When McLuhan saw the typo he exclaimed, ‘Leave it alone! It’s great’ Thus there are now four possible readings for the last word of the title, all of them accurate: Message, Mess Age, Massage, and Mass Age.
One of the aspects of the “information age” that I find troubling is the fixation on the media and not the information. Everyone seems to be pre-occupied by how something is said instead of what is said. More effort is used up deciding whether to use email, text, blog, twitter, facebook, pintrest, tumblr, google+, wuphf… then is used in thinking about what is to be said. The world seems more concerned with the quality of the devices used for retrieval and display, and less about the creating content of actual quality or use. The end product of this type of thinking is the creation of a veritable cacophony of insipid information. I find many similarities to this when getting involved in the discussion of wine. Too often the conversation is limited to the media, in this case wine, and the content goes missing.
Franz Lebowitz famously said “Great people talk about ideas, average people talk about things, and small people talk about wine.” Whereas most people that align themselves professionally with wine simply bristle at this notion, I whole heartedly agree. I can’t think of a worse group of dinner companions then a group omphaloskeptic wine experts humming a mantra of aromatics and phenolics to each other all night. I like to think of wine as a portal to almost any topic one finds fascinating. The more one learns about wine, the more one is exposed to the fundamental ideas behind it.
Whenever I give a cellar tour, host a tasting, or walk guest through the vineyard, my singular goal is to take the questions given to me and answer by thinking about bigger concepts. In this way, we can move beyond the superficial and towards the profound. Luckily, I have found that most questions people have about wine are quite easily shifted in a more interesting directions. This in turn creates a deeper understanding of the topic and of one’s own beliefs and opinions.
For example, when asked about using French, Hungarian, or American barrels, the conversation can take all sorts of turns. What is an oak tree’s perspective on human created geopolitical borders? How old world and new world forest management techniques describe the different views each have on the abundance of natural resources. Or perhaps, the evolution of American cooperage technique which was initially based on storing sea faring and colonial salt pork, moved on to whiskey storage, and only recently embraced the unique needs of wine ageing.
The discussion of wine tasting and reviewing easily lends itself to thinking about the nature of perception and individuality. Wine’s intrinsic role in commensality is the perfect stepping off point for demonstrating the unique way each of us experiences the shared moment. The list of possible topics that can begin with wine is nearly endless. Arguing the merits of modern, organic, or biodynamic farming techniques is tantamount to thinking about how best to be sheppards of this planet. When we talk of the relative importance of the vineyard and the vintner in the creation of a bottle of wine, we are really feeling out our thoughts on nature vs. nurture. This is why there is so much written about wine, why wine blogs like this one seem to be in every corner of the internet. Wine is truly intertwined with the human condition.
Of course, drinking a glass of wine with friends does not require that a class of Philosophy 101 begin each night. Most commonly, wine is just the first spark of a long night spent talking about family, friendship, food, travel, culture, the arts; the topics that make life so enjoyable. So please, do take the time to learn as much as you can about wine. Not so you can be an expert on wine, but because it can lead you to wherever your true fascinations lie.