I’ve had this blog post in the drawer for weeks thinking that it would be something that no one but me would be interested in debating. Apparently I was wrong. I read this post this morning on Vinography and it inspired me to publish it. http://www.vinography.com/archives/2011/02/a_short_conversation_between_w.html
From my viewpoint as a winemaker as well as the daughter of an artist, wine is art and winemaking is an art form. Many of the arguments to show that wine is not art point to its roots in science, the single moment of a wine’s performance, or the large amount of inexpensive “everyday” wine that is produced.
To address the science argument, I would point you in the direction of any serious sculptor, glass artist, or potter and ask them how much science they use on a daily basis and how their art has been improved by the use of science. Their works are not less artful because they use science. I would argue that they are more able to allow their true purpose in creating their pieces to shine through because of the higher understanding of the underlying forces at work and being able to use those forces to capture the piece’s essence. Wine is the same. We, as winemakers, are able to make more elegant wines, more efficiently, with less flaws and a capture a greater purity of fruit through what we have learned from science. The art appears through our interpretation of what the fruit gives us which is what is communicated in the final product. Of course this level of detail and finesse generally is only found in high end wines. Likewise the truly great works of art are only a small percentage of the total world of any art.
The other argument I’ve heard is that wine, unlike art, doesn’t last to be appreciated by many people. It can only be enjoyed once by a few people for each bottle. While this is true it is no different than any other Performing Art. A Ballet will only be that ballet once for that single night. Anyone who has ever performed on stage will understand that each performance is different depending on the cast, crew, and audience. The vibe is different each night and some nights are better than others even though you’re performing the exact same choreography each night. Winemaking is a Performing Art. Each harvest we’re doing the same things, trying to get to the same result of perfection, yet each year the wines turn out a bit differently. It will not always be the same and it is up to the winemaker to have the knowledge as to when follow the norm and when to ad lib so the performance is not a disaster.
The final argument against wine as art, that I have heard, is the large amount of inexpensive wine that is produced in proportion to the gems of the wine world. I’d have to say that if you don’t believe that art is produced in the same quality proportions as wine go take a look around the closest craft store in the wall décor section. If one follows the argument that winemaking is not an art due to the mass amount of cheap plonk produced then it follows that art itself must not be as well because of the large amount of widely available reproduced paintings, photos, and sculpture (think garden gnomes!) that are sold and likely more widely digested by the human population than wine is. Not everyone drinks wine but I have yet to walk into a house which does not have some kind of wall décor, very little of it being termed “fine art”.
What art is, is something that a person interacts with either through seeing, hearing (as in music), touching, or tasting. It evokes feeling or memories. Art doesn’t have to be comfortable or even something you like. The wines I remember the clearest are the ones that I absolutely would never drink again side by side with the ones that were once in a lifetime tastes of brilliance. Wine also goes through global stylistic changes just as Art does. Winemakers wait anxiously for reviews just as Artists do. Wine is our form of artistic expression and an outward statement of what we want to convey to our consumers.