Laura Chenel

Laura Chenel started a small farm in the Sonoma county during the late 70s and among the bees, chickens and vegetables, raised goats. She needed to do something with all the milk the goats were producing so she started making cheese. In doing so, Chenel became the first in America to commercially make goat cheese and is considered by some to have started the artisan cheese movement in the states. Soon, her chevre became a big hit. At Chez Panisse, where Alice Waters was an early booster, the Baked Goat Cheese with Salad is such an iconic dish, it's the only item they cannot remove from the menu without incurring the wrath of the diners.

But that was another lifetime ago. Chenel is now retired. She sold her namesake company in 2006 having grown tired of raising the goats and running the company. She now lives a quiet life in a beautiful house on top of a hill in Napa.

I photographed her in January during a week of torrential downpour. It seemed as if California was trying to make up for the past five years of drought in one week! It rained during most of the drive from Santa Rosa to her place in Napa valley so I was planning on photographing her inside. Just before I reached her place, the rain slowed to light mist. One obvious benefit from the much needed rain was the lush green landscape. Next to the front gate to her place runs a creek. The contours of the creek bed with the rocks and trees all covered in green leaves and moss with the water churning through from the rain made it seem like a setting from a woodland fairy tale or an Andy Goldsworthy installation. We walked around her place to look at other possible settings but my mind kept going back to the creek. By sheer luck of timing, the rain stopped just enough to make it possible for me to photograph Chenel there.

Once we were done with the shoot, the rain started up again and continued for the drive back to Santa Rosa and throughout the week. But somehow, that one moment when I needed it to stop, it stopped. Just dumb luck, I guess.