This is a rather different post from normal – it’s about something very personal, rather than an exploration of a specific aspect of wine and culture around the world. You could say that it is a merely promotional comment, but it’s also designed to give a rather broader insight into my work. So…
After almost three years hard work, with six brilliant co-editors, today sees the release of the Routledge Handbook of Wine and Culture. We examine the cultural context of wine consumption and production from a range of disciplines in the Humanities, Social Sciences and Business with 45 great contributions from 57 of the leading authors in the field – and you can get to see how culture shapes wine in myriad ways and places: China, Champagne and Texas, label typefaces and backyard production, religion and fashion theory – then many others. It’s an academic book and not really designed as bedtime reading but I think it really does move on our understanding of wine – and the fact that it is not limited to a single discipline is very important to me. Too many people only engage with wine philosophically, or politically, or anthropologically, without learning about the other ways to explore the drink.
This is the project that has engrossed me professionally whilst I’ve been writing this blog. When I was contacted by Routledge and asked to edit a book on wine and culture I immediately declined. I’d just come out of editing two other books and – more significantly – I knew instantly that such a project would have so wide a disciplinary context that it would be beyond my experience and knowledge. ‘Culture’ in this sense has to bring in expertise from history and geography, sociology and anthropology, cultural studies and text, economics and business – and I only have limited knowledge of most of these.
Twenty-four hours later I rang back and said that I had changed my mind, on condition that I could assemble a team of editors from different backgrounds and experience who would complement what I had to offer and enable us to create a truly interdisciplinary text. This has allowed me to work with a number of colleagues with whom I had already researched and whom I was confident would strive to create a wide-ranging and genuinely useful book. The process has been difficult at times (how do engaged researchers from seven different fields even agree on a definition of culture?) but it has been collegial and creative, as well as intellectually challenging and enriching.
Why wine and culture? Each of us editors is fascinated by this relationship, and each of us has a different story to tell about what piqued our interest in it. Before I became an academic I spent a few years selling wines in liquor stores in Sydney. The wine was interesting – but equally so were the people. There was the lady who, every few days, would come in for the ‘cheapest red wine that you have’; when after some months of this I asked her why it was always the cheapest she answered that she didn’t like the taste – but had been told that it was good for her health to have a glass each evening. The businessman, a self-confessed connoisseur, who insisted on ‘a man’s drink – full bodied red’ and refused the suggestion of pinot noir as you only have to look at it to see it is weak and a wine for women. The elderly couple I encountered outside a professional tasting of French wines who were interested in what was happening but then, when I explained it to them, retorted ‘why do that? We have perfectly good wines here in Australia and don’t need any of that French stuff’. The wine store owners who insisted that they weren’t running a business but were ‘living a lifestyle’. The office worker who didn’t drink wine often but when she did enjoyed it because it took her back to her youth in Croatia when she would be sent by her father to the corner shop with a plastic bottle to fill with wine from their barrel; ‘it would last us about two days’. The winemaker who claimed that idea of terroir was just a French excuse for badly made wine. All these stories and myriad others were as intriguing as the wines themselves, and an interest in what sparked such various views of the drink led me a decade later to write a book about its cultural and social context.
Finally, we note in the Conclusion to this volume that one of the negative aspects of wine is the vast amount of water consumed in its production. We, the editors, enjoy wine immensely. In part reparation for the environmental problems caused by our passion we have decided to donate the royalties from this book to the charity WaterAid – https://www.wateraid.org/uk/