“Wine is one of the most civilized things in the world and one of the most natural things of the world that has been brought to the greatest perfection, and it offers a greater range for enjoyment and appreciation than, possibly, any other purely sensory thing.+ —Ernest Hemingway from Death in the Afternoon”
This is the key to why wine’s popularity has persisted for millennia. Its appreciation at the highest levels requires a supremely cultivated, refined sensibility although its charms will enhance any social gathering and can be enjoyed by almost anyone. Yet it is fundamentally a product of nature, not because it begins as a crop but because its aesthetic properties are so shaped by climate, weather, and soil that it never loses its relationship to “the wild”, to factors beyond human control.
If we should ever learn to make wine in a laboratory according to a recipe, it would lose much of its charm.
With climate change already shaping human habitats, human existence increasingly looks like a struggle between wild, uncontrollable nature and the dream of absolute dominion. That struggle is materialized in your glass of wine. Of course by “nature” we can no longer mean untouched by human hands. There is no such nature at least on this planet. But there is the part of nature that, however influenced by human projects, escapes our drive for dominion. Ask any winemaker—wine is one of those wild things.
As nature disappears under the onslaught of technology, it becomes visible again only via cultural practices that symbolize the obduracy of nature, something that offers resistance to human intervention without being outside its orbit.
Wine serves as that kind of symbol, and its duality, sophisticated refinement and savage unpredictability, is in part what makes it fascinating.
Hemingway also said “I drink to make other people more interesting.” He understood people as well.