To Freshmen: Liberal Arts and a Life With Wine
A liberal arts education is the best foundation for a life of enjoying wine and working in wine.
Yes, I have one; an education grounded in the study of History. But I swear, I'm not defending my choices here.
I was reading a book review in the Times this weekend of a new book by Martha Nussbaum entitled, "NOT FOR PROFIT: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities". The Times reviewer didn't give the book a good review. But still, the reviewer notes:
"The trend in education at all levels and around the world, Nussbaum
fears, is toward rote instruction in “applied skills suited to
profit-making” and away from cultivation of 'the ability to think
critically' and 'to imagine sympathetically the predicament of another
These are the exact skills necessary to properly appreciate a wine and the meaning of a wine (that is, if you don't count the education of your palate.) In fact, the ability to critically think about a wine and its context and the ability to sympathize with a wine's place in the world and your world—no matter how lowly or inconsequential that wine may be—is what allows us to derive meaning, real intellectual delight and even knowledge from a wine in our glass and on our table.
The fact that a wine tastes good to me, or smells interesting, is really a momentary piece of knowledge that provides me very little to think about. But if I'm practices at finding creative ways to contextualize the wine through it's place in the history of wine, the history of this kind of wine, perhaps even the political implications of the wine (consider a wine purposely bottled to have a lesser carbon footprint or one that strikes a strident pose on its back label in support of "natural" wine), or through the wine's perhaps unique and old school character that buck's a trend, then I can advance a more meaningful life in wine.
Creative contextualizing is one of the primary skills one ought to gain from a liberal arts education that demands the student investigate the inner life of mankind and the ways by which mankind tells its story and understands the context of human relations.
This is not to suggest that an education in the hard sciences or the not-so-hard sciences (economics, psychology) can't help one lead a more interesting life in wine. And of course if winemaking is your desired profession, then a little bit of chemistry and biology is going to be pretty important. But these courses of study wont' so naturally lead one to think about meanings as a liberal arts education will.
Of course this suggests that wine appreciation is an interpretive activity—something hard to argue with. And it means too that, then, wine is a subjective experience. Again, no great discovery.
So, if any Freshman are reading this and if you have the idea that wine may become an important part of your life after scholarship, and if you think you may want even to make a career in wine, let me suggest Literature, History, Philosophy, Fine Arts.