Recently we launched our second Kickstarter project, Aotearoa Nouveau: Postmodern New Zealand Wine. Following up on the success of BREWED, which is now in its second print run and which we and Potton & Burton are going to release are going to release a second edition of in mid 2017, more on this at another stage. Anyway, Aotearoa Nouveau is going to be a wine book looking at some of the most exciting producers in New Zealand today; where we have comefrom and where we are going. It is heavily influenced by books like Max Allen's The Future Makers, Andrew Jeffords The New France and Jon Bonne's The New California. In short, the new New Zealand or new New Zealand wine... Guess what, "new New Zealand" sounds awful. So we looked for a combination of words that convey the right sort of message both looking forward and back. And Aotearoa Nouveau is what we came up with, the subtitle forever has had a lot of folk questioning me, partly because the term postmodern is both much maligned and little understood. So here goes, here is a draft excerpt from the book looking at what I mean by the term postmodern wine. Please support Aotearoa Nouveau over on Kickstarter.
Postmodernism is a late-20th-century movement in the arts, architecture, and criticism that was a departure from modernism. Postmodernism articulates that the world is in a state of perpetual incompleteness and permanent unresolve. Postmodernism promotes the notion of radical pluralism; that there are many ways of knowing, and many truths to a fact.
Wine, alcoholic drink made by fermenting the juice of fruits or berries… The narrower definition, relevant to this book and accepted throughout Europe is that wine is ‘the alcoholic beverage obtained from the fermentation of freshly gathered grapes, the fermentation taking place in the district of origin according to local tradition and practice.
- The Oxford Companion to Wine, 4th Edition
Postmodern wine is a reaction (or better, a series of reactions) to modern wine, a combination of grape growing, winemaking, environmental, market and cultural trends that have led to the wine world in general and New Zealand wine in particular looking as it is today. Broadly speaking these are the globalisation of both the market and wine styles (which many refer to Parkerization), the ongoing connection between established producers and their land and the dichotomy between industrially grown and produced volume wine on one hand, serious (and seriously expensive) fine wine on the other and the vast number of labels in between that more often than not don’t know what they are.
So, what is modern wine, and what does this mean for the drinker? Most importantly it means that wine en masse is better than it ever has been, certainly a good thing… One can now go into any supermarket or wine shop in the country and for between $10 and $15 dollars get a perfectly serviceable bottle that is free from technical fault and more likely or not, enjoyable. It also means that on an individual level many of the things that make a particular wine unique are being diluted. With all this serviceable wine out there, we are less or less likely to find something that is truly special, that expresses terroir - taking us to the place it was made and affirming that it is something that could only ever have come from this particular corner, of this particular vineyard, in this particular village, on this particular year.
The other most notable feature of modern wine is the increasing divide between wine and fine wine in relation to who grows and makes it, who drinks it, how we talk about it and most importantly, driven by the globalisation of the market for wine and the inherent limit on more serious producers in more serious regions to produce it (demand and supply) how much it costs. This is what postmodern wine is a reaction to. As alluded to earlier, these reactions range wildly - some such as the natural wine movement are defiantly anti-modern natural wine movement (which holds its own irony as it is only because of modern winemaking developments that practices like these become commercial) push against modernity by championing a return to terroir as expressed through a difficult to define set of strictures about what is acceptable and what is not. Others embrace modernity by applying techniques from industrial to fine wine - blending grapes from multiple vineyards and even regions to create unique a unique expression of what wine can be. Some producers ham the extremes of the fine wine market by limiting supply and charging a premium for this knowing that some sections of the market will pay through the nose for exclusivity; others embrace the middle ground between fine wine and everything else by creating high quality yet good value wines and more still embrace techniques pioneered by other markets (such as craft beer) by having democratic prices yet scarce availability to drive interest and demand.
So who are these producers of ‘postmodern wine’. They range wildly: some are exciting new producers, others established multi- decade wineries producing exciting new styles of wine, some are winemakers with impressive CV’s carving their own niche in the market and others are second and third generation grape growers (from families who have only ever sold grapes to producers who blend them with grapes from countless other vineyards) trying to make their family businesses more sustainable, some have so much international demand that their wines are rarely available domestically, others immigrants into NZ creating a niche by selling wine in their home market and others still who are content to service little more than a local market in their own city or province. Many combine all aspects of these and more.
What links them is their pursuit of quality, their vision and their spirit of innovation. They challenge the status quo of how and why wine is grown, made and sold. They are changing the world of wine. And the wines? They range from single parcel to multi-regional, from every-day affordable to extortionately expensive and are made with every variety from the most traditional to the most unknown and unappreciated (and sometimes with a blend of all of the above). Like postmodernism itself they can be challenging but are also rewarding. In short, postmodern wine is an attempt to redefine what wine is, how it is grown and made, how it is sold and why and how we drink it.