Nettime mailing list archives

<nettime> N is for Nature...
McKenzie Wark on Mon, 27 Aug 2001 04:40:13 +0200 (CEST)

[Date Prev] [Date Next] [Thread Prev] [Thread Next] [Date Index] [Thread Index]

<nettime> N is for Nature...

Index to this Fabulous World / 26th August 2001

N is for Nature…
McKenzie Wark

There are people who think what makes a good wine comes from nature – 
factors like rain and soil and temperature. Then there are those who think 
it’s a matter of second nature – of picking and fermenting and ageing. But 
thesedays, there’s a whole new world of wine making technology – and a whole 
new argument as to what is ‘natural’ and what is not.

Thesedays, its chemists rather than vignerons who are increasingly in charge 
of technique. It is illegal in the United States and in many other countries 
to add flavours or colourings. But it isn’t illegal to add oak chips to wine 
fermenting in stainless steel barrels to get that "oak finish" promised on 
the label.

Adjustments can be made in the level of carbon dioxide, to vary acidity and 
fruitiness, or grape juice can be introduced as a sweetener. Powedered 
tannins can be added for a firmer feel on the palate. Pressure can be used 
to separate alcohol from acid. The technique known as micro-oygenation 
aerates the wine and gets around the need for the age old and labourt 
intensive process known as racking.

These increasingly popular technologies shift wine making away from the idea 
of a process subject to regional variations in climate and seasonal 
variations in weather. Nature no longer rules; second nature eliminates the 
necessary vaguaries of wind and water and sunshine. While the images and 
copy on the labels still refer to the wine makers ancient status as an 
alchemical transformer of nature into art, the reality is otherwise.

But there’s a whole new transformation going on, which takes wine making a 
step further away from the natural world. The Enologix company of Sonoma, 
California, makes software that predicts how a wine will rate in reviews 
even before it is made. Many winemakers think that the fortunes of their 
wine has less to do with whether they had a vintage year and more to do with 
the fashions current among the influential wine reviewers.

Robert M Parker, who reviews for Wine Spectator magazine, says  "my scores 
have led to higher quality at all price levels." But many would argue that 
his influence leads to a homogenisation of the wine, as each company tries 
to second guess the contemporary trends in flavours.

As Guy Debord once put it: "An era which finds it profitable to fake by 
chemical means various famous wines, can only sell them if it has created 
wine experts able to con their marks into admiring their new, more 
distinctive flavours."

"Whenever people lose the capacity to see things for themselves, the expert 
is there it offer an absolute reassurance", Debord says. In the case of 
wine, the media shifts from representing the gold standard in taste to 
creating a floating currency of value.

Wine, once a liminal product, hovering on the border between nature and 
second nature, between the world of wind and rain and the world of 
collective human labour and skill, becomes an index of a further development 
in the human relation to nature – the development of ‘third nature’.

It is only when second nature develops that nature appears as a concept. 
Once the techniques are in place for making nature into a resource, for 
trapping or taming it, an appreciation arises for nature in its raw state, a 
state that only appears at the point where it is no longer a general 
condition. What cultures represent to themselves as nature is always a world 
we have lost. Nature, which appears as an origin, appears only 
retroactively, as it disappears.

The lost world of nature exercises a magic fascination over culture, which 
expresses itself in its finest form as romanticism. But it also expresses 
itself as a consumer preference, for that which is close to nature, for that 
which, while produced, exposes itself in its production to the serendipidy 
of wind and rain. In spite of the fashion for organic foods and herbal 
remedies, the most enduring product of this hankering for a lost nature is 

But that very hankering for a lost nature produces its opposite, a second 
nature. The expanded demand for wine as a commodity leads to techniques 
which eliminate the vagaries of season and the peculiarities of region. It 
becomes second nature to prefer a natural product, but that natural product 
is only appears as natural because of the huge investment in a second nature 
of industrialised production.

The canny consumer knows about the manipulation of the appearance of nature. 
This is where media plays the critical role in asserting the value of the 
product, its authenticity. If it is not authentic in every detail of its 
production, a case can be made for the authenticity of its consumption – for 
the veracity of its flavour. Wine becomes an artifact of third nature, of 
the management of appearances, the valuation of signs, a third nature 
capable of transforming any product of second nature’s industrial ingenuity 
into the sign of its opposite.

The very dependence of wine on the aura of nature makes it a prime candidate 
for this kind of vectoral transformation. It comes to depend on the owners 
and managers of third nature, a vectoral class and their hired specialists 
in communication. "It must not be forgotten that every media professional is 
bound by wages and other rewards and recompenses to a master, and sometimes 
to several; and that every one of them knows he is dispensible", as Debord 

In order to achieve the veracity of third nature, winemakers resort to ever 
more advanced techniques. They step beyond the construction of the ideal 
environment for wine production. They invest in processes rooted not in 
agriculture but in biochemical information. At the production as at the 
consumption end, information worms its way into the life cycle of the 

And so too do the owners of information. On the one side, the chemists and 
even the computer programmers, making production safe for the reviewers, and 
on the other, the reviewers, making consumption safe for the consumer, who 
is spared the indignity of uncorking an uncharacteristic year.

But in the process, wine is no longer the archetypal transaction between the 
producer close to nature and the consumer’s fidelity to his/her own nose. A 
third party inserts itself into the game, the owners and distributors of the 
information through which the appearance may be preserved of this once 
hallowed but long lost relation.

Into every unexpected nook and crany of culture and economy, a vectoral 
class asserts its prerogatives, and the producing of the signs of production 
takes the place of the production of what once preceded the sign. The 
appearance of nature is preserved -- despite the perservatives – through the 
construction of a third nature in which the sign of nature itself becomes a 


Guy Debord, Comments on the Society of the Spectacle, Verso, London, 1990, 
pp16-17; Alice Feiring, ‘For Better or Worse, Winemakers Go High Tech’, 
Business, New York Times, 26th August 2001

McKenze Wark, Brookly, NY / mw35 {AT} nyu.edu


mckenziewark {AT} hotmail.com is a temporary address. Please reply to
mw35 {AT} nyu.edu ... we no longer have roots, we have aerials ...

Get your FREE download of MSN Explorer at http://explorer.msn.com/intl.asp

#  distributed via <nettime>: no commercial use without permission
#  <nettime> is a moderated mailing list for net criticism,
#  collaborative text filtering and cultural politics of the nets
#  more info: majordomo {AT} bbs.thing.net and "info nettime-l" in the msg body
#  archive: http://www.nettime.org contact: nettime {AT} bbs.thing.net