Wednesday, March 2, 2011

It's enough to make me want to be a wine snob.

I'm not much of a wine drinker.  And I'm definitely not what you'd call a wine connoisseur.  So you can imagine my skepticism when I heard the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art is hosting an exhibit called, How Wine Became Modern.  Turns out it's a rather brilliant collection of exhibits that are part scientific, part industrial design, and part weird contemporary art.

The best parts of the show are the beautifully designed presentations that talk about the science of making and appreciating wine.  Many of these displays feel like something ripped from the lair of a futuristic James Bond villain.  Take the section that talks about terroir.  Terroir is the concept that soil and climate contribute to the unique characteristics in every bottle of wine.  SFMoMA shows earth from 17 vineyards with information about what makes each area unique.  Here's what it looks like:

SFMoMA also offers a dazzling review of wine labels. Bottles of wine are presented on a large gallery wall and deliver a genealogy of drunken attitudes:

My favorite part of the exhibit is something called the "Smell Wall." Here, glass vitrines of wine are equipped with rubber bulbs that allow you to puff whiffs of wine into your nostrils.  Each container features a different wine and tells you the notes you should smell, everything from bell peppers, to chocolate, to abstract ideas like "white."  This is the first time I've understood what wine connoisseurs mean when they talk about the fragrances and tastes that make wines unique.

But this show isn't just about the business of making, drinking, and appreciating wine.  There were some interesting works of art and design that take wine as their inspiration.  There's Peter Van Der Jagt's Bottoms Up Doorbell (1994, Winegalsses, electromagnet, and stainless steel).  This mesmerizing item was set to chime every three minutes, delivering a crystal clear, duo-toned ring.

Also greeting you at the entrance to the exhibit is a life-size mural created by design firm Diller, Scofidio + Renfro.  The mural is a take on Leonardo's da Vinci's The Last Supper.  However it replaces the traditional participants with modern wine tasters.  Those tasters are based on the men who participated in The Judgment of Paris, a 1976 event which stunned the French wine world when a number of California wines took top honors.  It's an event that inspired the entire exhibit.

I can't end this post without talking about Sissel Tolaas's intriguing work titled St(62) + [PGh(76) x Rp(100)], 10 (2010, Paint with microencapsulated scent).  In a portal at SFMoMA that looks out into the main atrium of the museum, the inside walls were painted with a special paint designed to deliver the smell of a bottle of wine on someone's breath.  And it wasn't just any wine, it was Penfolds Grange Hermitage 1976, one of only two wines that critic Robert Parker awarded a perfect score of 100 points.  The breath is that of the artist who used technology common to the fragrance industry to replicate the scent.  Simply touching the surface released the intriguing scent.  Considering the nature of the work, the fragrance was surprisingly pleasant.

I've never thought much of wine snobs.  This show gave me a new appreciation for what makes wine so intriguing for so many people.  And if, unlike me, you're a big wine fan, you should definitely plan a trip to San Francisco  before April 17 when this beautiful show closes.

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