Photographer Mick Rock doesn't regret his move from a specialism in travel to the world of wine, writes CATHARINE LOWE.
The fascination is that no two vineyards look the same,’ says a man who should know – Mick Rock, owner of the most well known wine photographic agency, Cephas. He set up Cephas 15 years ago, when as a travel photographer some clients asked him for vineyard shots. ‘I set off on a couple of more wine-related trips, and it just snowballed. I discovered that there was a gap in the market that I was only too happy to fill.’ He now has 120,000 pictures in his library and a selected 20,000 or these (and growing) on the website.
‘At the outset, I started with France, and was guided by books that were coming out.’ Now he chooses where he goes, shooting stock and then selling it. ‘I prefer not to lock myself into commissions. It’s more costly my way, as I have to pay for everything up front, but I have not yet had a trip that hasn’t paid.’ He admits that Long Island and Finger Lakes, New York State have been the most difficult to shift pictures on, but is still hopeful that their pictorial heyday will come soon.
He travels for about three months of the year, preferring not to be away for more than two weeks at a time. ‘It’s hard work focusing from sunrise to sunset; I usually shoot 12–15 rolls, though it has been double that some days.’ Annie, his wife, accompanies him, jotting down information for the captions (a vitally important part of the business). If they go to Europe, they prefer to drive in their Landrover Discovery packed with camera equipment – most importantly a Mamiya RZ67, 6×7, and a Silvestri, 6×12, plus lenses. Wine may be a great subject matter to work with, but it is a matter of looking, not touching. ‘I’m not interested in tasting wine – it doesn’t go well with taking photographs – though I will perhaps take part at the end of the day.’
As to where the next trip is, Mick Rock is unforthcoming, perhaps fearing a vinous paparazzi rush to scoop him on the new Bulgarian Black Sea plantings of Ugni Blanc, or wherever he is destined. ‘I wouldn’t like to reveal,’ he states, eventually admitting that Corsica and Sardinia are on the cards (though this could be a decoy).
There is always work: new places, old ones to revisit – Domaine Romanée Conti in Vosne Romanée has done away with the pillars on its vineyard gates and put in more discreet plaques, and Moulin-à-Vent in Beaujolais has recently put sails on the famous windmill. ‘We have to keep the library fresh; faces change and the vineyards get replanted.’
Travelling the world is a great perk, but the desk work is as important. The office is in the safe suburbia of west London, with a staff of five including Mick and Annie. Clients come from around the world. There’s an immediacy to the work – all requests need to be sorted the same day, if not within an hour and, Mick Rock points out, a lot of clients don’t know what they want: ‘They need specialist information, for guidance as to what will best suit their needs.’
Obviously travelling to such superb destinations has helped the wine cellar of Mick Rock to grow over the years. ‘When I started out, I had an interest in wine, which has become more sophisticated. I have collected some nice bottles, yes. We are fortunate, and have had the chance to drink some very interesting wines.’