There is a time and place for everything and those are the times when everything falls into place just perfectly. It did not take very long after our collaboration in the London workshop last year for Jeanne and me to get back in the saddle to plan the next one together. We are a well functioning team and we had a very clear idea of how and where the next workshop would be.
With the gracious team of Nino Franco supporting us things glided off to a smooth start.
Nino Franco have supported workshops that Jeanne and I have done as part of Plate to Page in the past. After London they were eager to work with us and we decided to take our workshop to the lovely prosecco region of Valdobbiadene located at the foot of the Prealps, in the Venetian region.
With the help of our lovely organizer and the very accommodating team at the Hotel Diana we were able to put everything into place in a matter of a few weeks. Before we knew it we already had a string of registrations coming through from all across the globe. They came from near and far - Cyprus, Scotland, San Diego, Florida, Austria, Germany, Bratislava and Italy!
Somewhere in February Jeanne had a skiing accident in France and broke her femur. Would we have to cancel? I remember the same scenario last year when exactly a year to date I had a skiing accident and ripped my ACL. It was just after the London workshop and before the Weimar workshop and the same thoughts crossed my mind. There is nothing like a good and positive challenge to work towards in such situations – something I realized last year and gently motivated Jeanne towards that progressive direction and positive frame of mind. Just like I mastered the Weimar workshop with a brace around my leg last year, Jeanne was a trooper on a crutch the whole weekend!
Over the course of my life I have extensively travelled Tuscany and Liguria – always extremely enamored by the rich and diverse landscapes, mouthwatering delicacies and unpretentious people of the places I visited there. However, I failed to look over the horizon and to what was for me, an undiscovered area of Italy. The Veneto, which lies 50 km from Venice, in the hilly region of the Province of Treviso tucked between the Dolomites and the Adriatic is the small strip of area where the prosecco DOCG zone lies. Between the small towns of Conegliano and Valdobbiadene, where the climate has a positive effect on the particular location, lies the historic “Superiore di Cartizze,” a micro-area where the highest quality DOCG prosecco is produced. Only 107 hectares in size and owned by 140 growers, this area produces outstandingly opulent wines and prosecco year in year out.
We were headed straight into the heart of the DOCG prosecco region in Valdobbiadene. Vines stretch as far as the eyes can see over gentle rolling hills, where the lush green of the landscape is like velvet intricately woven with fine thread flowing seamlessly into each other. The backdrop to this rich and abundant valley is the towering snow-capped peaks of the mountains. On one side, vineyards perched high on the steep hillsides, while on the other side rich chestnut trees grow robustly.
Here the vine-growers have made the hillsides their own, centimeter by centimeter, creating a unique landscape whose beauty is unparalleled to any I have seen in Italy. It is as if a painter has taken all his liberty and painted a breathtaking mural where the skies and the hills are stirred into each other, dripping with color, castles, steeples, villas dotted into the hills, floating into harmonious patterns like fragments of a stained-glass window. Wine reds, honey yellow, bottle greens, sky blue, plum, ochre - the color palette of this landscape is rich and bold.
Hotel Diana is situated in the center of Valdobbiadene and was housing our entire team for the 3 days. From the very first email we exchanged with them last year it was clear that the team at the hotel was passionate and dedicated. Quickly and easily they integrated themselves into our workflow and went out of their way to fulfill all of our requirements and desires. So when we arrived at the hotel, it was almost as if we were meeting friends – this is no exaggeration. Michela, Francesca and Sauro were efficient and nothing seemed too much for them. Imagine the demands and requirements of a group of 14 food photographers: we whip out cameras at every sight of food we get, we required the revamping of the breakfast room into a photo studio and needed helping hands to unpack boxes of props and sponsor items. The staff at the Hotel Diana went above the call of their regular duty and assisted us in every situation. The hotel has a well equipped presentation room large enough for large conference style meetings. Their rooms are functional, clean and comfortable with lovely views of the town and hills. Chef Simone created a lovely typical Italian lunch for us with a variety of cheeses, cold cuts, mini pizzas, salads and of course a delectable Tiramisu.
Our small group made itself cozy here for most of the first day. The first day is very intense and revolves around a lot of theory and a few exercises.
