Scott Prudham (University of Toronto), 2 May 2017 (a seminar jointly hosted with the Exeter Business School):

Midi Rouge or Midi Vert? Organic Wine, Metabolism, and Social Reproduction in Languedoc-Roussillon

Over the last twenty-five years, organic wine has emerged from relative obscurity to comprise an important and growing niche in the international wine market. The Languedoc-Roussillon region in southern France has been one of the centres of this emergence. Languedoc-Roussillon (now part of the broader Occitanie region) has also been one of the most important wine producing regions in France for decades, generating large volumes of wine while sustaining livelihoods from viticulture, including for a large class of small-holding petty commodity producers. In Languedoc, the politics of the vine are never far from the politics of the region more generally. How do we understand, situate and appraise the relatively rapid conversion to organic viticulture and viniculture in Languedoc in relation to longer term trends in the socio-ecology of wine production? Drawing on mixed methods research – including collaborative event ethnography deployed at the Millésime Bio organic wine trade shows of 2016 and 2017 – and a neo-Polanyian perspective on market formation, I emphasize the emergence of the organic wine sector as a contested and contradictory process embedded within historical-geographical trajectories of socio-ecological transformation. Specifically, while attending to the importance of institutional actors, I explore and explain systemic representations and practices associated with organic wine, emphasizing three inter-related themes. First, I discuss the articulation of notions emphasizing the representation and marketing of organic wine based on quality distinctions (as opposed to price, efficiency, ethical production standards, etc.). Second, I interrogate the deployment of the concept of “terroir” by trade show organizers and participants, particularly its re-articulation as a fetishistic and yet contradictory notion that attributes quality in the production of organic wine directly to “nature”. Third, I discuss the importance of narratives concerning family, historical continuity, tradition, and attachment to privately owned vineyard land as they pertain to the role of small-scale independent petty commodity producers. The deployment of these narratives in relation to organic wine builds on and yet obscures important longer term trends concerning the architecture of socio-ecological reproduction for small-holders. I argue that these narratives comprise forms of “invented tradition”, navigating a delicate balance between stasis and change. These observations in turn point to the need to situate the emergence of organic wine within an historical-geographical succession of socio-ecological (re)production regimes and agrarian questions in the wine sector of Languedoc-Roussillon.