Peter Aaron was 23 when he was commissioned by Alexis Lichine, the legendary wine writer and owner of Château Prieuré-Lichine, to provide photography for his latest book on the grands crus of Bordeaux. Aaron is the son of Sherry-Lehmann founder Sam Aaron (‘My father was a big deal in the wine business,’ he says matter-of-factly), but this was only the second time he’d been to Bordeaux. In the summer of 1969, he stayed at Château Bouscaut in Pessac-Léognan, and spent a month and a half in the vineyards and chais, photographing the everyday life of the great properties.
The pictures vibrate with life – you can almost smell the baked earth and the rich perfume of newly harvested grapes. This was half a century ago, but it’s by no means a vanished way of life: workers still gossip over the sorting table, there are horses in the vineyards again, and barrel design hasn’t changed in 3,000 years, let alone 50.
This is a cross section of Bordeaux, every rank from picker to maître de chai. ‘What was memorable for me was capturing the average worker in the vineyards,’ Aaron says. ‘The picture of the shepherd woman in traditional dress with her staff and her dog, at Yquem, is one of my favourites.’
Aaron is an acclaimed architectural photographer whose work is in high demand. He worked at Time-Life in the 1960s, training under the great architectural photographer Ezra Stoller, whom he consistently names as one of his major influences.
The Bordeaux series was shot on a Nikon F camera, almost entirely in black and white, which Aaron says he favoured over colour. ‘Looking back 50 years, black and white seems timeless,’ he adds. In the event, Lichine never finished his book. The pictures were published in issue 3 of Club Oenologique for the first time; apart from a show at the Alliance Française in New York in the 1980s, they have never been exhibited.