In the ‘30’s, before the phenomenal changes that science and technology had produced in the art world, the German philosopher, Walter Benjamin wrote his famous essay, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”, a reflection about the transformation of art and its possible new role in front of the rising mass culture.
Those ideas can tell us something about the world of wine nowadays.
Writing about arts, Benjamin argues that in the age of reproducibility – when any object can be copied and replicated through technology – the work of art loses its “aura”. “What is the aura?” – Benjamin writes – “A very special interweaving of space and time: the unique appearance of distance, however close it may be”.
It is inevitable to read this definition and think about wine. In its cultural interpretation, wine is a unique product – the result of space, time and knowledge which is condensed in a limited number of inimitable bottles. This is a wine with “aura”: the magic of a bottle that deserves to be preserved, shared and enjoyed as a unique event. And from this derives its price, closely connected with the pleasure it gives and its scarcity.
However, mechanical reproduction destroys the “aura” of a wine. It becomes a sumptuous and repeatable consumer good. As Benjamin says: “the demolition of the aura is the signature of a perception whose sense of the homogenous in the world has grown so much that it makes it capable, thanks to reproduction, of finding the homogeneous even in that which is unique”. Although Benjamin imagined a social function for this “art” of the masses, reproducibility has served instead to establish a society of consumers which is based on the homogenization of taste.
Since the Second World War, the wine industry in general and especially the so-called “new world” have built their development around techniques of chemical agriculture which erases the influence of soil on the vine; selected yeasts which modify the character of the wine adapting it to fashionable trends; the indiscriminate use of sulphur which has taken to the extreme the mania for neatness to the point of erasing any character and the excessive use of the wood as flavouring. Not to mention the prohibited use of glycerine, antibiotics and other concentrators of aromatic precursors.
Today, the industry sells us “luxury” wines whose only content is marketing: in everything else, they are perfectly reproducible in any part of the world that has consumers to pay for them. The homogenization of production methods and consumer taste has made most high-end wines very similar.
The industry has pushed the limit so far that it has ended up with wines devoid of cultural content. It keeps its name just because it is an alcoholic beverage made of crushed grapes.
At Chakana, we are interested in defending the idea of an authentic wine available to everyone. We dream that the new digital media will allow the re-establishment of the independence of taste and freedom of wine. It seems important to emphasize that the decision to bet on authentic wine requires an honest approach to the production methods, which begin with natural viticulture and minimal intervention in winemaking.
In Benjamin’s words, “the unique character of the work of art is the same as its entanglement in the set of relations of tradition”. Maybe it’s time for media and journalists to pay attention to what’s behind a bottle of wine and not only its appearances.