How Wine Became Modern: Design + Wine 1976 to Now

How Wine Became Modern: Design + Wine 1976 to Now explores transformations in the visual and material culture of wine over the past three decades, offering a fresh way of understanding the contemporary culture of wine and the role that architecture and design have played in its transformation. Organized by Henry Urbach, SFMOMA‘s Helen Hilton Raiser Curator of Architecture and Design, How Wine Became Modern marks the first exhibition to consider modern, global wine culture as an integrated yet expansive and richly textured set of cultural phenomena.


"The story begins in 1976, the year of the now-famous Judgment of Paris. There, in a blind taste test, nine French wine experts pronounced a number of northern California wines superior to esteemed French vintages. However apt the decision, later criticized and repeatedly restaged, the event released shock waves across the globe as it gave the nascent California wine industry, as well as winemakers in many other parts of the world, new confidence, credibility, and visibility. This, in turn, had multiple effects including the expansion of wine markets, growing popular awareness of wine, the birth of wine criticism, vineyard tourism, and a host of other manifestations. From this moment forward, the culture of wine began to accommodate and valorize new priorities such as innovation, diversification, globalization, marketing, and accessibility," explained Urbach.

The exhibition, designed by the renowned architectural studio Diller, Scofidio + Renfro (DS+R), combines original artifacts such as architectural models and photographs with works of art, some newly commissioned, as well as multimedia presentations and interpretive text. Viewers will encounter artworks, objects, and information within immersive environments that engage multiple senses including smell.

The exhibition will be organized into a suite of galleries including: The Judgment of Paris, Terroir, The World of Wine, Modern Production, Images of Place, Wine Labels and Brand Identity, Glassware, Wine Architecture, Vineyard Tourism, Taste and Expertise, Smell and Words, and other thematic environments. A screening room is planned for film and video related to wine.

SFMOMA has a history in the development of wine architecture. In 1985, the museum organized the first architectural competition for the design of Clos Pegase, a winery located near St. Helena in the Napa Valley. The winning architect-artist team, Michael Graves and Edward Schmidt, designed the winery at the height of American Postmodernism as a faux-Pompeian compound.

The competition had surprising and far-reaching effects. Within architecture, the project announced a new turn to historicism and a reintegration of architecture with the visual arts and landscape architecture (all in the service of identifying the vineyard as a site of high culture). Three years later, the Centre Pompidou in Paris organized two competitions for wineries, one entirely speculative and the other to renovate Château Pichon Longueville in Bordeaux. These two events together mark the starting point of wine’s effort to become modern-that is, to represent itself through culture and media-by reaching toward contemporary architecture and design.

In many different ways all around the world, wine has become modern as the wine industry has re-imagined its own forms of representation and joined itself to other forms of culture, including architecture, graphic and industrial design, the visual arts, the performing arts, and film. And it is here, in this densely layered zone between nature and culture, that the social meaning of wine has been connected to cultural debates of our times, including the status of place and authenticity in a world that is growing increasingly globalized and ever more structured by virtual experience.

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