A sweeping landscape of Bien Nacido Vineyards in Santa Maria graces the cover of Vines & Vision: The Winemakers of Santa Barbara County, a new book from writer Matt Kettmann and photojournalist Macduff Everton. The duo first collaborated in early 2017, when Kettmann contributed a chapter to a group cookbook, Around the Table: Recipes and Stories from the Lark in Santa Barbara, which Everton co-published and provided photography for.
“But we didn’t meet in person until later that fall, over pints of Guinness at the James Joyce pub on State Street,” Kettmann, senior editor at the Santa Barbara Independent, recalled. “That’s when Macduff proposed that we do a wine book together, and I agreed, thinking it would be an easy affair.”
Everton pitched the book to Kettmann as the first of its kind, he explained.
“I mentioned to Matt there were umpteen books on Napa, Sonoma, and other wine regions, but there wasn’t a single contemporary one for Santa Barbara County and that was crazy,” Everton said. “We have world-class wines, unique geography that is gorgeous. Why don’t we do one? Between us, we had decades of experience—who better to do it than ourselves?”
“Three years of hard work later, Vines & Vision was finally released,” Kettmann said.
At 632 pages in length, Vines & Vision profiles about 100 different winemakers through in-depth reporting from Kettmann and stunning, intimate photography from Everton. Described as a deep dive into Santa Barbara County’s wine culture, the book features chapters on history, geography, viticulture, and relevant trends within the industry, including the popularity Sideways brought to the region after its release in 2004 and challenges local winemakers have faced as a result of the ongoing pandemic.
Given the current difficulties of visiting wine country, Vines & Vision offers readers a way to explore the region’s wineries and vineyards from the safety of their own homes, Kettmann said.
Kettmann originally assumed Vines & Vision would be a relatively undemanding project, as both he and Everton had already immersed themselves into the regional wine scene during their respective careers.
“Macduff has sporadically photographed Santa Barbara wine country since the 1980s, and I had been covering it as a journalist since 2000, both for the Independent as well as Wine Spectator (2004-2013), Wine Enthusiast (2014-present), and other publications like The New York Times and Sunset,” Kettmann said.
“I already knew all of the main players and properties personally, had good relationships with most everyone, and I thought it would be relatively straightforward to pull off,” he continued. “More or less it was, but it still required a serious amount of work. Macduff was shooting weekly, sometimes daily, for at least two years, and I spent the better part of 18 months interviewing and writing.”
For Everton, the biggest monkey wrench during the editing process was not being able to sit side by side with Kettmann in person to proofread the book and make corrections together.
“Instead, Matt printed out the book, then emailed me the corrections, and I’d upload the corrected pages or send PDFs,” Everton said. “In any good collaboration, the sum is greater than its parts. I think Matt will agree that we have a pretty easy relationship and good work ethic so things get done without much drama—the pandemic provided that, making it much more difficult to work together.”
Both co-authors share backgrounds in anthropology as well as journalism, which Everton said is the reason Vines & Vision is more about the men and women behind the wine rather than the wine itself.
“That’s why so much of the book is about the people, and why we included the Buen Equipo chapter—why hasn’t anybody else given similar recognition to vineyard workers? Winemakers are the first to tell you how important they are,” Everton said.
The chapter Everton referred to, one both he and Kettmann are especially proud of, is dedicated to showcasing several vineyard workers based in Santa Barbara County, “most prominently the farm laborers who are typically overlooked in books of this sort,” Kettmann said.
Kettmann also summarized the reporting in Vines & Vision as focusing more on the people and places involved, “not so much on bottled goods.”
“Many of Everton’s shots capture winemakers doing non-wine things, so we like to say that it’s a wine book that’s not really about wine,” Kettmann said.
For Everton, the end result of both journalists’ extensive efforts is merely “a snapshot—a time capsule—of winemaking in SB County,” he explained.
“The book is 632 pages already and easily could have been a couple hundred more,” Everton said. “We could have continued working indefinitely as changes are occurring as we speak—the pandemic, fires, drought, personnel changes at wineries and vineyards. But we had to stop.
“Originally I was designing it to be 12-by-12, but we decided 9 1/2-by-11 was more lap friendly,” he added. “As it is, it weighs 8 pounds. Imagine if we’d kept the 12-by-12 dimensions—you’d need a note from your doctor to lift it.”
Drop Arts Editor Caleb Wiseblood a vine at firstname.lastname@example.org.