Freemark Abbey: A Study in Style


Freemark Abbey is to California wine what Tiffany is to jewelry: timeless, classic, and synonymous with quality.

With roots dating back to the 1880s, Freemark Abbey is a storied Napa Valley winery with a storied history. It was founded by Josephine Tychson, the second woman in Napa Valley history to construct and operate a winery. It was also the only California winery to showcase two wines at the Judgment of Paris, the famous wine competition pitting California wines against French wines in 1976. Both of Freemark Abbey’s submissions placed in the top 10, catapulting the small vineyard onto the world winemaker stage. 

In 2020, Freemark Abbey came full circle by hiring Kristy Melton as their winemaker, the first female winemaker since Josephine Tychson crushed her first grapes in the fall of 1886.

In an effort to honor its history while celebrating its future, Freemark Abbey’s parent company, Jackson Family Wines, reached out to Slow Clap, to produce a series of short documentaries highlighting the winery’s rich heritage and continued commitment to creating exceptional wines. Slow Clap had previously produced a brand story video for La Crema, another member of Jackson Family Wines’ impressive portfolio of wineries, and the team was excited for an opportunity to get out of San Francisco and engage in video production in Napa Valley.


“[Working with Slow Clap] was great – they were very professional, responsive, and open to ideas.”

– Nikita Kubiak, Digital Marketing Director at Jackson Family Wines


One of Freemark Abbey’s vineyards in Napa Valley.

Freemark Abbey wanted to focus on a number of topics spanning the entire history of the winery. In order to accomplish this without overwhelming their audience, they decided that five short videos would be the ideal approach. Slow Clap worked with the Freemark Abbey team to determine the five chapters of the story, starting with the founding of Freemark Abbey in 1886, to the fateful Judgment of Paris 100 years later, ending with present-day and female winemaker Kristy Melton at the helm. 


Freemark Abbey has a distinctive style for its interior brand photography: dramatic, elegant, and cinematic. It is achieved with a soft, large light source that dramatically falls off the background, resulting in a high-contrast look and a background that fades to black. 

Freemark Abbey’s Distinctive Look

It was important that Slow Clap’s interior shots matched the distinct look and feel that had been carefully crafted by the Freemark Abbey team. 

This visual style is challenging to pull off in a documentary-style video production because it requires precision and control in a filming environment that is often more spontaneous, scrappy, and tends to utilize the available light in a subject’s natural surroundings.

“With a scripted piece, you have the full control and ability to do whatever you want. Maybe you’re working with actors on a stage; you can bring in as many lights as you want, you can take the time you need to get the shots you need. With a doc-style piece, controlling it with that much nuance can stifle the creatives and the story itself. You risk the authenticity of the footage. So you want to walk a fine line between getting that heightened visual feel, getting the right lights in there while using as few lights as possible and keeping the crew as small as possible in order to capture authentic, uninterrupted moments and performances.”

– Dan Lichtenberg, Creative Director, Slow Clap 

In order to achieve this nuanced lighting style with a small footprint of equipment and crew members, Slow Clap began by designing a detailed lighting plan that outlined the equipment, how it would be used, and its precise placement on set. 

A page from Slow Clap’s lighting plan detailing the lighting setup for one of the interview setups.

The view from behind the camera

Slow Clap’s production team determined the ideal lighting scheme for the interview shots would  entail a large, 600-watt light to illuminate the subject, a 200-watt rim light to cast light on the back of the subject and create separation from the background, and a 200-watt light to illuminate the wine barrels incorporated into the background. 

The resulting interview setup.

In addition to the lights, the production team utilized a variety of modifiers such as grids, snoots and flags to control and block the light, creating what is known as “negative fill.”

“Negative Fill is removing light or creating shadow in an image. When you light something,  it’s important to think about what you want to light and how you want to shape it. You won’t be able to shape light in a pleasing way without negative fill.”

 Jake Richard, Camera Operator, Slow Clap  

The fill side of the subject’s face is a dramatic falloff from bright to dark, which compliments Freemark Abbey’s visual brand identity – historic, elevated, and refined. 

Slow Clap also worked with Freemark Abbey to acquire the wine cellar as a filming location; a large space with a dearth of natural light. This location made it much easier for the team to control the surroundings and successfully pull off the lighting plan. 

The Freemark Abbey Wine Cellar

Just as a bottle of wine is only as good as the grapes used in its production, a series of wine videos aren’t complete without showcasing the bucolic vineyards where the grapes are produced. Instead of trying to replicate the dramatic interior lighting, Slow Clap took a page out of the book of Missy Elliott: they flipped it and reversed it:

“The visual style we came up with was sort of the inverse of what our interiors were. Our subjects were backlit, sort of silhouetted, whereas the interior is where the subjects were basically the only thing that was fully exposed and the background falls away. With the exteriors, the background was the main thing that was properly exposed and the subjects almost fall away into silhouette.”

– Dan Lichtenberg, Creative Director, Slow Clap

In order to achieve this look, Slow Clap filmed all of the outdoor scenes during golden hour, the last hour before sunset and the hour after sunrise, which ensured the sun was close to the horizon. The subjects were then placed with their backs to the sun to achieve the semi-silhouetted look. 

Filming on the grounds of Freemark Abbey

The result was an elegant contrasting image to complement the interior scenes.

An outdoor shoot featuring the well-lit background and semi-silhouetted subject



Thanks to careful planning and vision, Slow Clap was able to successfully deliver five docustyle vignettes that were visually and stylistically on brand for Freemark Abbey. The videos won Double Gold in the 2022 Barleycorn Award video category and a Gold Telly Award in the Short Documentary Branded Content category.

In addition to video accolades, the John Barleycorn Awards, which honor innovative work in the wine and spirits industry, tapped Slow Clap as the 2022 marketer of the year


“The videos were well received. They were very informative and high-quality, and they told the Freemark Abbey story well. We have the videos across our website and run paid ad campaigns utilizing cut-downs of the long-form video. These helped drive brand awareness and engagement.”

– Nikita Kubiak, Digital Marketing Director at Jackson Family Wines

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