Signor Vineyards: Harvesting The Right Shots
Documenting wine-making in the Texas Hill Country
My wife and I moved to San Antonio in 2019 from my hometown of Shreveport where I'd lived for the better part of 33 years. We bought a house that came with a pair of large wine fridges that we didn't need. In trying to sell them, we were connected to Signor Vineyards in Fredericksburg, roughly an hour away in the heart of Texas wine country. They bought our fridges and shortly after my wife, Erica, decided to find a part-time job to help offset some moving expenses. She reached out to the vineyard about helping with social media, and in three years, she's been promoted to Brand and Wine Club Manager - a more than full-time job.
Naturally, with Erica doing marketing, photography and branding for the vineyard, I became their go-to video guy.
My first big shoot for them was also my first big job in Texas since the move, documenting their grape harvest that year. It was just a matter of being there at sunrise and shooting glamour shots of the harvesting process. I used a combination of gimbal, drone, tripod and handheld shots. I also covered a separate wine club event where members cut grapes. But it was really the simplest of montage videos, showing off the grapes and the grounds.
The video was a hit with the Signor team. And we next tackled a lifestyle/brand shoot with some instagram influencers. One good thing about the region is that between Austin and San Antonio there are limitless bloggers and influencers you can recruit for projects like this, which are happy to get the free media and high end video content.
This was more of a staged shoot, working with talent, lighting, and more advanced rigging. Shooting/directing people, more than inanimate grapes, vines, and buckets. Racing against the light. Here's the finished piece:
Next on the list to diversify the video line-up was a wine club event. This was a basic event documentary piece focused on promoting the atmosphere and vibe of the vineyard and their customers. Slowly with all of these shoots I'm also building a library of shots of the vineyard, wine/pours, food, etc. These all become handy down the road and many individual shots can be used for Instagram posts on their own in place of photos.
Then came winter and the pandemic. The marketing strategy for the vineyard changed. People couldn't come to the vineyard anymore, but the wine club still received their shipments. While we were all stuck indoors, we also wanted to remind people what the vineyard felt like and put out this reel of just drone shots, which we also needed for the bigger content library. Every time I shoot drone video, I'm also grabbing stills for other purposes - not just for social posts, but practical things like mapping and construction references. We also try to time drone shoots for the spring when everything is the greenest and most lush. And since the vineyard is constantly growing and changing, with new construction, we have to get updated shots every year.
Since the original harvest video was a hit, we continued to document it again in 2020. This is the first time I'm kind of following in my own footsteps and needing to evolve and improve while effectively making the same video again.
We came out way before sunrise this time and captured half the shoot in the dark, which shows the process in a new light (no pun intended). It emphasizes how much work goes into harvest and also continues to show that it's a process done by hand and not machine. I tried to highlight a little more of the crew and their personalities too. I continued to capture a lot of what you might consider "stock footage" for the library as well.
We then tackled the holidays in 2020, trying to show the vineyard at a different time of year and trying to capture some Christmas spirit to share during a difficult pandemic year. First was a shoot showing off the Christmas lights at the vineyard, something we hadn't yet captured.
It's also great to work with my wife who is the stills photographer on all of these shoots. That means I get more behind-the-scenes photos than I typically do on other projects.
Then we also came up with this fun little Christmas spot where someone leaves Signor wine instead of milk for Santa. We had to set up a lot of gear for this shot. Since it's all in one shot, it had to be perfect. We also shot in the middle of the day in a room with a lot of natural light and were trying to make it seem like night. So I had to black out as much as I could around the table set. We also had to raise the table to be in alignment with the high fireplace in the background. That fireplace is also not typically used. So we had to set it up and light it for the first time in years (it was decorated/staged/not meant to be used). We had to try a bunch of different takes and actions and get the timing right. We also had to keep adjusting the fire to get good flames.
We then spent most of 2021 capturing content for a bigger brand video/story that we're still working on. This included a formal interview with the head winemaker that we decided worked better as part of an evolved harvest video last year. We made more of a documentary explaining and showing a lot more of the process than just a montage of the grape harvests that I've done in the past.
Rather than shooting it all in one day like the last two harvests, this year we shot over 6 days because for the first time the wine production process was happening locally in Fredericksburg rather than Oregon where they had shipped their grapes to in year's past. This video won us a couple of Addy awards this year.