh herbs in the image include thyme, mint and rosemary, while a branch of eucalyptus arches across the back of the composition.

“I didn’t want to put in too much – but you could go on forever,” he told db.


Chardonnay. Photo credit: Colin Hampden-White

Clearly represented in this composition are Chardonnay’s traits such as citrus, nuts, flowers and honey.

Less immediately apparent is the nod to mineral notes, symbolized by the chalk, as well as quartz crystals in the left of the image, alongside the orange.

Meanwhile, yeasty characters are represented by some broken brioche behind the melon, as well as a Digestive biscuit tucked away behind the honey.


Riesling. Photo credit: Colin Hampden-White

The flavours of Riesling are illustrated in this picture with fruits from apple to peach and melon laid out on green silk.

Edelweiss-like flowers feature, while chalk is used once more to signify minerality, although this trait is also represented by a knife-sharpening steel implement resting on a flint.

As for the grape’s characteristic “petrol” aromas which arise with maturity, these are symbolized by the plastic petrol nozzle in the foreground.

“It was the clearest way I could think of to get the idea of petroleum across,” says Hampden-White.

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