Barry Smith, philosopher, on the Côte d’Or in Burgundy
GB Tell me why you’ve chosen the Côte d’Or.
BS It’s a beautiful set of slopes. Whenever I see it, usually arriving by train, my heart quickens. It’s that feeling that you’re now in the presence of something so special, in which for a thousand years or more, people realised that something incredible was going on in nature – that enabled them to produce these beautiful wines. And then you remember all the lives that have been there, the monks who had time to experiment and try out wine-making and compete with one another, who were then replaced during the French revolution by all the peasant farmers who then divided the land. Now you see this patchwork that reflects the history of the region and the preservation of what nature gave us there that we had to cherish and protect.
GB At first it seems to be about natural beauty but really you find the man-made aspect of this landscape beautiful?
BS It’s both. It’s the interaction between man and nature. People found that the vines that grow here can do something extraordinary and then they protected it and put their knowledge and ingenuity back into the land to make it produce the best it could. All the time they were learning what nature would give them. It’s a continuous cycle of nature and knowledge. There’s something about this that’s both earthy and ethereal – which makes it a thing of such beauty.
GB It seems to be a very sophisticated example of man’s attempt to tame nature.
BS It can be tamed to a degree and then nature speaks. The best wine makers say that they try to express what nature gives them. It’s the respect for the land that provides the perfect balance between man and nature and makes the place rather sacred in a secular way.
GB This is meaningful to you on so many different levels. It’s more than just sensory beauty?
BS It’s a mixture. What I see in that landscape I see because of what I know and what I’ve tasted. There are so many utterly different characters striving to produce these wines of such power and finesse and elegance – and they want their wines to speak of this place. What you know about something sets expectations and then the senses either meet those or not. It’s a combination of the sensory and the intellectual. Somehow you can’t encapsulate the beauty of the area. Like tasting a fabulous wine, you know there’s something so magical yet something eludes you.
GB You knew the wine before you knew the region?
BS Yes I knew the wine, but seeing the region transforms your understanding and enjoyment of it. To think of the place and the vines in the late evening summer light is to get something even more from the glass.
GB What qualities make something worthy of the word Beauty to you?
BS It has to be out of the ordinary and slightly arrest your every day experience. It should make you stop and regard and reflect. It really should make the heart beat a little bit faster. So there is something like an aesthetic experience or emotion but at the same time it’s not a trivial effect. It’s something that commands wonder and is worthy of your attention. It’s something you’ll never tire of if it really is beauty.