Nearly every Californian wine lover knows beloved Scottish poet Robert Louis Stevenson’s famous quote, “Wine is bottled poetry.” His statement adorns Highway 29 as you enter the heart of Napa Valley.
So is what Stevenson wrote true? Is wine poetry?
First, let’s try to nail down what poetry is. But this is not as easy as it sounds.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines it as the “language chosen and arranged to create a specific emotional response through meaning, sound and rhythm.”
William Wordsworth called poetry “the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings.”
Emily Dickinson said, “If I read a book and it makes my body so cold no fire ever can warm me, I know that it is poetry.”
Others poets describe it as “musical,” “universal” and “the truth.” One of my favorite explanations is from Billy Collins, the former United States poet laureate, who told me verse is, “ultimately, all about time. That we are surrounded by beauty and then die.”
My view is no magic bullet of clarity either. I see poetry as a beautiful and musical communication that attempts to uncover universal mysteries in a surprising and emotional manner.
This humble take only echoes what the collective greats said by proxy before me—that poetry is purely a subjective medium. Wine, of course, is too: One drinker may love what’s in the glass, finding nuance upon nuance, while another may declare it wholly one-dimensional and displeasing.
There are myriad more similarities. Winemaking and composing a poem both require creativity, technical know-how and a deep desire and vision to create something delightful, inspiring, or even challenging or bold. When assessing wine or crafting verse, both the drinker and the poet must be hyper aware of what they, see, smell, taste and feel. And while poems capture or speak to the moments and emotions of the human experience, remember, a bottle of wine is very much a living, mortal thing. It’s born of passion and changes over time. It has moments of profundity, and it can go through difficult times. It can be boisterous, other times mute. It lives, then dies.
So I say Stevenson was right. Just like a poem, a bottle of wine provides a unique experience for the person who explores it, each sip holding an emotion-evoking glimpse into a finite, but wonderfully mysterious life.
Tim Carl, a writer and managing partner of Knights Bridge Winery in Napa Valley.