Existentialism and wine do not have much in common except that they complement each other. For both are head turners in their own exquisite ways, both are prized collections of those who harbor them. An existentialist on a dinner table can bestow the finesse and taste of excellent wine, while wine can enamor existentialist sentiment without provocation. Wine and existentialism, though both are exceptional representations of intellectual sensibility of long and distinguished pedigree, it was only in post–World War II France that existentialism transcended philosophical and literary circles to become a full-blown cultural movement appended by the winemaking which burgeoned into an art.
The reason for this phenomenon is not difficult to discern. During the Nazi occupation of France, which was facilitated by the collaboration of many of France’s leading citizens, even the most seemingly innocuous actions could have life-and-death consequences. Under these highly pressurized conditions, France became a kind of social laboratory within which, it seemed, the basic structures underlying human existence—crudely, what Heidegger called “existentials”—were more starkly revealed in everyday life.
The public mood that these conditions fostered, moreover, did not dissipate in the war’s aftermath, but was reinforced by virtue of a painful national self-examination, the use of the atomic bomb, and the burgeoning cold war. Existential themes—even though grasped only intuitively by many who spent a fair bit of their time at the cafe´ talking about “the meaning of life”—were the cultural fare of the day.
It was in this context, appropriately enough, that the term “existentialism” itself was first coined by Jean- Paul Sartre, who was, nevertheless, leery of it. And although, in addition to Sartre, such French thinkers as Gabriel Marcel, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Simone de Beauvoir, and Albert Camus were also deemed existentialists, all of them sought, in varying degrees, to distance themselves from the label. Still, because all of these thinkers were motivated by a concern for the individual’s plight in the modern age, which is the conventional hallmark of the longstanding intellectual sensibility to which the term “existentialism” came to refer, it is not unreasonable to speak of them as existentialists.
And, because the distinctive intellectual commitments that they shared were motivated by the particulars of both the French philosophical tradition and the socio-historical conditions through which they were living, it is not unreasonable to speak of French existentialism as a unique philosophical phenomenon.
A bottle of wine is actually alive. It's constantly evolving and gaining complexity, until it peaks and begins its steady, inevitable decline. And it tastes so fucking good. And all it cares about is people who can afford it. Existentialist to the core, a proponent to the theory – I am, therefore people drink.
While winemaking preserves its reputation as a coveted art and delicate skill, existentialism as a cult has fulfilled impoverished minds and souls. So while the bottle on the table that standeth aloof waiting for deserving hands to caress its cork, the existentialist in his nonchalance smiles as he waits for the desperation to creep in.