On Winery Visits and the Aesthetics of Toil

winery harvest 2Most aesthetics is dominated by an aesthetics of distance, especially distance from the origins of a work. The aesthetics of wine is no exception. Just as we learn to appreciate a finished painting, so we learn to appreciate a finished wine. And although we pay attention to what the finished wine reveals about the geographic location in which the grapes were grown or the community in which it was made, we are still distanced from that time and place. We consume a wine many years after it was made and often many miles from the land that gave birth to it.

But the wine world is not satisfied with this distance. Winery visits have become the norm not only for journalists, writers, and students of wine but for consumers as well. This gets us closer to a different kind of aesthetic experience, one in which farming activities, toil, and hardship play a central role

The aesthetics of viticulture is an aesthetics of active, precise, sensuous discrimination in a constantly changing environment. Thus, it is appropriate to call it an “aesthetics.”  The anticipation of a change in weather; subtle shifts in wind patterns; changes in humidity which dictate a change in work processes; the feel of the location on the vine to be pruned; the visual presentation of nascent disease; or of ripening patterns in the vineyard that indicate the rescheduling of the harvest; the interrupted hum of a tractor engine about to sputter and stop; the silence of the vineyard when the work stops—all contribute to the aesthetics of the work process that is part of the allure of wine.

There is also the rhythm of the seasons and the repetition of the seasonal work that must be done each year. But also the sensitivity and engagement required to recognize the disruptive fluctuations in that seasonal repetition that mark the difference between success and failure in a particular vintage.

The aesthetics of work perhaps most importantly includes the sensuous pleasure of a job well done—the precision of a pruned vineyard, the gleam of polished winery equipment, the coordinated flow of efficient pickers on a chilly harvest morning, or the perfect execution of racking juice from one container to another. These are moments appreciated because the sensuous pleasure was earned by hard labor.

Of course, as visitors to a winery our experience of this dimension is second or third hand. An in-depth tour will give us a glimpse of that aesthetic experience that only the people doing the labor can have in its full blown intensity.

It’s only an aesthetics of “sight-seeing” after all made possible by disposable time and income. But one of the joys of wine appreciation nevertheless.

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