A Visual Journey Through Vineyards of the World: Interview -Jānis Miglavs, Photographer
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Meet Janis Miglavs
I was fortunate to meet Janis Miglavs a few years ago. We were both scholarship attendees at The Symposium for Professional Wine Writers. He was one of the most unique attendees I met there since he was one of the few photographers. Janis has published several photographic books which have won awards, including Oregon: The Taste of Wine, winner of a Gold medal for Best Regional Book in North America. Wine Spectator Magazine called it “one of the best reads for wine lovers.” Most recently he published China: The New Wine Frontier, for which he was subsidized by the Chinese government and a Chinese publisher. The book’s success enabled him to be flown to Beijing to win the “Best in the World” book award. Quite the adventure for a guy whose family fled communist-invaded Latvia and moved to California and Oregon!
I recently interviewed Janis Miglavs for Wine Wanderings.
See Transcription below for some of his travel, wine, and photography adventures.
In the meantime, feast your eyes on some of his work.
I have a framed “Janis Miglavs photograph” in the foyer of my home, one of the Screaming Eagles Vineyard. If you are interested in acquiring a similar photograph, visit his website: Janis Miglavs Photography. He is offering a 30% discount on his prints if you mention Wine Wanderings.
A Sample of Janis Miglavs Vineyard Photography
Transcription: An Interview with Janis Miglavs, Photographer
Tricia Conover, DipWSET, Editor Wine Wanderings (TC):
Welcome to Wine Wanderings. Today, I'm thrilled to be featuring Janis Miglavs, and we're going to talk about visual wine journeys. Welcome Janis. I'd like to give our readers a little background on you.
Janis Miglavs, Photographer (JM):
Well, thank you very much, Tricia. It's a real pleasure to be here. And it's nice to meet you again after a long, long separation, not seeing you for a long time.
(TC): I know it's been a while since we met each other at the Wine Writers Symposium in Napa Valley. And you were one of the most interesting people I met there, I believe. I want to give [the readers] a background on you.
You came to the USA as a boy from communist-invaded Latvia, became a US citizen, graduated with a BA from the University of California, Berkeley, and earned a Master of Fine Arts at California State University. Then, you became a high school art and photography teacher and a professional photographer, got married, then finally settled on professional photography as a career. Then you stumbled on to wine! Soon you're photographing vineyards around your rural home in Oregon. I understand you called Chronicle Books to suggest a book on Oregon vineyards. They said, “Yes,” but they suggested you also include Washington and the Okanagan Valley [wine regions] and British Columbia, too. I understand while you were doing that book, you [started to know] the difference between red and white wines. That's great!
But fast forward to now. You won the Gold Award from the Independent Book Publishers Association for the “Best Regional Book” on wine in North America. Wine Spectator Magazine said it was “one of the best reads for wine lovers.” Now, it's in its second printing. How wonderful is that? I know you and I talked about the fact that you've also done features for Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast [Magazine], and for the SommJournal.
What so struck me last time we talked was that you were hired by a Chinese publisher to do a book on wine in the Land of the Dragon. After traveling through the country you had to learn all those Chinese vineyard terms -- that must have been fun. You wrote and photographed a book called China, The New Wine Frontier. Wow, success. The government subsidized you for the writing of this book, and then they flew you First Class to Beijing to receive the “Best in the World” Book Award. Not bad for an Oregon guy. I have had one of your framed photographs for four year in the foyer of my home. It's the Screaming Eagles Vineyard. It's beautiful. I love your photographs.
(TC): Janis, what when did you start photographing vineyards? And where did you start?
(JM): We moved to a country home in northern Willamette Valley. And our neighbor just across our gravel road had a vineyard. We were surrounded with vineyards! I'd go riding my bicycle through the countryside. And there were all these vineyards! So, I thought I need to start taking some photographs. Because [they are] beautiful landscapes. That's how it started.
(TC): Nothing as beautiful as a vineyard.
(JM): I was doing work for National Geographic and [others.] So, I had some creds, and when I called you know, I said, “hey, let's, let's do a book on Oregon.” And they said, yes,
(TC): Credentials from National Geographic [Magazine] are pretty good creds. Of all the places you visited, can you share your most unusual vineyard location and situation?
(JM): So I have to learn Chinese [for wine terms.]
In China, it was interesting to learn how the Chinese drink wine; they call it: Gānbēi）And we call it “bottoms up.”
As the evening wears off, and you’re drinking like 10 or 12 glasses, I mean, that’s quite a bit.
So, I have to learn Chinese, for as the pourer pours [wine], I had to learn how to say” Zhǐshì yī diǎndiǎn,” Chinese for “just a little bit.”
I remember one time I had to carry out the head winemaker of a major winery, Oh gosh, lots of other adventures. In Ethiopia, I was photographing some tribal thinks and, on the way, out, I wanted to stop by a vineyard. We snuck in [the vineyard] and they stopped us when we were leaving. We were detained in this vineyard for trespassing. It was interesting talking our way out of that one! Just lots of adventures. I have a Chinese driver’s license, but I can’t read most of the signs on the highway. That’s an adventure just driving around through China.Interesting. I bet we could probably go on for hours on some of these adventures.
(TC): Tell me about the book award. You won it in China? How was that experience?
(JM): It was interesting. It’s like doing the book in China is a torturous experience. Like we have lots of battles. It's a huge book. It's a big tabletop book. And it weighs, I can't remember, like, two and a half kilos or about five pounds. I can't remember how many pages were in there. But we had lots of battles. When it was finally done, it was great, because a French culinary outfit called it “the best wine book in the world.” And I thought, well, that's not too bad. And then, like the publisher thought that was a big deal. And the Chinese government thought, well, that's a big deal, too. So, they paid my way over there.
(TC): Was there a big ceremony associated with that?
(JM): There was actually a huge [ceremony.] it was a food-writers convention. The wine was a sideline, as I recall. I think my book was the only wine book that that came up. My book actually hit “number one” in the wine category, “the best in the world.”
(TC): That's fabulous. Congratulations on that too. Speaking of wine, why don't we? What is your favorite wine?
(JM): People ask me that all the time. And I have to say, it's any wine that will give me an adventure. I've been fortunate to have tasted wine from all around the world. Obviously, here in Oregon, we're well known for the Pinot’s, so I've tasted Pinot’s from all around the world, especially against the Carneros [region in California,] the famous Carneros where I grew up. The famous Carneros Pinot’s, and I have to say that the Oregon wines have much more finesse and much more elegance.
(TC): Yes, they say they [Oregon Pinot Noir] are most the most like Burgundy, like a perfect Red
(JM): Yes, I would say, there’s quite a bit of difference between Burgundy, but yes, it has that same kind of finesse and that lightness to it and the color to it.
(TC): I prefer Oregon Pinots to [Red] Burgundy’s but that's just me. I have this beautiful [framed] picture of the Screaming Eagles Vineyard in my foyer, one that you took. How could our readers get a vineyard copy from you?
(JM): Probably the best way to do that is just to go to my website. That's https://www.jmiglavs.com/
If you go to Google, my name is the only Janis Miglavs in the world. So, you will have no troubles finding my website.
(TC): Well, I'm going to recommend to everybody to do that. Janis, thanks so much. Good to see you and thanks for being on Wine Wanderings.