This past Monday, I found myself wanting to refresh and energize my soul with a bit of high culture. For me movies, music and museums always seem to do the trick. A great film, soulful music and a well executed art exhibit always seem to give me a little boost, a pick me up if you will, and a renewed faith in the human spirit. What can I say, surfing the internet and reading the latest celebrity gossip or breaking news can often leave me feeling very similar to after I’ve eaten a bad greasy donut. Why did I eat that? I feel fat and stupid.
How Wine Became Modern: Design + Wine 1976 to Now is an exhibit currently running at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and Monday was my day to check it out!
Per the SFMOMA program guide, the objective of the exhibit was to present.. “An exploration of contemporary wine culture and the role of architecture, design and media have played in its recent evolution-a chance to discover wine as you’ve never seen it before.”
Of course, as I am nose deep in the ‘wine biz’ I was already familiar with many of the concepts and developments presented throughout the exhibit. HOWEVER, I have to say that I was extremely impressed by the works that were presented, as well as how the recent developments (1976 to present) in wine were so artfully conveyed to the viewer.
My first case in point, this re-creation of the famed 1976 “Judgement of Paris” wine tasting, wherein an English wine merchant by the name of Steven Spurrier conducted a blind tasting in Paris with a coterie of (mostly) French and British judges. A selection of french and american chardonnays (10) and cabernet/bordeaux (10) wines were tasted blind and rated on their intrinsic qualities. After the tastings and critiques were made covered bottles were revealed.
The results sent shockwaves through the world of wine. The #1 wines in each category were not from the hallowed vineyards of Burgundy or Bordeaux, but from the sunny shores of California. 1973 Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars and 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay had run the gauntlet and beaten the big guns. As a result of this historic tasting, wine from the new world and more specifically California transcended to a whole new level of prestige and acceptance. A new world age in wine had officially begun.
In homage to this historic tasting (only one journalist was present), the design firm of Diller, Scofidio + Renfro (DS+R) created this fictionalized mural depicting what perhaps the Judgement of Paris tasting entailed. From a visual standpoint, the mural was a striking piece and one of the first installations that the viewer enjoyed after reading up on the actual event.
From the Last Supper-esque Judgement of Paris mural, I entered the darkly lit “terroir” room. Here (I believe) 14 wineries from across the globe were showcased in the exhibit. I’ve zero-ed in on Germany’s ambassador, the venerable J.J. Prum and the “Sundial” or Wehlener Sonnenuhr vineyard. In the circular glass case, crushed shards of mostly blue slate yield some of the most elegant and mineral laden wines of Germany’s Mosel wine region. Vines of 30-44-50+ years of age struggle to find their way through this metamorphic rock, and the results truly express the unique terroir (soil, aspect, climate) of the vineyard.
The concept of terroir really hit home when I rounded the corner and was presented with this stunning specimen of a vine. a cabernet vine: “Vine in two Parts” was comprised of an American 110R rootstock below and a cabernet sauvignon clone 7 vine grafted onto it above. The vine was planted in 1985 and uprooted in 2010. At 8+ feet, one really gets a sense of of how these vines root themselves to and then ultimately transmit the terroir or specific characteristics of their immediate environment.
This video presentation was being projected on the museum floor, thus simulating the viewpoint that one would experience if employing the high tech practices of precision viticulture. Utilizing global positioning systems (GPS), meteorologic stations and digital elevation models (DEM) wineries are able to fine tune their viticultural practices and increase yields, while mitigating environmental risks. This video is a 1 minute, edited version of the original. The music track (Crystal Castles II, Empathy) is my doing as well.
Wine and wine growing isn’t all science to be sure. A beautiful display of blown glass decanters were also showcased directly behind the PV video installation. This stunning “petit coeur” or little heart/aorta from artist Etienne Meneau is a new found object that I am coveting. As you can imagine, the production on this piece is extremely limited.
A third room revealed an impressive gallery of photographs. One instillation, which took up an entire wall, was a profile of approximately 30 wineries around the world exemplifying cutting edge, modern design. In particular, one winery profile that resonated with me is located right in my back yard, at least from a global perspective.
CADE winery is located in Napa Valley’s Howell Mountain district. In addition to it’s beautiful minimalist modern design, CADE is Napa Valley’s first organically farmed and LEED Gold certified winery. There aren’t too many of these wineries around (Stoller Vineyards in the Willamette Valley is another) and I am impressed with their commitment towards building a striking and environmentally sustainable winery.
In 2000, a 6L of 1992 Screaming Eagle sold at auction for the staggering price of $500,000. Such is the fame or infamy of cult wines.
How do these wine ultimately fetch such stratospheric prices and become such objects of desire? Some would quickly point out that critiques from publications like the Wine Advocate (Robert Parker) and The Wine Spectator are considerable factors.
Since its first publication in 1978, Robert Parker and his monthly publication the Wine Advocate has reviewed thousands upon thousands of wines and rated them using a 50-100 point scale. Over the past 30 years he himself has developed a cult-like following, with collectors waiting with bated breath to quickly scoop up wines that Parker anoints with 95-96-97 and once in a great while 100 point ratings.
Juxtapose Parker’s monthly publication (no pics, tons of tiny text) to Kami no Shizuku, the Japanese magna that moves and shakes the wine drinking world of Japan, Asia and beyond. Translated in english to “the drops of God”, this ongoing graphic series follows a young hero by the name of Shizuku Kanzaki as he must uncover the identity of 13 of the greatest wines (12 “apostles + the legendary Kami no Shizuku) as described in his late father’s will.
However time is of the essence, as the young wine neophyte must compete against his half brother, a gifted sommelier no less, in order to succeed and ultimately inherit the wine collection worth ¥20 billion.
To say that Kami no Shizuku influences the Asian wine world is an understatement. It rocks it. Whenever a particular wine is featured in the comic (and they’re not always cult or super pricey wines) sales go through the roof. Apparently, a feature in Kami no Shizuku is as good as a 95 point rating in the WA.
My friend Valerie, who lives in the Rhone Valley and represents the Cave de Rasteau, recently brought me two installments of Kami no Shizuku. The next time I am in France, I will be sure to seek out additional copies. They’re great fun, and for me a really refreshing and inventive way of presenting wine.
Much like this exhibit. I certainly didn’t cover all of the installations at How Wine Became Modern, but hopefully this synposis has peaked your interest. If you are in SF between now and April 17th 2011, I definitely suggest you stop by the SFMOMA for some vinous inspiration and education.
NEXT: A Ridge Retrospective