Is Wine An Expression Of Art?

Pretending to be a vinosopher automatically makes you vulnerable to people who come up with the most creative questions imaginable. Sometimes these are indeed complex issues and thinking about them inexorably leads to drinking more wine because they are, well, important and hard (at least for the one who’s asking). One of those questions asked was “Is wine an expression of art?”. When trying to find the answer to that one we first need to define, what is art? And if we know what makes something art, we still have to explore if these expressions can be attributed to wine. The remaining question is then, can these expressions be shaped by the winemaker as being the artist?

The aim of art is not to represent the outward appearance of things,
but their inward significance.

What is art?

Speaking about art means speaking about aesthetics. But when we want to grasp aesthetics we fail to explain it by analysis or decomposition of the object or the expression of art. This is because scientific analysis cannot address the emergent properties of an item as a whole. Scientific methods usually seek to provide an objective assessment of the constituting parts, which by design exclude the aesthetic appreciation of the item as a whole.

An object of art is an item or a performance which encapsulates a mystery that unfolds over time, which sparks our imagination and draws us to it. This is manifested by sensing that something is pregnant with attractive or exquisite possibilities. Art arises from creativity, it possesses expressiveness and causes aesthetic experiences.

We do not experience aesthetics because we have reasons to do so. Art as an expression is always a concomitant result of a symbiosis between nature and culture. An aesthetic experience is a feeling of originality and beauty, based on perception and sensibility.

Can wine express art?

If we know what art is, is then wine a proper object of aesthetic categories and can they enrich our experience of wine? So, is wine a medium suitable to express aesthetics? For me it is, as wine is a living thing that plays a permanent dance between nature and culture, creating emerging properties like elegance, intensity and complexity.

It is not just the sensory qualities that matter. It is also the potential for further engagement, signaled by those sensory qualities, that captivates a promise of things to come that sparks the imagination.

The attraction of great art is the moment of ecstasy it brings. Most of us (hopefully) do recognize that you can (maybe not always) experience such moments when drinking quality wine. For me, no other pure beverage has the depth and complexity to create that momentary climax.

There are aesthetics in everything, but not everyone sees it.
(paraphrased from Confucius)

Can these expressions be shaped by the winemaker?

Wine is a joined achievement of nature, culture and the winemaker. The way in which these come together in a specific wine is fundamental to the expressions of emerging properties like elegance, intensity and complexity. So the question is to what extent can the winemaker control the characteristics of the final product? Of course, the winemaker has no ultimate control over the quality of the grapes, as the climate is beyond his reach. But are there other conditions, which he can control, which are sufficient determinants to shape the artistic expressions of the wine? In that respect, the most important feature to look for in a wine is the degree to which the wine is distinctive, in terms of high quality.

Looking at the question asked we need to realize of course that wines can be made in various different ways. On the one hand, there are big wine companies that make industrial products, where brands are distinguished by marketing. On the other hand, there are small producers who work with traditional craftsmanship and adhere to the ideology that the winemaker’s role is to allow the distinctive characteristics of the grapes and the terroir to be expressed to their optimum. And of course, in between there are innumerable variations. So obviously the production method where craftsmanship is leading is the most promising production method for thinking about aesthetics.

If you work with your hands, you’re a laborer.
If you work with your hands and your mind, you’re a craftsman.
If you work with your hands and your mind and your heart, you’re an artist.
(Francis of Assisi)

So for me, wine made by traditional and inspired craftsmen, who are able to create a stable, specific terroir related expression in the wine, is absolutely an expression of art. An expression that reflects a dynamic dance between nature, culture and the winemaker. Such a winemaker is able to create consistent emerging properties, like a recognizable complexity, intensity and elegance. For those, I would plead for qualifying their wine as an expression of art. The experience of drinking such a wine is then the ultimate enjoyment of that piece of art because the object of art even vanishes with the experience.

Good vibes!

Corné van Nijhuis
World’s first self-declared Vinosopher

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