Anthropology of Wine

Anthropology of Wine at the ASFS Conference in Missoula

At the Association for the Study of Food and Society meeting in Missoula, MT this week, there will be a session on the anthropology of wine. The panel is entitled: “Anthropology of Wine: Culture, Terroir and Meaning in a Bottle” and it will take place on Saturday, June 11 from 2:45 to 4:15 in UC 327. Rumor has it there will even be some wine to taste.Anthropology of

Wine: Culture, Terroir and Meaning in a Bottle

Organizer & Moderator: Rachel Black (Boston University)

There are few people who would doubt the cultural importance and symbolic meanings of wine in Western cultures, so why have anthropologists chosen to largely overlook wine as a topic for scholarly investigation in its own right? This panel will bring together recent ethnographic research on wine in an effort to define a new area of study. Focusing on viticulture, oenology and wine drinking practices, the cultural meanings of wine from the performance of identity to the creation of place will be central to this panel. In addition, papers will explore cross- culturally the meanings that are constructed and contested through the production and consumption of wine. This panel will seek to go beyond the image of romance that so often dominates the commercial discourses of wine marketing and consumer fascination with this beverage in an effort to get at the complex social, political and economic issues that underlie wine production and consumption. Ethnographic research methods and anthropological theory inform these studies of wine and culture, helping to demystify the romantic haze and investigating the chain of production and consumption from the vineyard to the glass.

Cactus, Cows, Willie and Wine: Tasting in the Texas Hill Country

Martha Shugart

This paper examines the construction of knowledge and the expression of feeling and identity in tasting rooms of wine estates in the Texas Hill Country. Through the author’s participant observation and ethnographic research with owners, wine makers, tasting room attendants and customers, it considers who visits these ranch side wineries, who works at them and how they interact and think of each other, and of the wine. These considerations are explored in light of the “Texan identity?” how it is reflected in product design, tasting room atmosphere and discourse. As the second fastest-growing wine region in the nation (following Napa), and as the largest American Viticulture Area out of any single state, the number of Texas Hill Country wineries has more than quadrupled since 2003 and receives between 3 and 5 million visitors a year. Visits to its vineyards and wineries shape the way people conceive of wine; the very act of tasting functions as an educational milieu. As Texas continues to grow in the industry, its tasting rooms strive to project an image that reflects the imagined Central Texas ethos: quality without pretension. By considering the style of discourse and design of space in relation to structure of affect, the author explores how this process is taking shape and how it influences the decisions of those who produce the wine and those who come to learn about it.

Vino Naturale: Tensions between Nature and Technology in the Glass

Rachel Black

The average wine drinker might consider fermentation and wine making to be a mysterious process largely governed by the forces of nature: however, contemporary viticulture and oenology are technology intensive from grape harvesting machinery to industrial yeast and complex 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 this criticism are the increasing 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 and science against nature and craft. 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.

El Sabor de Galicia: Identity Performance within Galicia, Spain’s Wine Regions

Christina Maria Ceisel

This presentation uses performance ethnography as means of understanding of how heritage and locality figure into both local and tourist markets, focusing on the cultural significance of Ribiero and Albariño wine production in Galicia, Spain. Against the backdrop of transnational flows of culture and commodities, wine becomes a site for the performance of Gallegan identity, resulting in a particular staging of the region’s heritage, traditions and culture. Many of their traditions– including foodstuffs and wines– are omitted from the Castillian Spanish imaginary, which privileges gazpacho, paella, and Rioja wines as signifiers of the nation. Meanwhile, the European Union’s appellation system contributes to the development and branding of Galicia’s wines, encouraging local producers to modernize production processes and increase exports. Consortiums aimed at promoting the wine varietals’ prominence adopt marketing strategies stressing the wine’s historic ties to the terrior and culture of Galicia. These twin processes of modernization and heritage marketing result in the simultaneous localizing of the wines within Galicia’s cultural and political heritage, while exporting “Galicia” to the global community as embodied through their wines.

Changing Images of Terroir: Space, Place and the Chilean Wine Industry

Nicolas Sternsdorff

This paper explores the notion of terroir, and develops a critique of the argument that food with a sense of process has political potential. Several food scholars and activists have advanced the argument that one of the problems in contemporary North America is the distance between consumers and producers. As commodities are rendered anonymous by capitalist processes, consumers lose touch with the roots of their food. In contrast, by bringing consumers and producers closer and endowing commodities with a sense of place and process, moral economies can emerge and consumers can reconnect with the sources of their food. I propose to examine terroir as used by the wine industry as one of the best developed versions of process and place that travels with a food commodity to consumers. However, I argue that terroir is best understood not as a given but rather a struggle for controlling representations of space. Inspired by the work of Henri Lefebvre and other spatial theorists, I bring terroir into the discussions of space, and critically examine the processes by which social actors weave a narrative about space and taste. To work through the argument, I will analyze the trajectory of the Montes in winery Chile — one of the country’s pioneer premium brands and that was instrumental in re-imagining Chile’s potential as capable of wines de terroir.