For the last ten days I have undergone a sensory immersion in the winemaking process, as the resident artist at Pollinaria. An organic farm and arts research programme in rural Abruzzo, Italy, Pollinaria promotes a productive fusion of art and science, human life and the environment, and includes a number of vineyards, as well as its own winery. It was here, towards the end of the 2018 grape harvest, amongst Pollinaria’s vines and fermenting wines that my oenosonic encounters unfurled.
My work as a wine writer has obviously meant much time devoted to tasting wine; professionally this has been predominantly within a rational framework: applying the knowledge I’ve built up through two decades of study and experience, and making aesthetic and quality judgments. This role has also seen me spend a significant amount of time in vineyards and wineries, very often accompanied by commentary from and discussion with whoever is my guide. In these professional visits, affective responses can be reduced, sensorial experience subdued and correspondences overlooked in this clamour of the conceptual. In contrast, this residency was very much focused on connection with the senses: with my own, within the wine environments experienced and with each other.
As my primary mode of enquiry in this residency was the sensorial, I started with a sensory mapping of both Pollinaria’s home vineyard and winery, avoiding the visual, whose dominance can so often blind us to what’s going on in other sensory domains. Much of this simply involved being present in the environments to tune into and note sensations as they arose. Just as I sought to overcome ingrained intellectual approaches within my relationship to wine, I sought to bring fresh ears to the sonic environments which were at once familiar, but quickly offered up many sounds that I’d not attended to before.
In the recordings that I went on to make in next part of the project, I returned to Pollinaria’s home vineyard and its historic vaulted wine cellar; the oldest parts of the latter date from the 15th Century when it was a monastery, which has been revived in recent years by Poillanria director, Gaetano Carboni. I endeavoured to capture both the audible experiences I’d noticed, as well as uncovering sounds that I’d not been able to hear through using a selection of different microphones; such as ants moving and communicating in the soil under the vines and fermentation deep in the barrels and tanks. I also tasted the wines, endeavouring to move away from mediating my experience through the mental creation of a traditional tasting note, to something that more closely reflected the raw perceptual experience. Given my background, this proved the hardest task of all!
These recordings, mappings, and sensory research will go be used in the creation a new wine-focused multisensory work in the coming year, in which sensory interactions shift perceptions on what is tasted, smelled and heard.
Pollinaria is unique residency programme, in being a working farm – growing the likes of grapes, olives and wheat organically – that offers artists the opportunity to interact with agriculture. This residency is not about an escape from city pressures to a rural idyll, but promotes a direct, creative engagement with the work of the countryside and its regeneration. With its own vineyards and now restored winery, Pollinaria seemed the perfect place for my creative research in the multisensory dimensions of wine. I was therefore extremely excited when I was invited by Gaetano Carboni to have a residency here in October 2018.
The removal of time pressures, combined with the complete understanding and support of Carboni as the vineyard and winery proprietor, was immensely valuable to this research and for the quality and diversity of recordings I was able to make. Much of my research was conducted in the Montepulciano vineyard close to the residency house, which I could walk over to in minutes at any time of the day (or night) that I chose. It was also an amazing experience working within its ancient wine cellar in the town of Loreto Aprutino, historically, aesthetically, acoustically and in terms of the taste I was given of first wines being made here.