Magnums of Champagne, one of the more costly and luxuriant wines on the planet, keep equity with prestige and solemnity. They are used to christen big ships, for example, but their consumption marks milestones in the labyrinths of our lives – commemorating points of memory we savor, points against which we measure the passage of other, more quotidian, events.
Wine may just be grape juice – but in the hands of the proper craftsman – it becomes something more. Just like paint is tinted oil until an artist transforms it into Guernica or Mona Lisa or La Mariee. Or wheat being simply seeds until the farmer harvests and mills them for the baker who mixes the flour into something we value above mere seeds.
In all of these endeavors, it is the addition of value by human hands and vision and desire that make them a part of our culture – the transition of wild and raw into domesticated and precious. This culture of human desire is as much a part of natural history as the fossil record, if only it would fossilize as well. What we can see are the current effects and ripples from which we piece together the progression of history from the myopic logic of inference. This limited logic preserves the mystique but fails to qualify the result.
Wine, in all of its stages of culture, is particularly illustrative of this balance between wild and civilized, random and ritualized. In pure Dionysian form, it can be only spoiled grape juice or it can provoke layers of memories and tantalize heretofore unknown flavors from experienced palates, intoxication notwithstanding. But the quagmire of good, better and best clouds our perception as much as any alcohol, introducing anxiety to the process of perception. Each of the stages of savage and polished have a place of service, a context in which they fit better than any other – just like individuals.
Under the city of Epernay, many, many of these magnums are aged in these chalk tunnels, their caves. Each of them a milestone or a christening waiting to happen – some may even be opened dramatically with ship hulls or with sabers; but they rest quietly here until pressed into the service of human culture.