Wine and Spirit – Soul rather than distilled

What makes a wine great? A soulful inquiry into wine and the meaning of life and new year’s wishes

What is it that makes our lives worth living? For me it is moments of total consciousness, of being in the moment, of connecting, generosity, love, doing what we were born to do, interacting with people and things that touch our souls. Great art contributes to this spiritual connection. An artist can be as good technically as the greatest artists of our time but if they cannot express spirit or soul in their art and make others feel it, it’s not great art. Does this play a part in what makes wine ‘great’? 

The thought was sparked by reading a post on artist Georgia O’Keeffe b 1887- d 1986 by Maria Popover in her Sunday BrainPickings newsletter – if you aren’t a subscriber I highly recommend it. Georgia O’Keeffe was famous for her large scale abstract flower paintings, landscapes of new Mexico and New York Skyscrapers. Her ‘Jim Weed’ work sold for 44 million dollars in 2014. Apart from her beautiful works – particularly those that look deep into the heart of plants, even on a screen thousands of miles away from the original – what caught my attention in the article was a quote by Lewis Mumford on an O’Keeffe painting: “Not only is it a piece of consummate craftsmanship, but it likewise possesses that mysterious force, that hold upon the hidden soul which distinguishes important communications from the casual reports of the eye.”

Could it be this this mysterious force that makes a great wine? Something a structured winetasting method like the WSET Systematic Approach to wine tasting does not capture. In WSET when categorising the quality of a wine and what makes a wine great rather than good – we talk about balance, intensity, complexity, expressiveness, finish. But there is something beyond these ‘elements’ and beyond how we describe wine today. Could it be a molecular recognition of a wine, our bodies as part of the great consciousness in this world, meeting the wine’s molecules? recognising their essence? For a wine to be great, it must be truthful and be made from good energy.

On a side note can great wine can be made by machine picking? I am not so sure. I felt a significant difference in the energy surrounding our wine-making when we changed from machine picking to handpicking in 2014. It’s not just the technical difference, it’s a different energy, a positive harvest atmosphere. Biodynamic certifiers like Demeter request that we handpick but they don’t require it as they know that economically it’s a difficult choice to make. When we bit the bullet and took that leap I saw how important it was to our ethos and our quality, to the hard to define ‘soul’ of our wines.

Yes a wine must ‘taste good’, but that is very personal, and factory wine-making can adjust flavours to make a wine ‘taste good’. A little acidity here, some residual sugar or mega-purple there. But it can’t fake the true interior of the wine and the combination of energies that went into making it. The spirit transmitted by the place, the people, the vine and how it is cared for.

I recall Isabelle Legeron, MW, founder of Raw Wine natural wine fairs and exponent of natural wine, explaining during her natural wine workshop at the Ballymaloe LitFest that we must taste with our gut. Forget what we learned about how the wine should taste. Taste it for who it is not what it should look/ taste like. 

Getting back to the quote that motivated me to write this article – for wine – could it be a combination of the energies that went into the wine that generate the mysterious force that connects to our soul and transmits important communications beyond those elements analysed by our eyes, nose and mouth?

Is it these combined energies that come from the place, the vines and the people that make us recognise a great wine? We could simply say it is a wine that speaks of its terroir but many vignerons talk a terroir story even those using highly toxic systemic pesticides.

A soulful wine is deeper than this. It is wine made with a respect of the environment in the largest sense, that carries through beyond the letter of the organic law. I am getting into the zone of the spiritual and perhaps something about why biodynamic wines stand out for critics including Jancis Robinson who said in a recent article ‘I have often found extra vitality in wines that turned out to be biodynamic’. When we started biodynamics I was skeptical about the spiritual aspect but everything is about energy. A living product like wine, created with respect to the earth and the people involved, creates a very different quality to one that doesn’t. It is more than what we can outline based on our conscious senses. Like O’Keefes art, it makes you sense something more than the picture formed by its skeleton of water, alcohol, flavours and acids.

Whatever you’re drinking this new year’s Eve I hope it’s a wine that helps you connect with your loved ones and  your hopes and dreams for the coming year. May yours be filled with love, joy and fulfillment.

With love from all of us at Chateau Feely.

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Read more about our biodynamic approach and the importance of choosing organic in our why organic series.  Come and learn more about organic farming with a visit to Chateau Feely in South West France ; stay with us or do a multi day course or multi day tour . You can read about the story of our organic farm the series includes three books Grape ExpectationsSaving our Skins and Glass Half Full by Caro Feely. Join our mailing list to receive our seasonal newsletter, events, wine pairing, recipes and more info on this topic at the bottom right of this page.

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