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Feature Article

Evolution of the Wine Culture

The evolving wine debate:
"Universal Greatness" vs. "Regional Diversity"

America (Country Appellation)

Zorg and Mok Feel the Rumbles of Paradigmatic Shift

It's the oldest debate in the global wine culture. Publisher Roger Dial predicts that old adversaries will unite to fend off the common threat to both universal greatness and regional diversity...that threat being technology dominated, wine-by-recipe sameness.

by Roger Dial
October 25, 2006





There are two distinct paradigms of wine appreciation in the global wine culture today. One paradigm celebrates something called universal greatness in wine; the other is centered on an appreciation of the regional diversity of wine.

Both of these paradigms have been around for a long time, probably since whenever it was that wine as a comestible rose a notch above other fruits or grains or a good fillet of mastodon in the human sense of appreciation about what they put in their mouths.

We can imagine that the birth of the universal greatness paradigm occurred at that moment when Zorg puffed out his wooly chest and bragged to his chums: “me grog greatest!” As for the other paradigm, I believe pre-history records that it was a chap named Mok who founded the regional diversity paradigm with his pleased revelation: “Yuum; dis grog different”. Shortly after that, Mok hit the roads-that-didn’t-exist, in search of exotic, new and different sources of grape grog. He left a trail of little red lines on a map-to-be that, as kids, we were taught to appreciate as the expansion paths of human civilization.

Zorg understood from the outset that the maintenance of universal greatness requires the heavy hand of public relations. Ever since then, it seems that wine critics have had an inordinate sense of admiration for Zorg’s clan and their boastful fare.
For his part, Zorg staked out a proprietary interest in those vines down by the river somewhere in the Caucasus, built a wall around his great vineyard, and pursued that other great theme of human history: killing interlopers and crushing critics. Zorg understood from the outset that the maintenance of universal greatness requires the heavy hand of public relations. Ever since then, it seems that wine critics have had an inordinate sense of admiration for Zorg’s clan and their boastful fare.

Well, the millenniums rolled by; time just seems to fly when there is an ample supply of wine. Mok discovered lots of new and interesting grapes in his wide travels. For many of those centuries, he honed his sense of respect for the land by modestly tending monastic vineyards. For Mok the Monk, the idea of “universal greatness” was reserved for God, but Mok did invest a certain pride in the vinos product of the vineyards which bore God’s unique blessing. Mok also noted that, in his mysterious greatness, God made each vineyard a little different, subtle variations abounded…all part of God’s abundance strategy, Mok figured. Mystery is the foundation of curiosity and interest, and with this blessed awareness, the regional diversity paradigm of wine appreciation took a giant step forward…right into the Enlightenment.
But, what Zorg knew ... was that complexity is a worrisome thing for many folks. For them, complexity begs classification…and here was Zorg’s opportunity, because classification can also be the fertile beginnings of stratification.
 
As it came to pass, Zorg also found the Age of Enlightenment to be amiable turf for pushing forward his universal greatness paradigm. With faith and fear seemingly on the downtrend, the watchword of this new era was “discovery through individual human reason”. Nature was a complex thing, and this patchwork of diversity was now as evident to the aggrandizing Zorg as it was to the ever-curious Mok. But, what Zorg knew (and Mok failed to grasp right off the bat) was that complexity is a worrisome thing for many folks. For them, complexity begs classification…and here was Zorg’s opportunity, because classification can also be the fertile beginnings of stratification.

Zorg understood that, while classification was the intellectual act of laying differences out on a horizontal plane; one could also stack up differences vertically to affect a sense of status. In this matter, reason (and effective public relations) had it that the bit of diversity at the top of the stack could be called “universal greatest”. Did I mention that by this time Zorg had taken up residence on the Gironde River? The Left Bank, to be more precise.

Zorg’s “Great” Growths Classification of 1855 made Bordeaux the centre of the whole wine world (for those who needed a “centre”) and, more to the point, it enthroned a handful of estates as the “universal greatest”. The Zorgs down in Burgundy implemented a similar program of stratification, although, in the absence of appropriately grand chateau abodes for the Zorg clan, Burgundy continued to be generally appreciated as a land of many Moks.

To protect diversity, Mok invented the appellation system, which established Place (of winegrowing origin) as the primary mark of identity for wine.
Now, Mok was also interested in classification, but he saw it as a horizontal map of the viticultural diversity which he so admired and reveled in exploring. It can truly be said that Mok was no homogenizer. His interest in wine lay in its differences, particularly differences which he could associate with the distinct cultures and the terroir of specific places. Indiscriminately putting wines from different places into the same vat was the evil road to “sameness”. In his critique of this homogenizing practice, it was Mok who first uttered the disdainful phrase: “had one, had’em all”. When that day comes, warned Mok, wine won’t be any more interesting than milk or apple juice. (Farseeing as he was, Mok didn’t see the coming of Coca-Cola).

To protect diversity, Mok invented the appellation system, which established Place (of winegrowing origin) as the primary mark of identity for wine. Place was like a person’s family name, and appellations were meant to be all about individual character, integrity and continuity. Being a child of the Enlightenment, Mok figured individuality counted for a lot, in a horizontal, democratic sort of way. Mok was definitely not a bow-down-to-status sort of guy.

Despite their differences, Mok and Zorg pretty much peacefully coexisted until quite recent times; living, as it were, in separate market niches. For starters, Zorg’s claim to universal greatness meant that he was obliged to sell his wine for more money than one would normally pay for a wine that was merely “regionally interesting”. To be sure, Zorg’s wine was interesting too, even regionally interesting, but many of its purchasers were so in awe of its status of universal greatness that they were oblivious to its interest or character. Worse yet, many of Zorg’s best customers didn’t drink his wine at all, preferring to horde it in caches of status symbols and future profits. Naturally, this hurt Zorg’s feelings, and he bore his disappointment all the way to the bank.

Mok was also familiar with the road to the bank. He traveled it often to borrow money to invest in new and strange places to plant vines and make wines of difference and regional distinctiveness. Mok further pushed out the viticultural frontiers of Europe and then went off to the New World, ever moving toward the cooler climates which seemed to accentuate differences in the character of wines produced.

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