Jeanne and I gave lectures on photography fundamentals, discussed important photography techniques, talked about creating moods and atmosphere using light and how to harness it to create the perfect food image paying attention to color and texture. We also went deeper into the food styling aspect, where I showed them the important aspects to build and create a set-up taking into consideration aspects like placement, angles and how to lead the eyes of the viewer into the frame. Jeanne provided them with details about restaurant photography, points to be taken into consideration when photographing in a restaurant and in low-light. Something they would all have to work on later in the evening.
With this theory under their belts our team was extremely motivated to practice on the first assigned exercises. [Beautiful backdrop: View from Hotel Diana's courtyard - Valdobbiadene Church]
Zafferano Italy generously provided us with a wide selection of their glassware to use as props during the entire weekend. Their collection varied from vibrant and colorful to elegant and stylish. Designed by creative and dedicated designers each handmade collection carries a signature trademark, which has made this Italian brand known worldwide. The elegance of the wine-tasting collection of glasses, flutes paired perfectly with the range of prosecco provided by Nino Franco. I particularly liked the Provenzale collection and the elegant Venezia champagne glass flutes.
We spend a few hours in the light filled breakfast room and sunny courtyard of Hotel Diana practicing and building a set-up and then taking shots based on the given guidelines. The group was dedicated and worked well together, exchanging ideas and realizing the tasks creatively. Being a group with a varied knowledge in photography, we put the delegates in teams to allow them not only to work as a unit but also to incorporate each other’s know-how and accommodate each other’s ideas. Some teams simply take-off after they receive their tasks, others need a few moments to get warm with each other, but the best part is seeing it all come together.
As the evening descended we were eager to get out into the city and head out for dinner. The local Osteria Amici Miei welcomed our entire group with a divine 4 course menu consisting of antipasti, pastas, risotto and a selection of main courses. I indulged in the most amazing, buttery pasta with a flavorful duck ragù that was incredibly satisfying. I could have stopped there but I must admit I was extremely tempted by the brasato di manzo al vino rosso - braised beef in red wine served with soft polenta. The meat that literally came of the fork was tender, moist and boldly flavored. Of course, each course provided perfect motives for the participants to work on their individual assignments and cameras clicked in tune with the clinking of glasses filled with prosecco.
Despite the weather prediction of rain, the next day we woke up to a beautiful blue sky where the sun rose over the gently-sloping hills. The weather Gods were on our side and according to the Hotel Diana team, they were doing the sun-dance for us the previous evening to provide us with the glorious weather we were being rewarded with! With this perfect weather above us we headed towards the Nino Franco winery where we were greeted by Primo Franco personally. Starting our field trip was a lavish tasting session in the beautiful tasting room of the winery. Primo shared stories about the history of his family business and how it expanded over the decades. He told us about the production and a range of exquisite prosecco produced at Nino Franco. The winery is proud to be one of the oldest in Valdobbiadene, with Primo’s grandfather, Antonio Franco founding it under the name “Cantine Franco.” Located in the town center, not far away from the countryside and the vineyards, the estate has been growing and evolving throughout three generations of producers – Antonio founded it, Nino, Primo’s father expanded it and Primo has been travelling the globe promoting and improving the company’s performance. Now, his daughter Silvia Franco is the fourth generation Franco in line, learning the trade from her father.
Jeanne and I had the opportunity to dine with Primo and his lovely wife, Anna Lisa on our first night in Valdobbiadene. They are an unpretentious and wonderfully humble couple who made Jeanne and me feel easy, relaxed and part of the family. The evening was a jovial one where we got to know two of the main people responsible for allowing us to have our workshop here.
At the tasting Primo told us one of his main achievements over the years has been producing higher quality wines, focusing on making wines that were exclusively from the region. He paid great attention to the quality of the grape cultivation to ensure high quality from the raw material level to the final product. For me, as I heard Primo talk about his grapes, as if each one of them were his child, I realized there was 3 other ingredients that made the Franco prosecco so superior – it was his love, passion and dedication. Just like I was, I think the participants were very enamored by Primo’s easy-going nature. We tasted a selection of four prosecco including my favorite “Grave Di Stecca” a fine bold prosecco with a bouquet of sweet fruit and earthy notes of sage. Primo answered all our questions and patiently allowed the participants to complete their task for this section of the assignment. After a short tour that took a few of us to the top of the hill overlooking Valdobbiadene we headed to lunch.
