Tag Archives: wine

Size Matters: How Semiotics is Making History in the World of Wine

Kerri Lesh
University of Nevada, Reno

A “historic milestone” for the Spanish wine-making region of Rioja has been making headlines in the wine world. A new labeling strategy was approved that will shape the way producers from Rioja can market their wine after the 2017 harvest. This decision illustrates the efforts that have been made on behalf of the Asociación de Bodegas de Rioja Alavesa (ABRA) to differentiate the wines of the Basque zone of Rioja Alavesa, and will now apply to all producers in the Rioja wine-making Designation of Origen (DOC).

On August 11, the decision was made by the Regulatory Board of Rioja DOC to allow for wines to be labeled by “zona”(zone) and “villa”(town or municipality), as well as “viñedos singulares” or single vineyard wine. This ruling comes after more than forty bodegas had been working to develop a new Designation of Origin (DO), called Viñedos de Álava or, in Basque, Arabako Mahastiak. The latest decision has, then, been made to halt the efforts to create the Alavesa label, and to allow the DOC of Rioja to follow through with its new agreement.

The Vice President of ABRA, Carlos Fernández, commented on the Dastatu Rioja Alavesa blog that, “This began many years ago with the demand for a font size to acknowledge the distinct subzones of the Rioja DOC.” Up until now, the permitted subzones, now simply called “zones,” had to be displayed using a smaller font size than that of the larger “Rioja” DOC indication. The three zones–Alta, Alavesa, and Baja (the latter recently changed to Oriental or “Eastern”)–can now be listed in a font equal in size to that of the larger designation of “Rioja.”

rioja lobel

Bottle label from Ostatu displaying the previous font specifications

Bittor Oroz, the Deputy Minister of Agriculture, Fishing, and Food Policy for the Basque Government, expands on the importance of making “place” more visible by referencing the concept of terroir, as stated in Noticias de Alava:

“People look for the origin of the wine they consume, they want to link it to the terroir…they are looking for something more than just the quality of the product, but rather the story behind the wine, the histories that lie behind a glass, and being able to focus in on a particular bodega, on the places where it is cultivated and produced.  Because of that, it is important to identify those spaces and give them their due value.”

The importance of this new agreement highlights the challenges of selling wine within various markets, in such a way whereby identity and traceability are not lost. This particular use of semiotics is in part driven by the producers’ and consumers’ desire for a unique, traceable, and well-marketed wine.

A portion of my research in the Basque Country entails the observation of how semiotics and the concept of terroir are implemented in marketing local gastronomic products.  Alongside Anne Lally, I have co-organized and chaired the panel titled Taste and Terroir as Anthropological Matter. This panel will be featured at the annual American Anthropological Association meeting, to be held this November in Washington D.C.

Please feel free to contact me with any questions, comments or concerns at kerri.lesh@gmail.com.

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Filed under AAA 2017 Washington DC, anthropology, Spain, wine

How To Make A Place

David Beriss

I have been thinking a lot lately about the role of food in turning a place into a cultural landmark. This is the mirror opposite of the process through which foods acquire their reputation through a linkage to a place. That, of course, is what we refer to these days as terroir. The implication is that the place, through soil, climate, or traditions, is reflected in the food. The process in either direction seems to require that people be self-conscious about making the link work. This is the work of culture and history, not nature.

This is particularly true when the place in question is a store or restaurant, rather than a farm. In the spirit of such things, I want to call attention to a tale of a New Orleans wine shop and its relatively successful efforts to use wine to make a place. I think this is a particularly interesting process because, in a society in which many things are mostly sold in large big box chain stores, success for small-scale local retailers often draws on place-making strategies. This is true for bookstores, hardware stores, bike shops, and, of course, wine stores and other food-related businesses.

The wine shop in this instance is Bacchanal Wine, which is located in New Orleans Upper Ninth Ward, also known as Bywater. It was started in 2002 by Chris Rudge in what was then a slowly (perhaps even very slowly) gentrifying neighborhood in a ramshackle building. I visited a few times back then, mostly because it was near the original location of The Joint, which was a similarly ramshackle barbecue joint just up the street. I visited more often after the 2005 hurricane and floods, when Bacchanal became a bit more than a wine store. There was music in their courtyard, chefs cooking creative foods in an outdoor “kitchen” of sorts, sometimes food trucks. It was a lively and, it turns out, somewhat illegal scene and a sure sign that the neighborhood was changing much more rapidly. Having sorted out their legal issues a few years ago, the shop had to deal more recently with the death of the founding owner.

The wine store remains a lively scene. There is, of course, retail wine for sale in the store. And like a number of other New Orleans wine shops, Bacchanal also serves drinks at its own bar. There is also food, some of which is quite ambitious. And there is live music in their courtyard nearly every evening. There are other wine shops in New Orleans that engage in similar strategies (Swirl and Pearl, for instance), although Bacchanal’s full program may be a bit more ambitious than most (Do wine shops do this in other cities? Tell us about it in the comments.).

In just the last week, the store has added another element in what seems like a distinct effort to create what might be their very own terroir, if such a thing can exist in this sort of setting. They released their own wine, which Rudge and his partners had blended on a trip to California. They have also made a short documentary celebrating both Rudge and the history of the shop. The whole story has been told in interesting detail by Brett Anderson, on the nola.com website.

All of this comes together, then, to make a distinct place. Terroir is really not the right word, but it is perhaps the right spirit. Clearly, much of this is self-conscious place-making by the owners of the shop. Given their success, it seems like they have hit upon a strategy that resonates with people in New Orleans and beyond, as this article and video makes clear. This success also raises questions about what this signifies for the neighborhood and the city in general, since there are no doubt those who would prefer a different kind of place making. Yet the process of self-conscious place making itself is fascinating. How else can a small retail store succeed when the very thing they sell is easily available in big grocery stores? By selling place, rather than just wine.

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Filed under anthropology, anthropology of food, New Orleans, wine

11th Annual Wine Economics Conference

We recently received the following announcements, which may be of interest to all of you wine anthropologists:

(1) CALL FOR CONFERENCE PAPERS
The 11th Annual Conference of the American Association of Wine Economists (AAWE) will be held from Jun 28 – Jul 2, 2017 in Padova/ItalyWe consider all wine topics related to economics, statistics, and business including submissions that overlap with adjacent fields such as (but not limited to) psychology, neuroscience, history, linguistics, viticulture, law or oenology. Submission Deadline: Dec 15, 2016(Details).
 
(2) THREE RESEARCH SCHOLARSHIPS
AAWE is offering 3 Research Scholarships. Each Scholarship pays US$1,500 and grants free admission to the Annual AAWE Conference in Padova/Italy. Submission Deadline: Nov 15, 2016. (Details)
 
(3) New Journal: JOURNAL OF WINE ECONOMICS: SELECTED PROCEEDINGS (JWE:SP)
From 2017 on, the American Association of Wine Economists (AAWE) will publish a new Journal called “Journal of Wine Economics: Selected Proceedings”. JWE:SP will appear once a year, immediately after AAWE’s  annual conference, and will draw on selected conference papers, which are typically short (up to 3,000 words) and may be non-technical. For JWE:SP, the editors will consider single papers as well as entire sessions. 

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Filed under anthropology, Call for Papers, economics, wine