Terroir in Translation: Exploring the Place of Place in the Global Food System – European and Comparative Approaches

By World Congress Planning Committee

DATE: SATURDAY, AUGUST 13, 2016                                  TIME: 4:00PM


Session Code: IRSA_24D


Session Description: The concept of terroir, or the way that specific geographic and sociocultural characteristics influence the foods and drinks produced in particular places, has long been associated with its French origins. Yet various permutations and interpretations of terroir can be found around the world: from Mexican tequila to Hungarian tokai, from Wisconsin artisanal cheese to Darjeeling tea, and from Vermont maple syrup to Chiapan mangos, to name a few. The sociocultural meanings ascribed to each of these interpretations of terroir vary widely, a dynamic further complicated by the influence of markets and institutions on conceptualizations of terroir in particular contexts. In some cases, for example, terroir appears to be actively constructed or ‘engineered’ in dialogue with market demands, while in other cases longstanding cultural traditions dominate understandings of terroir. In some national agricultures, terroir is at the center of rural development agricultural policy, for reasons both cultural and economic. Too, the degree to which terroir is inextricably linked to specific ecologies is more fluid than it initially appears, as foods today are constructed and deconstructed at scales ranging from the molecular to landscape levels. This paper session aims to explore new and changing conceptualizations of terroir in a variety of international contexts, primarily exploring non-Western European understandings of the following questions:

To what degree is terroir a fixed or fluid concept? To what degree does it reflect an ongoing dialogue between cultures, specific ecologies, and markets?

How are interpretations of terroir linked to particular economic and political institutions and underlying power relations’ How do interpretations vary between places?

What meanings does the construction of terroir in various cultures reflect?

How might ‘inventing tradition’ influence how terroir is employed in non-Western European cultures?

To what degree are conceptualizations of terroir bounded by taste?


Session Organizers: Kathryn De Master, University of California-Berkeley; Sarah Bowen, North Carolina State University


Session Chair: Sarah Bowen, North Carolina State University




  1. Cinzia Piatti, Universtat Hohenheim

French taste in a New Zealand terroir?  

This paper discusses the concept of terroir related to wine from the perspective of taste and questions the common understanding of such a concept.
From its French origin used to explain the uniqueness of a place, terroir now results in different meanings according to different locations; exploits geographical and ecological differences to impose cultural ones; and is used to protect some specific places and their production. Also used in winemaking, such a concept has been exploited by French wine producers to claim the superiority of their wine, despite the difference inherent in the notion of terroir. French vocabulary, techniques and practices in winemaking have become the standard, and such a standard has been imposed also on taste. But whose taste is that? The ‘taste of the land’ or the taste of the taster? And what taster? Taste has become the discriminant against which to measure the success of a terroir or the failure of the taster. Moreover some French wine producers ventured overseas to find new places for production, or, new terroirs. Ultimately terroir used in a fixed way and defensively results in contradictions, whereas a more dialogical definition can address the complex interaction between humans and nature.
This paper proposes two case-studies of French wine producers owning New Zealand wine estates (Deutz and Clos Henri) in order to discuss the contradictory ways the concepts of terroir and taste are understood and applied in different contexts.


2.  Atle When Hegnes, Norwegian Institute fo Bioeconomy Research

Practicing terroir in Norway       

Practice theory is developed and applied to understand stability and change in social life. Yet there are still important questions related to practices producing social change. I use qualitative data and the case of PDO and PGI labeling in Norway to develop an analysis that attentions transformative practices that change social organization, meaning and materiality in the context of Geographical indications.
An important requirement when producers apply for PDO or PGI, is to adapt a concise definition of the geographical area of the product. According to the criteria the product must be characterized by a specific geographical origin developed over a long period of interaction with local traditions, local natural environment, and savoir faire – often known as terroir. In Norway this task is demanding, because Norwegian food culture has lacked a terminology to describe the dynamic trinity of products, peoples and places.
I describe and understand how the ‘local’ and the notion of ‘place’ are constructed through the transformative practices of social re-organisations, translations of meaning and material transformations. I further argue that the transformative practices can be related to a distinction between terroir and map boundaries. I conclude that understanding the construction of place and terroir as transformative practices permits to identify, describe and understand the construction, power relations, adaptations, justifications and consequences of this boundary work.

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