Fine Wine is a Fine Art

cezanne painting of wine bottleWinemaking is an art. Its production requires aesthetic sensibility and creativity.  It is an expressive medium expressing the character of the vineyard, region and vintage. It expresses the sensibility of the winemaker, the history and culture of the people who make it, and the vitality and creativity of nature. Wine has emotional resonance, symbolic and metaphorical meaning and narrative content. It is a collaboration between nature and culture and thus if you insist on putting it in a category, wine is a form of environmental art. Like music it creates bonds of community. Like painting and sculpture it expresses what the materials it is made of can do.

But one might grant all that but insist that, compared to painting or music, wine is trivial. I’ve heard such claims although when pressed the speaker can’t quite articulate why wine is trivial.

Wine has cultural significance. Many people devote their lives to making it or studying it. It is a central component in a proper meal that sustains life, family, and community. Its full appreciation requires substantial skill, experience and cognitive resources to grasp the significance of particular wines and how they fit into the wine world. Since the Ancient Greeks, many thoughtful people throughout history have considered wine an essential part of a life well lived. And it of course produces stunning, sometimes awe-inspiring sensory pleasure.

Granted, painting, music, and literature express truths about the human condition—war, peace, love, angst, the struggle for existence, etc. But wine expresses truths about our connection to nature, to the flux of variation and creative emergence, to geography, to home, and the joys and  importance of sensory experience. These are not trivial matters; they are at the foundation of the human condition.

There is no compelling argument that excludes wine from the realm of art.

2 comments

  1. You are preaching to the choir with me on this one, Dwight. Robert Mondavi used to say “making wine is a craft, making great wine is an art.”

    I do think it is valuable to differentiate between art and craft–I spend a whole lecture in my course on the Culture of Wine on this topic. Craft is making something well for a price. Art is making something great for yourself. See if that definition works.

    And one year I had a student who was also a professor in the art department, She memorably stated that art needs to be an exploration. Once it becomes standardized, it is a craft. Exploring the vagaries of vintage and vineyard might well be an art. Creating consistent wines for consumption in the market is a craft.

  2. Paul,

    I agree 100% with all of that except I’m not sure that artists make things for themselves. They are very much aware of their audience and they are trying to communicate. But I also think artists create their own standards. They are not aiming just to please but to follow their own intuition about what must be done.

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