“Art itself appears as part and force of the tradition which perpetuates that which is, and prevents the realization of that which can and ought to be.”
Wine is art when an artist makes wine; otherwise, it is purely economics. This isn’t just provocative rhetoric. Commodities come into question when our resource management is reorganized. In our fast-changing world, art is something that must be protected. Is wine still something we should protect?
How is wine art? I tend to define art as a natural tendency of humankind. We are vital, creative, violent, and artistic by nature. Art is a moment with the sublime. Art is a void where we express the absurd and obscene pieces of us as to remind us why we sublimated them for society. Art should be protected and uncensored, so as to avoid becoming a commodity. Wine is farming at its bare rigor for the sole purpose of art. A winemaker is an aesthetic technician of skilled labor. There are three expressions of wine as art. Emotionalism, formalism, and imitationalism.
This is the most meta class of wine, and it’s usually misunderstood or overhyped. This is wine for its own sake, as a medium for exploration. I would call it the “true art” class of wine, insomuch as it subverts then contorts the structure of the other two classes. A dated wine list might refer to this as avant-garde.
Stagiare (California, Contra Costa county)
2019 It’s your birthday, (and all your enemies are dead!)
Summer stoop late night rant fuel. Bright, off-season blackberries from Wegmans. Grapefruit peel. Strawberries with the caps on.
No wine can escape process, but those wines that break new ground while hovering above subversive tend to fall in this category. These wines focus on form and style as a structure to play within. They typically don’t stray far from expectations, but choose process and known variables to craft something delicious. They are postmodernism in will, but traditionalism in mind.
Forge Cellars (Finger Lakes)
2018 Sunrise Hill Dry Riesling
Quintessential fall riesling vibes include ripe citrus edges poking through a round, and creamy structure. The ideal coming-home-for-the-holidays wine.
This is the pastiche of wine, a mostly bucolic, romantic expression of wine as art. It’s often the most commercialized aesthetic, as it is the most approachable. It is not wine in its truest form, but society’s ideology represented through wine. Technoromanticism in a high shoulder Bordeaux bottle.
Bedell Cellars (North Fork, Long Island)
Here’s a classic American burger, but from the new brewpub. Chonky oak. Squeezed red cherry and black plum. Some tomato. Light on the mayo. Served in the big cup out of necessity.
How is wine not art? The bulk of wine is purely commodity. The concept of making wine requires a limiting factor of capital. Most wine comes from a place outside of prioritizing artistic expression. Wine becomes a commodity once it loses its subversive “artistic” label. Distributors, like art galleries, are phantoms of an earlier exploitive era. They become the owner of the art, subjugating the phantom artist that fills the space of the winemaker. The fetishization of wine becomes the commercialization of wine.
Therefore, if art is organized by capital, wine cannot be art unless it is subversive to the standard. Wine then becomes a craft, a good, an item to be weighed for its value only as far as its tangible experience is necessary. Wine must be protected, which means that wine must no longer be considered a renewable commodity without consequence. We are approaching a period of catastrophic shortages of water, food, and the resources necessary for the act of farming, thanks to exploitive human expansion and climate change. Wine as a commodity is the poison to wine as an art, because to commodify art is to flatten culture.