Writer, art-collector, wine-buff and raconteur Neil Pendock launched his wine gallery at the Taj Hotel this week. Inspired by this display of vinous initiative in the City, industry stalwart Duimpie Bayly opened the latest exhibition – on Pinotage – with a fitting speech. Which I happily publish in full.
Ladies and Gentlemen, standing here before you I am reminded of Private Detective Marlowe, the one in the classic PI novels of Raymond Chandler. When feeling out of his depth and on unfamiliar terrain, Marlowe tended to say, forlornly, “I feel like Farm Boy in Latin Class.”
Well, being a farm “boy” of the wine-making variety from the metropolis of Vlottenburg outside Stellenbosch, and standing her in the swanky Taj Hotel before a selected group of creative minds, I do feel like a Farm Boy, but one at Art School.
But looking at what is happening in the wine world today, I shouldn’t be.
Wine and art are currently rather fashionable partners. Not only does one find numerous wineries throughout the world displaying selected works of art, but there is scarcely a piece of promotional copy that does not refer to “the art of winemaking”.
So in the context of this space and this initiative by Neil Pendock, I deem it my responsibility as a winemaker to answer the question: is wine art? Because most winemakers sure tend to think so.
My idea of art is a simple one, and if I may say so, shared by most people outside of the sometimes lofty realm of the art world. And that is, art is something which is created by man or women for the enjoyment and appreciation of other people. It starts with the creative spirit – which all of us do have in various degrees – and is inspired by other creative souls with the goal of seeking appreciation from an audience who have a need for inspiration and fulfilment.
I think wine ticks the boxes here. Making wine is by no means a glamorous job, as there is always a commercial requirement. But during the winemaker’s daily toil, from tending to the vines to vinifying the grapes, aging the product, creating blends and selecting the correct packaging, he or she has a certain degree of creative licence.
Like all art forms, the winemaker’s vision and creative energy is fuelled by past masters and other cultures. And here there is no shortage as since it was first made more than 8000 years ago, wine has been made and is being made by spirited creative people of all cultures throughout the globe.
But at the end of the day, the winemaker’s aim is – like the painter, sculpture or poet – to create something that is seen by others as a thing of beauty without which the world would be a poorer place.
Fortunately, wine’s relationship with art has been cemented by the great artists of history who have shown a particular fondness for the fermented juice of the grape. Although by drinking four bottles of Valpolicella before breakfast, Ernest Hemingway – to name but one – took it a little too far!
The exhibition here tonight focusses on a particular piece of wine art. Pinotage. Wine made from a grape that was created by an artist, albeit a scientifically-minded one.
Abraham Perold, a brilliant scientist specialising in grape varieties, took it upon himself in 1925 to create something. For a palette he had various grape varieties, such as Merlot, Shiraz, Riesling, Chenin Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, to name but a few. From this palette he selected two grapes – Pinot Noir and Hermitage. And with a deft brushstroke, Perold crossed these two plants to create a handful of seeds from which the first vines bearing Pinotage were born.
Like an artist eases his strokes on the canvas to create an image, Perold took these two grapes of different attributes, and forced them into a thing of collective beauty, namely a wine called Pinotage.
Looking at these wines here tonight, the wine in your glass, its colour, aroma and flavours, if Pinotage is not art, I don’t know what is! Hopefully the audience here tonight is as appreciative of this good art as I am.
Because Perold’s legacy continues unabated as today’s Pinotage makers, some of who have inspired the paintings in this collection continuously strive towards creating more beautiful wines, expressive pieces of vinous art to be enjoyed by wine lovers.
On that note, I’d like to finish by complementing Neil Pendock on creating this initiative and taking it upon himself to set-up this gallery in the Taj Hotel dedicated to wine and art. Projects like these and People like Neil will do what great art does and that is to satisfy, nurture, inspire and delight. And do what I believe all artists wish to do through their creativity, and that is to remind us that the world is the beautiful place we’d all like to believe it is.
I thank you.
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