By Lorie O’Sullivan

How Wine Became Modern: Design + Wine 1976 to Now
Currently showing at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

One of the questions that I get asked frequently (besides, “how did you become a Sommelier?”) is “what other things to you like other than wine?” The answer is modern art and architecture, so when I read about this exhibit combining my two favourite passions, I knew it was not to be missed. Although Frank Lloyd Wright or Schindler did not design any wineries, displays of Frank Gehry’s whimsical work with Hotel Marques de Riscal winery in Spain and other wineries with contemporary design were well represented.

It was also very fitting the organisers choose the year 1976 to begin the exposition, since this was the year that California wines were first internationally recognized at the Judgement of Paris. This was the legendary event where American wines were blind tasted along side French wines, taking top honours and leaving the French tasters baffled. On display was the original Time magazine story from June 1976, along with original, sealed bottles of 1973 Stags’ Leap Cabernet Sauvignon and the 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay.

For those oenophiles who are terroir geeks, they had soil samples from various vineyards from all over the world. For example, a sample from Cloudy Bay in Marlborough, New Zealand was shown with their sandy loam and gravel, and stored in a humidified environment. From Israel to Thailand to Napa Valley, it seemed that every single country with land under vine was represented. For me the most interesting was the slate from the J.J. Prum Vineyard from the Mosel in Germany.

There is also the fake magnum of 1946 Domaine Romanee Conti, which is a really good reproduction but if you are fan of DRC, you would know that in 1945 the vines were ripped out due to a phylloxera infestation and were not replanted until 1947… and so a vintage from 1946 was simply not possible. Also on display was a set of Riedel glassware dating back to 1958, the Sommelier Series Burgundy Grand Cru. The Bordeaux Grand Cru from the same series didn’t appear until 1961.

There was also a rather large display of wine bottles that were grouped into categories such as “Good vs. Evil”, “Cheeky”, “Sex”, “Weather”, “Science”, and “Family”. Niagara’s Speck Brothers from Henry of Pelham were represented with their Sibling Rivalry Red. Other notable Canadian content was present from The Organized Crime and the entire series of Megalomanic labels. I spent quite a bit of time taking in all these fascinating labels, and although I’m not sure how the “Well Hung” blush or the “Quickie” wine might taste, I can hazard a guess.

The “vine in two parts” was the best part of the exhibit. It’s not very often that you can actually see an entire vine uprooted and fully intact. And for those that must know, the rootstock was the American 110R and the Cabernet Sauvignon Clone 7 vine. The vine was planted in 1985 and uprooted in 2010. After seeing the vine the exhibit then takes you through the science of making wine and all the different items that winemakers can use to manipulate the wine… Various oak chips in different shapes and sizes, and an additive called “Mega Natural Purple” to achieve that perfect colour.

Social media and wine were also given their “15 seconds” of fame with clips of Canada’s ‘Wine Ladies’, Georgia and Susanne, as well as the Youtube video with the French fellow removing a cork from a bottle with his shoe, and JustJess of Wine Channel TV and her thoughts on the Clos du Bois Merlot.

For the film portion, there was “Spill” where the artist Dennis Adams wears a white suit with white shoes while carrying a full glass of red wine through the historic centre of Bordeaux. It’s a 42 minute film and by the end he is pretty much covered in red wine, but the idea is that you cannot wash away the historical shame from French colonial rule and the Vichy regime.

The only part of the exhibit that disappointed was the sensory section, as the wine used to demonstrate the smell of petrol was badly oxidized, although I was informed that the wines are refreshed everyday. The wall that  you rubbed your hand on that was suppose to mimic the smell of your breath after drinking a Penfold’s Grange smelled more like a Canadian Tire store. A bit too much rubber if you ask me. In my humble opinion, most of the smells were just not true to form.

I certainly found some inspiration at the exhibition and now plan on starting “the white wine diet” and alternate with “the red wine diet”. Books outlining both were on display, which gave me quite a chuckle.  Alongside wine makeup and hair products, my favourite was a wine to go already in a plastic glass by Le Froglet where one has a choice of Shiraz, Chardonnay, or Rosé, which certainly put a new spin on wines-by-the-glass for me!

If you are a Master of Wine or simply someone who likes to drink wine, this exhibit rocks, but remember it ends April 17. If you are in the San Francisco area, make sure you get your nose to SFMOMA.

Based in Toronto, Canada, Lorie is the Sommelier at ToCa, located in Toronto’s Ritz Carlton Hotel and is the in-house sommelier at Sommelier Service.  She is also a rotating Sommelier at the HSBC Wine Lounge, located in Toronto’s Rogers Centre  and develops award-winning wine lists for restaurants like The Lakeview in Toronto.  Lorie’s personal blog can be found at