Wine as a Lifestyle
Posted On November 17, 2015
Very few wine drinkers would consider that their gulping has any relation to the arts or philosophy. They would be much more prone to see it as an add-on to their lifestyle. In the sense that a good ‘lifestyle’ is presumed on the context of a sophisticated society, and perhaps even of refinement, then wine as a lifestyle drink can still be seen to showcase a civilized life. Lifestyle has become something of a buzzword, both academically and in marketing. A video produced by the promotional body, “Wines of South Africa” claims that Chenin Blanc, the most widely planted grape variety in the Cape, ‘is being reinvented as an exciting lifestyle wine’. The temptation is to ask what a ‘non-lifestyle wine’ is, and why anyone would choose to drink it.
It can be suggested that there are a number of components to the modern concept of lifestyle. These include individuality and self-expression, the development of appropriate and serious leisure interests and the aesthetization of everyday life. As these lifestyle components exemplify the most modern interpretation of wine as a civilized drink.
One aspect that defines the modern ‘lifestyle’ is an emphasis on the significance of choice, and consumption as an expression of individuality; in a sense this fits into the idea of products allowing people to define who they are, and wine is a classic medium to achieve this. Lifestyle is, perhaps, a way of making a busy and everyday existence palatable, and the emphasis is on choice within our own time. In essence, therefore, we consume to define what we would like to be. One element of this is the development of a family orientation; as wine is a symbol of hospitality, it fits perfectly into this perspective. Another aspect is an emphasis on appropriate leisure; the way we spend our private time -our hobbies, pastimes and interests -is crucial in defining who we are. There is a tendency to seek individuality, and the avoidance of what is ‘mass produced’. Wine -with its facility to develop knowledge, understanding, collection and exploration -may be one example of this. Wine also has close links to other key leisure activities -food and tourism being the most obvious. At the same time wine is, perhaps, professed as the healthiest of all alcoholic beverages, so that its consumption fits into another key lifestyle concern -physical well-being. Wine is, of course, considered to be a key component of the Mediterranean diet which is currently in vogue for its purported health giving properties.
The emphasis on lifestyle is a major concern of western countries, and its precise outworking may vary from country to country. However, it is also true that there is a component of convergence in the international consumption of alcoholic drinks. Convergence is the idea that countries which are the home of natural spirits drinkers are increasingly drinking more wine and beer, whilst wine and spirits consumption rises in beer drinking countries, and beer and spirits are consumed more in the traditional wine-producing nations of southern Europe.
Traditional aesthetic thought has been limited to high art; one of the effects of post-modernism has been to break down artificial social barriers between high art and other forms of artistic endeavor. Thus advertisements, street signs, graffiti and the design of goods all become artworks. At the same time the adoption of the aesthetic has become a key feature defining the modern consumer. Consequently art and design have become key elements of where and how we live.
This blurring of the boundaries is apparent with the labels of wine bottles. It became obvious in the decision of Baron Philippe de Rothschild -a noted art lover -to use a different artist each year to design the label of his most prestigious wine, Chateau Mouton-Rothschild -a move copied elsewhere in the world, as at Kenwood Vineyards in Sonoma. Thus the label becomes a work of art. Today labels are designed to convey a ‘lifestyle choice’. The artistic label acts as metaphor for the wine; the consumer may be unable to appreciate the aesthetic qualities of the drink, at least until the cork is pulled, but the label signifies what its aesthetic value will ultimately be. Even the bottle itself may become a work of art, to be displayed. At its simplest, this may merely be a bottle used for decoration, such as the wicker covered Chianti flask which is turned into a lamp.
One of the key symbolic messages conveyed by wine, especially amongst those who drink premium rather than bulk wine is the idea that it is a civilized product -and thus that those who drink it are civilized people. Wine is civilized by its nature, being a natural drink, artistic in the way it is made and because it promotes queries. It is also civilized due to its association with sophistication and restraint. More than any other drink, perhaps more than any foodstuff, it has been used by philosophers and artists to exemplify concepts, situations and emotions.
The relationship of food and wine is complex but complementary, although it may be understood in different ways within different cultures and situations. Nevertheless, the relationship between the two is crucial for most modern consumers. Both food and wine are becoming essential add-ons to a modern lifestyle and, as individuals increasingly shape their lifestyles -and use lifestyle to shape their self-perception -it may be that issues of status become secondary to issues of image. Lifestyle may be a key focus for making wine in the future but it is important to understand how lifestyle operates and particularly the possible shift from formal classifications and appellations to a more fluid notion of authenticity in wine.