One of the most remarkable developments in the wine world over the past 25 years is the growth of wine education as a necessary element in the culture of wine. (This has also been accompanied by explosive growth in wineries throughout the world and the emergence of wine tourism as an important recreational activity as well.)
Almost all wine bars and many retail shops offer some educational activities. Educational activities are a fundamental marketing activity for most wineries. Certification programs such as WSET offer beginning courses that serve casual wine drinkers. And information about wine is ubiquitous on the Internet for people who want self-study.
People seem to take wine more seriously today as something that requires knowledge in order to get the most out of it. Wine consumption is not just a simple pleasure but something that engages our reason.
In response to these facts it is natural to seek out a philosophical theory of wine’s allure, since it appears to be the case that wine appreciation has some kind of rational structure.
Of course, I’m motivated by the mystery of my own experience as well. Why would a philosopher who writes primarily on ethics be so thoroughly drawn to the culture of wine?
I’ve encountered several winemakers who have an interest in philosophical questions about wine as well. Many of them had lucrative careers in other fields but found themselves inexorably drawn to the risks and uncertainties of wine. They want to be able to say something about the meaning and value of their work in a way that goes beyond mere personal interest.
What is that trick that wine “uses” to engage us?
The mid-20th Century painter Barnett Newman famously quipped “Aesthetics is for the artist as ornithology is for the birds,” suggesting that artists have little use for the abstractions of philosophers. .
Excessive abstraction is of course always a worry for philosophers. Which is why I maintain this blog, write wine reviews, and travel about visiting wineries. A philosophy of wine that isn’t related to the culture of wine is less than useless.
In fact, Newman was uncharitable to ornithologists. Ornithologists do great work protecting bird habitats although the birds don’t know it.
Perhaps something similar could be said of philosophers of wine, protecting the conceptual “habitat” of people for whom wine is more than just a beverage.