What qualifies authenticity? Initially, it would seem reasonable to assume that authenticity is a virtue of design, whether it be architecturally or vino related. After all, how could being authentic be considered an undesirable trait? Upon further examination I realized this thinking was conceptually rudimentary.
A friend and I read an article about designers in California trying to create a “sense of place” in regard to winery design. This wine proprietor, with a wicked sense of aesthetics, was appalled because trying to construct an authentically aged French chateau or Tuscan villa with century old materials in 2015 Santa Barbara County was *the* definition of inauthenticity.
This conversation has arisen between Burgundian producers and Burgundian stylists, as well. It is the case of replication versus emulation. Burgundy is a wine that makes you dream. Burgundy produced wines of unmatched transparency of place. Is it the Sauvigny-les-Beaune 1er Cru, ‘Aux Serpentiers’ 2010, Jean-Baptiste Lebreuil or a 1995 Williams Selyem Winery, Olivet Lane and Allen Vineyards that fill my dreams?
After decades of stumbling efforts, the pinot noir produced in California and Oregon proved itself a world-class rival against the fabled Burgundian producers in Côte d’Or. There were differences, as expected, considering the lack of historical precedence and infantile roots of our vinous Wild West. I compared two decade-old Pinots and the French without argue was juvenile, holding back, waiting to grow into its full potential. I grew up around horses and this wine felt much like a young dressage horse. It possessed the essence of sure-footedness against a timidness of youth. The California was ready with anticipation. Both were light and intense. Powerful, yet delicate, with promising ageability.
With all that said, were American Pinots authentically Burgundian? California pinot was generally about opulence, fruit and sunshine and Burgundy was more about structure and texture. When someone referred to a California Pinot as Burgundian, I used it as a euphemism for less fruit, less ripeness and less alcohol. I am careful to compare one against the other, rather I use California to balance France. I recently enjoyed a 2009 Tyler from Dierberg Vineyard-Block 5 that was energetic on the palate with deep minerality and a vibrancy of red-fruit. This wine, produced in Lompoc, authentically represented California both in poise and it’s calculation of Burgundy.
Design is faced with the same challenge in regard to creating a space that is authentically sound to the site. Architecture is a gesture on authenticity. Without a sense of place and historical relevancy, missed opportunity in design was just naked fashion. Years ago a mentor and I had a conversation regarding spaces of transformation and he said “in life you get what you pay attention to” and authentic architecture and interior design redirects your focus to the ‘right’ things. Design was the focus and an expression in which you live.
Unlike wine that continued to age, architecture was neither static nor fluid. We created built environments that in turn shaped our experiences and perceptions. Inauthenticity was when a default physical reality superseded nature. Should authentic architecture be defined as an expression of someone’s style or reflective of the site? I did not want a replication of Gevrey-Chambertin while in Santa Barbara, I wanted a terroir driven Pinot of Sanford & Benedict. And I did not want to see a faux villa with 300 year old stone shipped in from Italy in the heart of Central California. Let’s look to the old world for inspiration, but be innovative enough to represent the new world in its own right. As an eloquent Italian winemaker stated, I wanted a transcendence of place to be the style in my wine, and thus architecture to be a transcendental expression of place.”