JULIAN HITNER TORONTO WINE CONSULTANT

"For love of everything that is wine"

SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 3, 2007

~A brief essay on the growing popularity of wine: the acquisition of culture in Toronto~

     From what I have observed, one must always tread softly when writing about matters pertaining to wine. This, no doubt, must have something to do with the fact that wine is an alcoholic substance, which, as a consequence, makes certain persons feel uncomfortable. For the exclusively written, ‘paper trail’ record, I have very little patience for such individuals, only lengthy fingers. Wine – and alcohol in general for that matter – ought to never make people feel uneasy (especially for those who make it a point of drinking in moderation), and anyone who complains about its presence, existence, or consumption really, quite frankly, ought to re-evaluate their priorities or, if easier, seek ‘treatment’ --- and thank goodness ‘treatment’ is government-supported in Ontario (both psychiatrically [O.H.I.P.] and intoxicatingly [L.C.B.O.]), as the people to which my aforesaid statement (at least in Ontario and many other places in Canada) applies to a good many groups, including (but not exclusive to) politicians, enforcers of ‘social policy,’ law officials, as well as anyone whose financial (and religious or social) career somehow involves outmoded bureaucratic, company-issued mission statements or philosophies. Regrettable but not inaccurate, many people are uneasy with regard to matters relating to alcohol in our province; and that, as far as I am concerned, is an unnecessary tragedy, particularly when it affects my – and other true wine enthusiasts’ – rational enjoyment of wine.

     This introductory digression aside, for my self and countless others, wine arguably exists – and increasingly so – as one of the most magnificent beverages humanity has ever cultivated an appreciation for. Aside from its marvelous taste (that is, when it is made correctly), wine has the ability to make life almost tolerably livable, not just for its feel-nothing-related merits (as politicians, enforcers of ‘social policy,’ law officials, and “anyone whose career … mission statements or philosophies” will attest to in their spare time), but for both the tangible and intangible sensations it can bring to one’s state of being. In simpler terms, it is the ‘institution’ of wine that has, in the twenty-first century, drawn so many millions of people to its consumption --- and that is what wine really is, an ‘institution,’ one that is not only admirable for its consumable properties, but for its hopelessly-romantic and soul-enriching cultural characteristics.

     Allow me to elaborate.

     In this new century, the extraordinary popularity of wine can, for better or for worse, be felt in most societies around the planet, even in places where it has not been widely enjoyed in the past. While much of this popularity can be attributed to the fact that wine, as a commodity, is now more available than it has ever been in decades past, an even more significant reason for its furthering has to do with something that most people – even some of the greatest ‘wine experts’ – have arguably failed to realize: for wine enthusiasts of the modern day (especially those who live in non-winegrowing areas of the world), it is no longer just a matter of consuming good wine --- it is also matter of critical necessity to actually possess the culture that is wine.

     ‘Culture of wine?’ Interesting term --- what does it mean?

     While I have no doubt that another writer – namely, the venerable Hugh Johnson, who is worthy of knighthood as far as I am concerned – would be far more qualified to explain the ‘culture of wine’ than my self, I suppose my own muse (i.e. my gullet) will have to do for now. By possessing the ‘culture of wine,’ what I mean to say is that, at least from what I have been able to observe during my experiences, it is no longer good enough for people of financially-stable (and superior) brackets to simply drink good-quality wine --- they have to actually live the entire ‘wine culture experience’ for themselves. In other words, they have to travel to winegrowing areas, learn the language (if possible), take part in the production process, pick grapes, speak to the growers and owners, soak up all knowledge about the wine(s) grown in these areas, impart (in subsequent manner) this knowledge to their friends and family, write and (once again, if possible) publish journals and books on their experiences, collect as many high-scoring wines as possible (even if it breaks the bank), to attend expensive tastings, and then (finally) drink the wines themselves, the very latter taking place both at home (as well as at wine estates) and at public tastings.

     Other than the author of this paper, does the above statement remind readers of anyone they know? No need to look far, it probably reminds them (hopefully rather unsurprisingly) of their selves, for within the above statement lies an additional aspect about the acquisition of the ‘culture of wine’ that I have yet to mention --- the in-depth reading of any and all papers pertaining to the actual subject of wine. Unnecessarily-complicatingly (and obnoxiously) and alliteratively put? No doubt! I admit to that, but I also wrote it with the best of heart and (associatively) liver.

