Anthropology of Wine

“Vino Naturale: Tensions between nature and technology in the glass”

The average wine drinker likely considers fermentation and wine making to be a mysterious process largely governed by the forces of nature: however, contemporary viticulture (the growing of grapes) and oenology (the science of wine making) are technology intensive from grape harvesting machinery to industrial yeast and fermentation tanks with cooling systems. Although much of the technology used in winemaking and the growing of grapes has improved the quality of most commercially produced wines, it is generally obscured from the consumer. The romantic vision of nature in the glass has prevailed.

Recently, the practices of industrial wine producers have come under attack from environmental groups and consumers who are concerned about the sustainability of grape growing and the healthfulness of industrial wine. Three of the off shoots of these consumer concerns are the increase in the production of organic grapes, the expansion of biodynamic agricultural practices and the fledgling natural wine movement. In much of this discourse, the natural wine movement pits technology against nature. This polarization has created a heightened discussion of wine’s “naturalness” and it has created a problematic questioning of the place of technology in wine production.

This paper will focus on discourses of nature and technology that are embedded in wine writers’ and drinkers’ language when talking about wine. Textual discourse analysis and ethnographic interviews serves as the basis of this research that looks at Italian wine and its American consumers. The growing dichotomy between nature and technology in the glass is at the center of this exploration.

I will be presenting this working paper on March 8, 4:30-5:30pm, Room 109, 808 Commonwealth Ave.,  as part of the new Gastronomy Program working papers sessions here at Boston University. Feel free to stop in and give me your opinions and thoughts on my research. Later in March, I will be presenting this paper at a Food Studies conference at the Rochester Institute of Technology.