On a Saturday evening at the end of September I found myself at the Sladers Yard Gallery in West Bay, Dorset, near to where we live, to attend a private view of collages and sculptures by the acclaimed Tuscan-born artist Marzia Colonna, whose work I began collecting thirty years ago when Bella and I moved to Dorset, and attend a dinner with wines from Ian and Rebecca Edwards’ nearby Furleigh Estate.
The deal was that Marzia would talk about her work and then I would try to find some link between art and wine. I had scribbled down a few ideas, expecting Marzia to give me more than a few leads, but to my horror Marzia, whose discreet shyness is in direct disproportion to her prodigious talent, said just one sentence: “I hope my works here as an artist will speak for themselves and luckily Steven is here to give you his thoughts.”
This left me to wing it in front of the diners who were expecting an intellingent wrap-up for the enjoyable evening. Here is what I came up with.
“Marzia is an artist and so by definition she makes art. A winemaker makes wine, but is not necessarily, actually quite rarely, an artist. There is no word in French for “winemaker” for the literal translation is un fabriqueur du vin and fabricated wines are not the ones to enjoy drinking. Great wine producers around the world are often asked how they make such fine wines and their replies are very different:
Aubert de Villiaine, co-owner of the Domaine de la Romanee-Conti in Burgundy – “We just pick the grapes when they are ripe and do nothing.”
Marcel Guigal, creator of greatwines in the northern Rhone – “Paying attention to a thousand little details.”
Eduardo Chadwick, whose iconic wines have put Chile on the map – “The need to express the differences in terroir.”
And then we have the sparkling wines from Furleigh Estate, made in the same way as Champagne, which is recognised as a “manipulated” wine, for it has to go through processes quite different to still wines to emerge in its impressively sparkling form, so manipulation in a good cause.
Yet all these four aspects of wine making have a base of creativity, although the approaches are quite different as are the results. We can refer these back to Marzia’s art around us here, of which there are many different aspects, some recognisable representative, others totally abstract. They are all undeniably creative, but they have to start from somewhere. Wine, whatever ends up in the glass, starts in the vineyard. For Marzia, one might say that it starts in the imagination, but art, like wine, needs a sense of place. For wine, the person allows the place to express itself; for art the person expresses, the place being in the background. Wines, like art, that are made to “impress” rather than to “express” lack the necessary sense of place.
An example of the blending of person and place in wine is Geremaia, a superb red wine made in Gaiole in Chianti by Marzia’s cousin Marco Firidolfi from his Rocca di Montegrossi Tuscan estate. A blend of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, grapes inherently Bordelais, I remarked to him that it showed the class of a very top claret, but Marco reminded me that his “claret” had learned to “speak Gaiolese”. So we come back to Marzia and her art, where she has combined her Tuscan upbringing and her life for more than three decades in Dorset to create works that are undeniably expressions of both.’
Wine writer and consultant Steven Spurrier, joined the wine trade in London in 1964 and later moved to Paris where he bought a wine shop in 1971, and then opened L’Académie du Vin, France’s first private wine school in 1973. Spurrier organized the Paris Wine Tasting of 1976, which unexpectedly elevated the status of California wine and promoted the expansion of wine production in the New World.