"Fire and Vine" will be on display at the Corning Museum of Glass beginning this summer.

By Jelisa Castrodale
April 15, 2021
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Even if you're just an occasional wine drinker, you likely have a couple of different glass styles in your cabinet: One for reds, one for whites, maybe a flute or coupe. But the relationship between wine and glass (that's "glass" as in the vessel and the material) goes so much deeper—which makes it the perfect subject for a newly announced exhibit that will open this July at The Corning Museum of Glass in Corning, New York.

Wineglass in "RC105" Pattern, 1912
Credit: Courtesy of The Corning Museum of Glass

"Fire and Vine" will be a celebration of wine—and wine glasses—from around the world. And, in addition to its carefully curated combination of art, history, and science, the museum has some cool stuff to show off, too: there's a 2,000-year-old glass fragment that depicts that year's grape harvest (basically, it's the Instagram post of its time), a sealed bottle of wine rescued from an 18th-century shipwreck, a document dating back to 17th century Italy that details an "almost unbreakable glass jar" for storing and preserving wine, and a set of antique French hydrometers that were used to measure the alcohol content of wine.

Wine Jug in "Russian" Pattern, 1882-1890 Blown, cut glass
Wine Bottle, 1730, Non-lead glass, liquid wine, lead, foil, and paint
Il vaso di vetro quasi infrangible, dove non si guasta mai vino (The almost unbreakable glass jar where wine never spoils), 1611, By G.A. Fineo
Left: Credit: Courtesy of The Corning Museum of Glass
Center: Credit: Courtesy of The Corning Museum of Glass
Right: Credit: Courtesy of The Corning Museum of Glass

"It is easy to forget that the empty glass cups, pitchers, ewers, and bottles in museum display cases once held lush and luxuriant wine," Katherine Larson, the museum's curator of Ancient Glass, said. "For Fire and Vine, we have brought together objects that tell the story of how, for more than 2,500 years, the strength, impermeability, and versatility of glass have played an important role in every step of a wine's journey—factoring into the production, distribution, sale, and ultimately the enjoyment of this intoxicating beverage."

Wineglass, Tiffany Studios, 1902–1932
Credit: Courtesy of The Corning Museum of Glass

The exhibit will also explain the science of "how glass touches wine and it travels from the grape, to the bottle, and to the cup on our table," which will be of interest to even casual wine drinkers. "People have used glass goblets to drink wine for thousands of years, but only in the last hundred years or so has there been a distinction between red and white wine glasses, and even more recently for more specific varietals," Larson explained.

Goblet, 1600-1699 Blown, mold-blown, and tooled glass
Credit: Courtesy of The Corning Museum of Glass

There isn't always a "one size fits all" approach for wine glasses, as the size, shape, and depth of the glass can have a distinct effect on how the wine tastes. (The shape of the glass might also determine how fast you drink.) It is believed that the first glass vessels for drinking wine were created in Venice, Italy in the 1400s, but it wasn't until the 20th century that a connection was made between the glass shape and the flavor of the wine. Austrian glassmaker Claus Riedel made the first set of wine glasses that were specifically designed to correlate with different wines.

Goblets from the Sommeliers Series, designed in 1973, made in 1982, Blown glass
Credit: Courtesy of The Corning Museum of Glass

"Making high-quality stemware is a very challenging task to us glassblowers, and many makers consider goblets to be an important way to build and highlight one's skill with the material," Eric Goldschmidt, the Corning Museum of Glass's Flameworking and Properties of Glass Supervisor, said. "As delicate as a fine piece of stemware feels in the hand of the drinker, it feels similarly delicate when being crafted. The glassblower must keep all elements of the piece just the right temperature and apply just the right force with breath and hand-tools to achieve the ultimate results. It's a finely choreographed dance of timing and temperature."

In addition to the temporary exhibit, the museum's permanent collection includes items spanning 3,500 years of glassmaking, live glassblowing demonstrations, and even the opportunity to make your own piece of glass.

And if taking in Fire and Vine makes you crave a glass (or a bottle) of vino, the Corning Museum of Glass is just a 30-minute drive from Pleasant Valley Wine Company, which is the oldest winery in the entire Finger Lakes region. An afternoon at a museum followed by a stop at a vineyard sounds pretty normal—gloriously normal—and we're so glad that kind of thing is coming back. Fire and Vine opens on Saturday, July 3.