Villa Barberina, the stunning eighteenth-century Venetian estate run by Primo and Anna Lisa was to be our playground for the rest of the day. Here we planned to spend the entire day, completing the rest of the assignment and simply relax in between the challenging tasks the participants were assigned. Anna Lisa and her hospitable staff had prepared an opulent lunch with a most incredible selection of cheeses, salame and prosciutto. Large stoneware dishes filled with steaming risotto with white and green asparagus and green salads were brought in by the staff and placed on the regal table.
“You must catch the steam coming from the risotto on camera!” someone stated and within a heartbeat everyone had surrounded the table clicking away. Primo and Anna Lisa stood at the other end of the room, looking on - somewhere between stupefied and wonder.
“Let’s eat!” said Primo and plated large spoonfuls of steaming risotto on his plate. Putting down our cameras we followed suit. I grabbed my plate, a glass and a bottle of prosecco and joined Primo on the steps outside the villa. Others joined us and soon a quiet reigned around us as we enjoyed the moments of good food, the grand weather and a magnificent view from the villa.
After lunch it was time to for the participants to complete the final leg of their assignment and as each team selected their Zafferano props, food and sourced a shoot location on the expansive grounds of the villa, Jeanne and I took a little moment for ourselves along the side of the villa with a spectacular panorama of the vineyards and cypress trees – of course glasses of Nino Franco prosecco accompanied us.
Once each team were set-up and getting into their shoot, Jeanne and I walked around the grounds looking at what the teams had created, assisting them and giving them tips. With such breathtaking beauty that the villa had to offer it was at times for some of the participants a sensory overload. Putting things back into perspective and encouraging them to try a different approach was important for me and when I saw the glint in their eyes I knew they had found that fire of creativity.
“I found my inspiration,” Ruby said “I need to rush!” and she was off with her ideas and determination. A little while later Jeanne and I found her at the pool with a tart, a bottle of prosecco and a red stool!
The alcoves at the back of the villa provided such perfect light for a photo shoot, it was not surprising that a team had set themselves up here. Kneeling in the gravel their beautiful breakfast scene was an eye-catcher with the colors of fruit popping off the screen complemented by the muted tones and textures of the walls and gravel.
The window ledges also offered the perfect background to create a story and in a little creative moment of my own I decided to set-up my shot – prosecco, my plate of food and in the background the velvet green of the grape vines and chestnut trees.
I remembered Primo’s words to me earlier when we were up at the hill looking down at the town. I had asked him that having grown up and lived all his life in this area, if he ever took this beauty for granted.
“You know, I came here this morning with my wife for a walk and after looking at this view as the sun was rising, I told her how blessed we were to have this life!”
Yes indeed! I too felt blessed to have had the opportunity to come here and experience this wonderful place. To have met two amazingly down-to-earth people – Anna Lisa and Primo who not only opened the doors and welcomed all of us so graciously, they also supported and promoted this workshop from the very beginning. The workshop enables me to meet some great, creative and talented participants – our team Venice and we called them – were vibrant and vivacious, they had great talent and were not scared to think out of the box. At the end of the day as they presented their assignments to us – Jeanne and I were at points speechless and the high quality of work they produced.
Some of the participants who have blogs have already posted their experience and I would like to urge my readers to take a moment and view their work (I will update the list as more posts are published).
Monica of Monica Meets: Food Photography in Italy
Eva of It’s Foodtastic: Food Photography & Styling Workshop with Meeta K. Wolff & Jeanne Horak-Druiff
Andrea of Anrea Senyk: Prosecco Italy – May 2014
Thank you to the most amazing staff at Hotel Diana – without your incredible help and support this would not have been as easy to organize.
Thank you to the Nino Franco team, especially Dacotah and Marco for all your assistance prior to and during the workshop for the advice, helping us scouting locations and promoting the workshop.
We have created a Venice wrokshop Storify album where you can follow all our happenings over the past several months to get an insight of, at times the crazy excitement that goes on while organizing a workshop. My Instargam timeline provides some snapshots of the workshop and participants. /p>
To our generous supporters who provided us with vital tools and gifts enabling the workshop to run smoothly on all fronts – thank you!
Nino Franco | Harper Collins Publishers | Zafferano | Masala Monsoon
If this virtual recap of the Venice workshop has piqued your interest to join one of my workshops, I have only 2 other workshops happening this year in Europe. Please visit my workshop page for all the details to the upcoming workshops. I hope to see you soon!
All photographs and written content on What's For Lunch, Honey? © 2006-2013 Meeta Khurana Wolff unless otherwise indicated. | All rights reserved | Please Ask First