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Joan Cuscó: “Wine has been saved from the crisis largely thanks to the export market”

Joan Cuscó i Clarasó holds a PhD in philosophy from the University of Barcelona and specialized in musicology at the University of Alcalá de Henares

Joan Cuscó i Clarasó holds a PhD in philosophy from the University of Barcelona and specialized in musicology at the University of Alcalá de Henares

He has previously served as the assistant director of the Generalitat’s Aula de Música Tradicional y Popular, a programme run by the Catalan Ministry of Culture, for whom he continues to work as a teacher and director of research

He has previously served as the assistant director of the Generalitat’s Aula de Música Tradicional y Popular, a programme run by the Catalan Ministry of Culture, for whom he continues to work as a teacher and director of research

Joan Cuscó i Clarasó has published several books on philosophy, musical aesthetics and historical research and written articles for a range of specialized journals

Joan Cuscó i Clarasó has published several books on philosophy, musical aesthetics and historical research and written articles for a range of specialized journals

17/10/2011

Entrevistes

 

Joan Cuscó i Clarasó (Vilafranca del Penedès, 1971) holds a PhD in philosophy from the University ofBarcelona and specialized in musicology at the University of Alcalá de Henares. He works with the Ferrater i Mora Chair on Contemporary Thought at the University of Girona and is a member of the Catalan Society of Musicology and the Catalan Society of Philosophy, as well as curator of the Area of Documentation and Music Archive at the Wine Culture Museum of Catalonia (VINSEUM). He has previously served as the assistant director of the Generalitat’s Aula de Música Tradicional y Popular, a programme run by the Catalan Ministry of Culture, for whom he continues to work as a teacher and director of research. Joan Cuscó i Clarasó has also worked as a critic of classical and contemporary music and opera for COM Radio. Since 1989, he has published several books on philosophy, musical aesthetics and historical research and written articles for a range of specialized journals. He has given talks at various conferences on philosophy, musicology and literature and specializes in contemporary Catalan philosophy, the philosophy of consciousness, and aesthetics. His most successful books include Cançons del vi, de beure i de taverna (Dinsic Publicacions Musicals, 2007), Francesc Pujols i Morgades. El filòsof heterodox (Publicacions de l’Abadia de Montserrat, 2008), and Filosofia i consciència. Francesc Xavier Llorens i Barba (Universitat Ramon Llull, 2010). 
 
For the fourth year running, Joan Cuscó coordinated the summer-school course Wine, Culture and Health,which was attended by students from a range of academic backgrounds including sciences, arts and technical disciplines, as well as byspecialists from the sector.

 

Wine is unquestionably part of our culture, although its relationship with health is more disputed. What were the main topics covered by the Els Juliols summer-school course on Wine, Health and Culture?
Wine has always been considered part of our diet and has often been linked to health. However, things used to have a greater cultural focus – based on individual experiences – and were not as experimental as they are today. In the area of neuroscience, for example, recent research has suggested that wine is one of the foodstuffs that can help to prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. This is why we decided to devote a special section of the course to health and invited Rafel Blesa, director of the Neurology Service at the Hospital de Sant Pau, to contribute.
 
The starting point of the course was a general anthropological and psychological consideration of the origins of wine as a foodstuff and as a component of celebrations and festivities. Participants began by studying what science can tell us about pleasure, which is now being studied as a basic element in the limbic system. There were then a series of more specific sessions on neuroscience and biology, because although there have been few genetic studies of vines, genetics is one of possible areas in which progress could be made. For example, with phylloxera now affecting vineyards across South America and Australia, genetic studies could help in the search for solutions.
 
As curator for the Area of Documentation at VINSEUM, what would you say is the main purpose of the museum?
The basic question we pose to visitors is: “What is in a glass of wine?” We know that there are some 800 aromas, 800 chemical elements, but what is created by a glass of wine? We go on to look at how a vine is planted, what is involved in the process, the techniques required, the advances in oenology over the years, the social aspects of wine production and commercialization, and the pleasures of drinking it.
 