     Moving on then, on the question of whether or not the acquisition of the ‘culture of wine’ is beneficial for the actual ‘institution of wine’ – that is, in the opinions of most people – remains to be seen. For my part, a great concern I harbor is that the majority of individuals (along with their friends and family) who wish to acquire the ‘culture of wine’ are only pursuing it for reasons related to existent trends and phony romanticism. Is this a justifiable concern? From what I have observed at public tastings and holiday-related (and casual) purchases (such as at the L.C.B.O.), it would appear that I am not in error, as too many peoples’ motives – that is, those of people who are interested in the acquisition of the ‘culture of wine’ – seem to be impure.

     Impure? Allow me to explain --- do not disagree until I have made my case in full!

     For my part, I offer as an example the citizens of our fair metropolis, the grand-all-insecure city of Toronto --- the most multicultural area of residence on Earth. As it stands, most people in Toronto are drinkers of alcohol, and an increasing number of them are enjoyers of wine, regardless of ethnicity or religious creed. More importantly, a good number of Torontonians (particularly those of higher income brackets) are not just partakers of the aforesaid beverage, but also (desired) acquisitors of the ‘culture of wine.’ It is the very latter of whom I mean to refer when I say that too many people’s motives are impure in their desire to acquire the ‘culture of wine.’

     How so? ‘Attitudinally’ would probably be the best way to describe it. Put simply, too many people in Toronto who are interested in wine have undesirable and unadmirable attitudes in their quest to acquire the ‘culture of wine.’ Granted, such people may possess cellar collections of extraordinary worth, as well as travel memories (along with hundreds of digital photographs) of luxury visits to wineries around the world. At the same time, however – with very few exceptions (and I am happy to say that I have met the acquaintances of a decent number of these exceptions) – most of these persons also appear to retain a seemingly-unalterable smugness and ill-founded understanding of what it truly means to experience (or possess) the ‘culture of wine.’ In their minds, to be at wineries, to pick grapes, to talk with owners and winemakers, to have thousands of premium bottles, to make notes on their experiences, to attend expensive tastings, and to drink high-quality wine is enough to satisfy both the tangible and intangible qualifications of possessing the ‘culture of wine.’ Suffice it to say, I believe it does not.

     Though some philosophers and authorities on theoretical realities might argue fiercely to the contrary, I believe that most people do not have the actual capacity to truly acquire ‘culture’ when their motives are of an undesirably, consciously wanting nature. Regarding wine and the majority of Torontonians (as well as North Americans), this is an extremely important concept to understand --- the idea that to want culture is to put one’s self at enormous risk of going about acquiring it the incorrect way, as described previously. Admittedly, while it is important to visit winegrowing areas, take notes (if one has a poor memory of what one is tasting), as well explore all the different types of wines available throughout the world (regardless of price --- one should taste expensive wines not merely because they are costly, but because they should be more interesting on account of their price [and, if they are not, one has the moral obligation to spit them in the owner’s face]), one also has the obligation of presenting the ‘culture of wine’ in as gracious a manner as possible. In other words, one must never facilitate the reverse by wanting to acquire the ‘culture of wine’ through impure motives stemming from obnoxious conformity and lavish, conspicuous consumption. The result in doing so is not only a lessoning of one’s own objective of possessing the ‘culture of wine,’ but a demoralization in one’s own humanizing status.
     Unfortunately, the above concept does not (at least at present) appear to be within the grasp of (most) Torontonians in question. Why is this so? Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that Toronto is not located within a winegrowing region; perhaps it has something to do with the existence of the L.C.B.O., the epitome of stuffiness, insecurity, and ambiguity; or, perhaps it has something to do with the existence of the ‘culture of Toronto,’ one which is simply incompatible with the desire for the acquisition of the ‘culture of wine.’ Of the three “perhaps’” mentioned, it is really a matter of opinion as to which one is the most correct. Personally, I think all of them are equally applicable!

COPYRIGHT 2007

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