Wine philosophy 101

A few weeks ago, one of my wine contacts, Jason, wanted to know if my aim is to talk about wine philosophically. He said that often my wine musings seem to go in that direction.

I’m not sure whether or not that is my aim. When I started Vinofictions I wanted to make blog entries that I thought would serve to dispel the many myths surrounding the subject of wine. But like anything we set out to do, surprises lurk around every corner.

The thing that surprised me most was my naiveté about wine geeks. Not being a geek myself, I don’t suppose I had a handle on what it meant to be a wine geek. What I’ve discovered more often than not is that far too many wine geeks already know everything there is to know—dispelling myths for people who have the answers gets you nowhere.

The other thing I’ve learned is that I don’t know as much as I thought I knew. I admit to shuddering each time I hear a pompous wine know-it-all—makes me think that I must have sounded like that once before. Ooh nooo!

A few months ago, I posted a series of questions on this subject. It was in response to a blog entry that Tom Wark made at Fermentation. Looking at them today, the questions seem to me to be framed in an academic-like syntax. Yuck. Let me re-do those questions here and then let’s see what I can come up with for answers.

1. Why should we have a relationship with wine?

No law says that we must. But by not having a relationship with wine we certainly miss some real pleasures.

2. Why do we feel the need to agree or to disagree about wine?

Because the insecure among us either like to tell others what to do or we need approval from others—or both.

3. What makes an individual think he or she is the arbiter of taste or of anything connected to wine?

I suppose the answer to number 2 fits here as well, but there may be another dynamic at work. Some people really do believe that they are superior.

4. Why can’t we simply enjoy wine without having to dissect and obsess over it?

All of the above.

This subject came back to me after another thread on Fermentation a few weeks ago. I was truly annoyed with the attitude of a certain wine writer.

This writer has made a splash recently by attacking Robert Parker—nothing new there. But the writer has, I think, taken the crusade a little too far.

In the world view of this writer, if a person producing wine isn’t the one who digs in the dirt, prunes the vines, ties the tendrils to trellis, hauls the grapes, and whatever other manual labor involved, then that person has no right to claim a connection to terroir.

The first thing I notice about comments like that is when they come from writers who have never dug in the dirt, pruned the vines, tied, or worked anywhere near a vineyard as a profession. The second thing I notice is that the person with such beliefs has a difficult time explaining not only the concept of terroir (which everyone has trouble explaining) but also what gives validity to those beliefs.

Everyone has a right to an opinion about anything but, in my view, an opinion is worth as much as the facts that come with it to support it.  The concept of terroir is based less on facts than on beliefs. Likewise, the concept that you can’t be a real wine producer unless you do all of the work yourself is nothing more than spiritual wishing. It belies a lack of understanding that makes me suspicious of the person’s wine writing.

Don’t get me wrong: I believe in the concept of terroir. I am a gardener, and I once was a grape grower and winemaker. I know that what you grow from the soil gives you a portion of what is in the soil. But I sure as hell don’t know how, and I sure as hell don’t think I must do all the work in the garden for that marvelous transformation to take place.

It’s one thing to have subjective likes and dislikes, but it’s quite another to proclaim that you have a lock on the truth, especially when you haven’t bothered to do the research yourself.

If the above is a philosophical argument, so be it. To me, it’s just one man’s opinion…

Copyright Thomas Pellechia
November 2008. All rights reserved.

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