 
The museum was opened over 75 years ago. What was it originally like, and how has it changed?
It began life in 1935 as the Museum of Vilafranca, and in the 1940s it became the Museum of Wine, the first of its type in Spain. Following refurbishment in 2000 the name was changed to the Wine Culture Museum of Catalonia, VINSEUM. We considered that the word culture better accounted for the wide range of topics covered by the museum and that our art and music collections would help us create a discourse through which these topics could be brought together. This discourse is created around a structure based on the main periods of history.
 
 
You are a doctor of philosophy and an expert in musicology. How and when did you come to be interested in the world of wine?
I actually came to the museum for the music and the research collection. There is a particularly valuable bibliographical collection, mainly of Renaixença and 19th-century works. The vast majority of authors belonging to the Catalan Renaixença were from Vilafranca del Penedès (Torras i Bages, Llorens i Barba, the Milà i Fontanals brothers and the Vidal y Valenciano brothers), so all of their work and all of the libraries containing their work are here, as is most of the writing about these authors and their work published from the 1930s onwards.
 
In the Area of Documentation at VINSEUM we have a section devoted to wine, another on history, and a collection of music associated with wine that stretches back as far as the 15th century. The different materials enable us to structure the activities we offer at the museum. For example, since 2000 we have organized the School of the Senses (l’Escola dels Sentits) for younger visitors, a series of children’s workshops, activities for schoolchildren and a range of initiatives for other groups.
 
We organize wine tastings, but we are now focusing particularly on projects more closely related to other areas of leisure and knowledge. One of these is the Els Juliols summer-school course, which has now been running for four years, although we change the topics and the teachers for each edition.
 
 
When we think about a glass of wine we never associate it with the negative connotations of some other alcoholic drinks. Why do you think this is?
The image of wine-drinking has changed enormously in the last five or ten years. We invited the anthropologist Daniel Carmona to speak about this on the course, because we are seeing the emergence of news ways of consuming wine. Tasting sessions are still popular, as they were years ago, but they have become much more specialized. For example, you can now go to a wine tasting with musical accompaniment.
 
It is also important to remember that the approach to alcohol in Mediterranean countries is very different to that of Northern Europe, where people always drink at home, in private: they come home from work and have a whisky or something like that, which we never do here. We need look no further that the English students who go to Salou: they are only there to drink, nothing else. We are now seeing that form of alcohol consumption copied in Spain, but wine is a different case: it is always drunk socially, never at home, on your own. Wine also has health benefits, which distinguish it from other alcoholic drinks and contribute the different way in which it is consumed.
 
 
In Mediterranean culture, from ancient civilizations to the present day, wine has always had its own space. Globalization has now taken wine to cultures with no tradition of producing it. Is there a corner of the world that wine has yet to reach?
Wine has spread across the globe, even to Asia, where its expansion has been most difficult. However, it is true that wine is not consumed in the same way everywhere and that it is not drunk by the same type of person throughout the world. In Spain, wine is consumed across the whole social spectrum, whereas in Northern Europe it is more the preserve of the elite, or at least those of a certain social level. Something similar is seen in Asia, where wine has always been available but it has never really become universally popular, perhaps because other beverages such as sake are drunk in its place. Italy and France are the countries in which most wine is drunk, whereas in Spain, despite having the most vineyards, consumption is relatively low.
 
 
The taste, the production process, the years of history... What is the secret of wine? What makes it so special?
Wine is made special by the effects it produces. This has been the case since as early as we can remember – it was always considered a magical drink because it alters consciousness and, to some degree, loosens our tongues, allowing us to be more sociable. Wine has also long been drunk as part of rituals. It is alcoholic, but not excessively so, and has a moderate influence on our perception of surroundings and our behaviour. In addition, we now look at the whole process and think about everything that is involved in its production.
 
 
Has the economic crisis hit the wine sector?
Not in Catalonia, no. Wine has been saved from the crisis largely thanks to the export market. Small producers now export to thirty or forty countries, with exports accounting for 60% or 70% of the total production. And then we have the four principal cava producers, who also export a sizeable proportion of their produce. Where Spanish wineries have felt the effects of the crisis is the domestic market, which has fallen away drastically.
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