Skip to content
January 16, 2011 / joyful plate

How Wine Became Modern -a visit to MOMA, San Francisco

We’ve come a long way, baby. From a young wine industry inspired by French formalities (remember Orson Welles in the Paul Masson tv spot “We’ll  sell no wine before its time”?)… to a modern industry revolutionized by a Wallaby with a yellow tail, wine has earned its place on the U.S. dinner table- and at the bar, the barbeque, the ball game and the design studio. That is the idea behind the current exhibit at MOMA in San Francisco, “How Wine Became Modern” (November 19-April 17).  The exhibition 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 design has played in its transformation”.

When I was a new brand manager in the biz years ago, my first impression of the industry was that it offers the perfect balance of  art and commerce. Both seem to be well represented at this exhibit.

History: 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 wines.* (P.S.-“Bottle Shock” is a wonderful story about this-a great NetFlix pick).

Viticulture: For those versed in viticulture, there is a gallery dedicated to terroir where you can compare soils from 17 vineyards around the world, examine current weather conditions and review the impact that root depth has on vines at Opus One in Napa (10 feet) vs. the Finger Lakes (1-3 feet) … demonstrating that wine is an agricultural product and all good wine making begins in the vineyard.

Enology: To help us understand the creativity of wine making and tricks of the trade, there’s a room revealing accessories like OxBox that provide micro-oxygenation to accelerate maturation.

Sensory Exploration: My favorite part of the experience is nosing wine for aroma. At the smelling station you’re able to detect cats pee on a gooseberry bush in a New Zealand sauvignon blanc and petrol in a Riesling, for example.

Sales: A fascinating video of facts detail major milestones…in 2004 the film Sideways made pinot noir a star to the masses and apparently in the U.S. in 2006 Yellow Tail’s sales equaled those of  French wines.

Graphic Design: As a strategic design consultant, I felt a magnetic pull towards this room.  On display is a segmentation of 200 wines grouped by concept-from  “animals” to “cheeky”, “femme”, “sexy”, “good & evil” -characters created  to bond with consumers.

Film: There is a fast moving montage of wine in films -of all those dramatic moments where wine is thrown in the face of a lover in a rage and  corks pop at fabulous celebrations with Marilyn Monroe.

Media: There’s a wonderful compilation of historical advertising and journalism- for example the 60 Minutes story on the “French Paradox:” (why the French can eat 40 lb. of cheese a year, thanks to red wine-the platelet flusher).

Education/Community: A cool collection of facts and trivia from the Wine Aroma Wheel by UC Davis to Wine for Dummies.

And there’s much more, from a ground breaking architecture exhibit featuring wineries, tasting pavillions and spas around the world to structural glassware design. No matter what aspect of it turns you on, no doubt you’ll appreciate that next glass just a bit more.

*Photos taken by M. Lawton for this story. MOMA press release including names of artists:



Leave a Comment
  1. SFJoe / Jan 16 2011 9:26 pm

    Michelle, surely you were not born when Orson Welles did that commercial….

  2. effective article marketing / Jan 23 2011 9:47 pm

    Few realize that it takes more than just one well crafted blog post to turn minds around. But after all such drops of wisdom is what makes our community vibrant.

    • joyful plate / Jan 25 2011 5:04 pm

      Thanks-and wine is one great community! Cheers.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: