Is This Wine a Work of Art?

wine bottle and glassWhat makes a wine meaningful?

Some wines are an exploration of what can be done with soil, weather,  grapes, yeast, wood, and the human body, especially the body’s sensitivity toward taste and flavor. The exploration part is essential. If you’re not curious about what can be done with these materials, you likely won’t consistently make good wine or  learn how to appreciate it.

20th Century German philosopher Theodor Adorno wrote that art is ‘‘the image of what is beyond exchange.” Unlike a replaceable commodity, a genuine work of art is meaningful because its creation (or performance) is a distinctive, singular act of discovery.

This provides us with a simple criterion for whether a particular wine is a work of art.

Ask one of these two questions:

If this winemaker were not around could someone else have made this wine?

If this plot of land did not exist could this wine have been made elsewhere?

If the answer is yes to either of these questions, the wine is not a work of art. It’s a commercial or industrial product.

If the answer is no, then it is.


  1. That was a very strong piece, Dwight. Very helpful.

    A question: can you tell me where Adorno said that art is ‘‘the image of what is beyond exchange”? That’s a great quote. I’d love to know the source.


  2. I am going to disagree with the need for a sense of place in wine. Painters often use the same paints and yet create wildly different works of art–just as musicians use the same notes and instruments. Shouldn’t winemakers be allowed to use grapes from different regions, let alone different vineyards, to create a specific vision…and thus art?

    To me, the real question is whether the decisions for making the wine are in any way related to volume. If a winemaker makes choices based on vision, then let’s consider that wine an attempt at art. The minute a winemaker expands that process to include making a certain commercial quantity of wine, then we have craft, not art.

    And there are damn few winemakers who don’t do that.

  3. Hi Paul,
    I entirely agree. That is why in the piece I said “ask one of these two questions.
    If this winemaker were not around could someone else have made this wine?”
    A winemaker’s vision to the extent it is distinctive qualifies it as a work of art.

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