A Chance Encounter: The story behind the cover photo

A Chance Encounter: The story behind the cover photo
Over many years, photographer Jon Wyand has captured images of daily life in Côte Chalonnaise. From joyous celebrations to backbreaking harvests, each of Wyand's photos reveals a special moment and its unique story. Here he shares some of his favourites.
Chalon: The Embrace The story really began when I was invited to share an outdoor wine-themed photographic exhibition in Chalon-sur-Saône in southern Burgundy. The city is proud of being the birthplace of Nicéphore Niépce, considered by the French the inventor of photography. Happily the exhibition coincides with a weekend celebration of the wines of the Côte Chalonnaise. My contributions were photos from my recently published book recording life and work on and around the Hill of Corton. Standing one evening on a doorstep in Rue de Strasbourg, among the winemakers offering tastings to the assembled crowd, I spotted a young couple embracing. It could have been the wine, but my reaction was to raise my camera and shoot three rapid frames. After a few seconds of reviewing the successful results, I glanced back and the couple had gone. It was two months later that I received a phone call from the office of the Mayor of Chalon asking if I would be interested in doing a similar project over a year on the Côte Chalonnaise and city of Chalon-sur-Saône. There was to be no brief, no shot list, just unfettered freedom. A local writer would take care of the few pages of text. I quickly realized my embracing couple had to be in this book, so I needed to track them down to ask permission to use their picture. Putting it out on social media was out of the question but I was desperate to find them. The following October, in mid-book, I came to the same festival in the hope it might provide a substitute photo. I had walked no further than 100 yards before I recognised the couple a few yards ahead in the crowd. I rapidly explained the situation and left my card. A few days later Justine and David emailed asking to see the photo and then readily agreed to its use. A year later the exhibition was given over to the book, and that photo filled a large display panel in the city centre. I had spent weeks exploring the life of the Côte Chalonnaise, and such serendipity was what kept the anxiety of the project at bay.

Fête du pain, July in Russilly You have to keep your eyes and ears open in an effort to miss nothing. I didn’t know the geography of the Côte Chalonnaise and listened readily to anyone who suggested anything of interest. Discreet signs and small notices might lead me to a snail farm, a goat’s cheese maker, a local working horse show or a week-long music festival. One day I explored the village of Russilly near Givry, where I learned about the Fête du Pain, when when local bakers come to make bread in the village’s communal stone oven, starting before dawn. Visitors came to buy the bread, have a drink and eat before having a good time in the evening. It was a special day with a wonderful atmosphere, and everyone was very relaxed about having their picture taken. A different image resulted from a curious glance through a partially opened door as I made my way through the village from bread oven to pop-up boulangerie. Someone had carefully noted the past months’ rainfall in chalk, on the frame of a large door. It was slightly open and, looking around and seeing no one, I opened it further to reveal an old winery, now apparently a cross between a shrine and a place to drink wine and talk about the old days. I opened the door wide to allow in more light, and so any passer-by could see me. I touched nothing: everything was as it should be, or as the owner wanted it to be. I just needed to pick my viewpoint, shoot, and leave discreetly. As I closed the door I saw a middle-aged man standing at a window watching me from across the street. Putting on a bold face I walked over to talk to him, expecting some form of rebuke and ready to explain about the book. He listened quietly, nodding, and then asked if I’d like a photo of him sitting in there. I duly took his picture, but, as everything inanimate around him was whispering, somehow he was a distraction from the story.

Harvesting Pinot Noir I resolved early on I wanted to embed myself in the life of the villages, and learn whatever I could by finding accommodation with any friendly winemaker who would offer it. I passed a week during harvest at Domaine Chanzy in Bouzeron, and one morning headed off to visit Chateau de Chamilly. I turned a bend to find a line of cases full of grapes on the side of the road, at the bottom of an isolated vineyard slope. I didn’t have time to investigate the picking but lingered, watching for a few minutes as the porters emptied their baskets.The good thing about shooting harvest is that the basic activities are repeated again and again. You can observe who is friendly, cooperative and photogenic, and who to shoot doing what. No matter how many harvests you shoot, wherever you are, there is always a new dynamic to be tuned into, the possibility of something you have never seen before. This is one example.

Breaking up the cap in Mercurey Picking grapes is just the start – there is plenty of hard work back at the winery. When the grapes are in the fermentation tanks carbon dioxide builds up, pushing the grape skins to the top and forming a cap. If the cap isn’t broken the wine does not get sufficient contact with the skins – and sooner or later the gas releases itself loudly and messily. Pigeage à pied – breaking up the cap by foot – is very tiring, like wading in deep snow or mud, but it’s also photogenic. For me to focus on legs knee-deep in grapes, juice and bubbles is only half the story. You only have to look at their expressions to appreciate what hard work winemaking is.

Bouzeron, harvest siesta One day I arrived late in Bouzeron for harvest, and – happily – just in time for lunch. A small village, Bouzeron is known for its wines made from Aligoté, a lesser known Burgundian grape. It’s also known as the home village of none other than Aubert de Villaine of Domaine de la Romanée Conti. In Bouzeron, Aligoté is a big deal and getting bigger. At one domaine, lunch with the pickers was a proper sit-down affair at a couple of long trestle tables. The food was good, plates wiped clean and a glass of wine or two was enjoyed. It was a hot day, so what would anyone do afterwards but take a rest? This young woman woke up, managed not to fall off her narrow bench, and kindly, without a second thought but with a shriek of laughter, agreed to the use of her photo in the book. Then she went off back to work.

Discover more about the authentic spirit of Côte Chalonnaise in Jon Wyand's stunning photography book, 4 Seasons in Côte Chalonnaise, published by Bamboo Edition and available through Académie du Vin Library.
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