Notes on (Taste)Camp, with apologies to Susan Sontag.

Last Friday we appeared with a number of other wineries at TasteCamp 2012, which was organized by Lenn Thompson, executive editor of the New York Cork Report and our own Frank Morgan, author of the widely read wine blog, Drink What You Like.  The event gathers journalists and bloggers in a region that is new to them, they taste as much wine as possible and speak to as many winemakers as possible over the course of a weekend.  It’s a great way for these writers to explore little known regions — that is, not known well outside of their immediate vicinity.  This year’s event was in Northern Virginia and included visits to wineries in Loudoun County and Fauquier County.

We arrived to find a ring of tables with black tablecloths arranged in a square on the crush pad; meanwhile the participants were finishing lunch in the tank room.  A few of our colleagues had already arrived and set up.   It was fun to see a few friends we’ve met the last couple of years, such as the duo behind Sip, Swirl, Snark and Paul and Warren of Virginia Wine Time, and of course Frank Morgan, whose very thorough piece included our comments, which you can read here.

It’s an interesting title: TasteCamp.  The organizers liken the event to going away to camp as one did as a child, but the conjunction of the two words raises other questions, such as what, exactly, is “taste”?  One way to look at it is as the simple act of tasting (wine); Camp is another matter.  This post started in a different direction but the title called for something more, for when we wrote it we were reminded of an intellectual hero of ours, the late Susan Sontag (1933-2004), whose essays, novels, short stories, plays and films from the 1960s until her death in 2004 helped define our cultural landscape.  An early essay called Notes on Camp created a sensation when it appeared in The Partisan Review, and it was included in a collection of essays she published in 1966, called Against Interpretation, which remains in print.    Notes on Camp consists primarily of a series of numbered observations attempting to define the camp aesthetic.

Though I am speaking about sensibility only — and about a sensibility that, among other things, converts the serious into the frivolous — these are grave matters. Most people think of sensibility or taste as the realm of purely subjective preferences, those mysterious attractions, mainly sensual, that have not been brought under the sovereignty of reason. They allow that considerations of taste play a part in their reactions to people and to works of art. But this attitude is naïve. And even worse. To patronize the faculty of taste is to patronize oneself. For taste governs every free — as opposed to rote — human response. Nothing is more decisive. There is taste in people, visual taste, taste in emotion – and there is taste in acts, taste in morality. Intelligence, as well, is really a kind of taste: taste in ideas. (One of the facts to be reckoned with is that taste tends to develop very unevenly. It’s rare that the same person has good visual taste and good taste in people and taste in ideas.)

Taste has no system and no proofs. But there is something like a logic of taste: the consistent sensibility which underlies and gives rise to a certain taste. A sensibility is almost, but not quite, ineffable. Any sensibility which can be crammed into the mold of a system, or handled with the rough tools of proof, is no longer a sensibility at all. It has hardened into an idea . . .

One observation Ms Sontag makes about “Camp” describes the playful side of the aesthetic:

41. The whole point of Camp is to dethrone the serious. Camp is playful, anti-serious. More precisely, Camp involves a new, more complex relation to “the serious.” One can be serious about the frivolous, frivolous about the serious.

Dethrone the serious: this is one way to look at certain bloggers, who through their exploration and study of wine and writing about their experiences dethrone the established, mainstream press and let loose on the world a flood of words and ideas about wine.  Their experience — their sensibility — their taste.  This is why wineries will not ignore the wine blogger, because they represent an entirely new way of reaching a public with an interest in wine that follows the blogger’s exploits.

So when we were invited to participate at one of the event’s Grand Tastings (there were two), we wasted no time make arrangements to be there.  We chose to participate in the first — not only was it better for us logistically, but also because it afforded an opportunity to visit Boxwood Winery outside of Middleburg.  Boxwood’s building is the work of Hugh Newell Jacobsen, a Washington, DC-based architect.   We’ve always wanted to see it, and having your own wine business leaves little time for visiting that of others.  The plan for the building is deceptively simple, and very elegant.  On an axis with the entry and its reception room is the room with the fermentation tanks, and beyond that the crush pad; on a cross-axis is the case goods storage building linked with a glass breezeway on one side and the very elegant barrel room on the other.  It is truly a work of art.  Ms Sontag summarizes its effect perfectly:

35. Ordinarily we value a work of art because of the seriousness and dignity of what it achieves. We value it because it succeeds – in being what it is and, presumably, in fulfilling the intention that lies behind it. We assume a proper, that is to say, straightforward relation between intention and performance . . .

You can view an online tour of the building here.