Archive for October, 2010
See Immigrant Wine Growers Shape Napa Valley (html), online now, including vintner interviews (Black Coyote, Ceja, Lavoro, Marita’s Vineyard, Robledo, Tricycle), Trond’s Wine Picks (Maritas’ Vineyard Cab, Rios Wine’s Mixco and Robledo’s Cab) and links to the Napa Valley Wine Scene. A paper version is available for free in the streets of Boston and New York City. Also, see this blog’s list of all Color Magazine Wine Columns.
The American Dream always awakes and inspires recent immigrants. Napa Valley is no exception. Charles Krug, a 27-year-old Prussian immigrant, founded the first winery in 1861. Other Europeans, particularly Italians, Germans and French, followed. In 1966, Robert Mondavi, of Italian descent, built Napa Valley’s first major winery and shaped the Valley into one of the most important wine growing regions in the world. Well, so much for romantic history.
Arguably, the wine industry is now being transformed by another immigrant wave, the Hispanics, who bring with them their own ways of thinking about community, ownership, quality, tradition and terroir, and not always in unison.
Continuing to think about writing a book on the Sociology of Wine, I might have to answer how my book would differ from Tyler Colman‘s excellent Wine Politics (2008). To this, would say, I will continue in this vein, with increased focus on people, culture and non-state actors, innovators, and particularly upon minority winemakers. Within a sociology of wine there is such a thing as the sociology of wine politics, but there is more to it than that.
Or, I might have to position myself against an encyclopedic effort such as Brostrom & Brostrim’s The Business of Wine (2008). I would simply say that the business side clearly is very important to my topic. The reason is that there would be no sociology of wine without a business rationale for winemaking. The rational will vary between locales and with the degree of marketing or entrepreneurial talent (or ideology towards those things). Customers and consumers around the world come in many flavors and segments, and there is plenty of wine for everyone, but, not so easy to make money on wine. However, is it really true that it takes a few million dollars to earn a million in wine? Clearly, there are people who disagree. I will try to gather evidence of both, and see who thinks what, and why.
A more difficult task, one would think, might be to differentiate myself from Steve Charters’ (2006) Wine and Society: The Cultural and Social Context of a Drink, although his work is a bit dated already. It was a Ph.D thesis long in the coming already back then. To this, I have to say, