Global wine drinking cultures…translating terroir?

Marion Demossier

Despite the diversity of contemporary societies, global citizens have increasingly demonstrated an interest for local foodstuffs and products or for highly territorialised items that they could identify precisely in their imagination. While most government policies in the UK and elsewhere target drinking cultures by increasing prices or creating sets of policies to control drinking, the cultural and social dimension of alcohol consumption is rarely discussed. By focusing on wine drinking culture as a global phenomenon, my work tries to understand the cultural and social dimensions of alcohol drinking by focusing on a case-study based upon a local and transnational ethnographic analysis that has been conducted over a period of twenty years.

Burgundy has been widely recognised as the home of the world’s finest wines and as the birthplace of a model of ‘terroir’ connecting taste to place. That concept was given legal form during the 1930s when the French state developed the system of Appellations d’Origine Contrôlées (AOC) emphasising the relationship between a given place, its micro-climatic characteristics and local culture incarnated by wine-growers and their traditional techniques. The story seemed to guarantee the taste of place and to justify the high price of purchase for this closed gustatory experience. The terroir model has proved incredibly attractive and has rapidly expanded to European and more recently global level and now provides a counter-story to that of globalisation, standardisation and industrialisation by challenging the vast array of anonymous, mass produced foods and beverages available to the consumer. Terroir has become a global phenomenon, encompassing everything from Portuguese wines to Fontina D’Aosta cheese.

Drawing on more than twenty years of fieldwork carried out not only in Burgundy, but also in Bordeaux, Paris, Philadelphia and New Zealand with some of the world’s most famous wine producers, wine experts, wine lovers and consumers, my research seeks to demystify terroir and to describe for the first time the growing challenge it faces from a new generation eager to question the very essence of quality and to become more ecologically minded. The book I am currently writing tells the story of this hidden debate over the issue of quality which is perceived as hindered by the hegemony of the AOC legal system. It provides a unique long-term ethnographic analysis of what lies behind terroir in Burgundy and thus raises important questions about the future of quality wine in a global era and about terroir as a global ideology.  It also questions to what extent the concept of drinking cultures is embedded in a global cultural space.

Marion Demossier


DEMOSSIER, M.  (2011) Wine drinking culture in France: a national myth or a modern passion?, Cardiff, GB, University of Wales Press, 224pp. (French and Francophone Studies).

DEMOSSIER, M. (2011), Beyond terroir: territorial construction, hegemonic discourses, and French wine culture. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 17: 685–705. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9655.2011.01714.x

Further links

2013 Pinot Noir Festival in Wellington

LSE Blog: Book review by Amy Ludlow of  European Identity and Culture: Narratives of Transnational Belonging

Blog of a wine lover: Wine Drinking Culture in France: A National Myth or a Modern Passion? (Cardiff: University of Wales) is a dense, scholarly effort which uses French wine drinking culture as a case study of the construction and evolution of a national wine drinking culture.  This book is not for the faint of heart. […]With these momentous, bubble-bursting (mine anyway) words, the author launches into an extended discourse of the forces of change and the look and feel of the emerging picture.  Fascinating.[…]This is an excellent book. If you are a wine culture nerd, read this book.  If not, wait for the movie.