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The Vile and the Noble: On Classifications in the French Wine World

Past Series, The Disciplines Series, The Disciplines Series: Evaluation, Value, and Evidence

dateSeptember 12, 2012 timeWednesday, 6:15pm EDT location The Heyman Center, Second Floor Common Room, Columbia University
  • Maison Française
  • Free and open to the public
  • No registration necessary
  • First come, first seated
  • Photo ID required for entry

This talk will examine the concept of terroir—a French expression that captures the correspondence between the physical and human features of a place, and the character of its agricultural products. Tied to the protection of economic rents threatened by competition and fraud, the practice of classifying certain lands, grapes, and properties—both substantively and qualitatively—has become the organizing principle of the entire French wine industry. Often derided as snobbish, monopolistic practices by New World producers, the notion of terroir in France and its rejection in America both exemplify how the “principles of vision and division” of the natural world are always intertwined with the “principles of vision and division” of the social world. The present paper discusses these affinities through an analysis of wine classifications in the French regions of Bordeaux and Burgundy, and some of the critiques they have given rise to in the United States.

Steven Shapin will serve as respondent.

This talk is made possible through the generous support of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.