Wine Is the Celebration of Western Civilization
Of late I’ve been re-perusing the books on my shelves that explore Western Civilization. The volumes are many and varied. They range from biographies of notable historians and explorations into 18th Century European commerce to straight histories of regions and peoples as well as momentous events in Western Civilization.
It is perhaps due to my profession, but as I look over these works, it becomes clear that if Western Civilization has produced a thing that more efficiently and accurately serves as its calling card than wine, I don’t know what it is.
Perhaps there are ideas and a set of ethos that could better act as Western Civilization’s calling card. Individualism, freedom of conscience, freedom of religion, and Christianity all come to mind. But with wine, you have a quintessential Western item that can most easily be shared.
There has been recently a robust and interesting debate over what constitutes “Western Civilization”. Is it a set of values? Is it a specific geographic region? Is Western Civilization race-based? Does the history of Western Civilization reflect a historic emphasis on the idea of progress? I don’t have an answer. Sometimes it seems that Western Civilization is like pornography.
Yet omnipresent in the history of the West or Western Civilization is wine…going back as far as the Phoenicians who used the liquid in their extensive trade relations and even as currency. The place of wine was most obviously instilled into the culture of Western Civilization with the spread of Catholicism and the institution of the Eucharist where wine symbolically takes the place of the blood of Christ.
You can follow the march of Romans across the continent with the planting of vines. You can see the development of winemaking by observing the work of monks throughout the West. And you can observe the evolution of commerce by noticing the ways in which the trade in wine is first granted as a write, then falling mercy to mercantilism and finally liberated by capitalism. As the West spreads across the ocean to different continents it takes with it not merely its customers and ideas, but its wines too.
Wine is Western Civilization and perhaps the perfect vehicle through which to introduce oneself to the rich cultural heritage, ideas, beliefs and history of this region/idea.
I suppose the person just embarking on a wine education or just entering the wine trade in one capacity or another could absorb the various winemaking techniques, memorize the names of the wine regions and acquaint themselves to one degree or another with the styles of wines produced today without ever delving into the historic and cultural roots of the beverage. But it seems to me you would have to try to studiously avoid the topic.
How do you appreciate California wine without being introduced to and appreciating the impact of the Franciscan priests that brought the idea of Spanish wine to the West Coast and worked in earnest with the “Mission” grape?
How do you enter into a relationship with the wines of Bordeaux without contemplating the relationship between wine and Rome conquering Gaul; without an appreciation of Henry and Eleanor’s impact on the attraction of the British people to the wines of Bordeaux? You have to work to ignore these cultural and social benchmarks and how wine is connected.
Simply by learning the names of grapes and the regions of Europe where their flourish one is introduced to the languages that built Western Civilization. I believe the connection between wine and the West is unavoidable.
It seems to me too that the curious minds that first come across wine in the East, not a set of traditional wine-drinking cultures, receive the gift of encountering an authentic and pure example of Western Civilization that provides them with a path to enter that civilization and its history. When wine travels, so does the West.
Of course, the world is smaller now and grows smaller every day as events and people and places across the globe are instantaneously in our hands and ears and eyes. But the bottle itself, on the table, surely widens perspectives if people want their perspectives widened.
Western Civilization is many things. Christianity. Judaism. Liberalism. Science. Rationalism. Democracy. Language. But as I peruse my library I’m reminded that wine is perhaps among the most enduring accomplishments of Western Civilization.