Anthropology of Wine

Slow Wine at UBC

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to present my latest research on Slow Wine, which is a general call for developing a movement that applies the Slow Food philosophy to the wine industry: “defend biodiversity in our food supply, spread taste education and connect producers of excellent foods with co-producers through events and initiatives.”

Dr. Raul Pacheco-Vega was kind enough to live blog the seminar:

Dr. Rachel Black on Slow Wine (03/06/2009)
Have you all heard about “Slow Food”? It’s a movement (started early in the 1980s) over 80,000 members. It is a non-profit, largely volunteer organization and defines its mission through:
– Defense of biodiversity
– Taste education
– Connecting with producers and co-producers

The snail as a symbol oof slow resilience is the movement’s logo. Interestingly, slow food finds its roots in wine (Carlo petrini – he founded Slow Food in 1989 and remains a central figure of the movement).

A few producers tried to create stronger wines by adding methanol in Italy a number of years ago. This reminds people about what has happened in the Italian wine industry and whatever credibility it had.
Support the movement towards quality and reduce the emphasis on mass production.
Rachel met with engineers working in water issues, wine producers, etc. This is the wine producing area (Piedmont) – where the scandal happened is related to this area. Slow food started in the town of Bra. It really started in the heart of wine country.
Slow food fighting against the encroachment of fast food. A guide to eating well in Italy. The restaurants participants must meet certain standards. Enogastronomic guide books help shape the Slow Food movement.
“Take the time to enjoy food and share with friends and family”. Why Slow Food hasn’t translated into Slow Wine. “Eating as an agricultural act” – Now Rachel describes the movement of Vinaroon and biodynamic wines.

Rachel and Anthony have pondered – Why slow foods don’t translate or adopt into the wine thing?

4:16 – “Farmstead Wines connects you to artisan farmers who make rare, handcrafted wines of sustainable provenance. Now, drinking fine wine is an agricultural act too.”
Like many other wine guides, the Italian Wines guide places emphasis on the wine quality and offers ratings.
The Wine Guide does not judge the wines based on the production method. It doesn’t give any consideration for respect for tradition or sustainability. The value judgement is based on the sensory perception and tasting. So, what does make it slow?
Why is something similar to Slow Food not possible for the Wine Guide?

Can you think of any other product that is described in such abstract terms? Possibly artisan beer, and ethical coffee but we don’t talk much about ethical wines.

Tasting notes – “The Wine Spectator” “88 [Points] Chateau – Cantemerle – Haut – Medoc 2006 $ 31 – Blackberry and sweet tobacco follow through to a medium body, with slightly aggressive tannins and a medium finish. Chewy. Needs time to mellow. Best after 2011. 33,330 cases made – J.S.” – Wine Spectator, March 31st, 2009.

What did we learn from the Tasting Note?

We are given a judgement about when the wine should be drank but nothing about how the wine was made and the implications of its production method.

After analyzing the discourse of a sample of Wine Guides and blogs, the comments disassociate the wine with its production methods. This method is different from talking about food (we talk now more about the ingredients and the origin of the ingredients – and these elements form a judgement of quality).

What are the perceptions of quality?

Preparation and provenance of ingredients are value judgements of how food is judged now.

Why isn’t that happening with wine?

Rachel’s fieldwork in Italy was very much with wine makers. When she came to North America she started talking to people who know from very little to a lto about wine (and who enjoy the wine). They rarely mention ingredients or production methods (in her interviews, that’s what she found).

Very little knowledge of the technical details was found in her interviews. Her informants said that they didn’t have the technical knowledge about wine when it comes to describing the wine and the production methods.
Do you ever think about the production methods of wine when consuming it?

( 0% )

No, why would I?

( 0% )

Yes, of course!

( 100% )
Wine hasn’t reached that point where methods of production are relevant. In France location and provenance is key in wine (Charles Menzies’ comment)
Knowledge is extremely local.
Is this the case with other beverages? Do people have much knowledge about the process and production method?

There is a whole field of journalism that is specific to wine. Vodka and beer are just recently more now. The slow food approach would say ‘we need to really learn what is taste, what is quality’.

At University of Gastronomic Sciences – there are courses that are on beer making, etc.

Question – I’m wondering about scale – If you go to a wine tasting in Sonoma or Napa you will definitely hear about the production techniques.

British Columbians are now gaining an interest in wine.
Raul Pacheco-Vega (me) made a point about environmental policy and the design of environmental policy instruments that are based on information dissemination (regulatory schemes – eco-labels) – eco-certification schemes.

In her interviews, expert opinion plays a part in perceptions of quality, that are mainly subjective and associated with taste.

These are initial interviews.

Rachel is noticing another trend – the language that wine consumers are using is “healthy and tasty”. Some individuals expressed guilt about their wine consumption but they justify consumption by saying ‘it’s natural, and healthy’. They felt that, compared to other forms of alcohol – less fattening, helps digestion, goes well with food, etc.

What Rachel started to see is that wine consumers go through the ‘natural process of fermentation’.

Rachel’s further research – perceptions of nature, technology, the use of technology in wine making. Fermentation isn’t quite as natural as some people think. Dr. Van Buren developed genetically modified yeasts so that the wine wouldn’t give as much headache.
Viticulture and agriculture as natural processes?

There is a human-plant relationship that has to do with the development of technique and knowledge on how to tend the grapevine. This is frequently left out of any kind of discussion. Now there’s a large movement towards organic wine production.

This idea of nature – there are so different perspectives – in the Lange there is no biodiversity, there’s just a monoculture – yet so many people think that it is so pretty, so natural, so pristine.

There are places where you should and where you should NOT grow grapes.

There are concerns about carbon footprint – the wine industry needs to address it and think about it. There is a mis-conception about what viticulture is.

Then we move into the cantina – the winemaking facility. Fermentation is a natural process. A grape grows and it wants to ferment. The berries are covered in natural yeast. But if you only get grapes ferment on their own you’ll get nasty wine.

Taste education connecting people to producers and place (Barbaresco – Martinenga)

The concept of GreenWashing – producers want to play on the idea of green marketing. There is also a great need for taste education.

Seminar’s over – now on to questions – I might continue liveblogging or just focus on the talk.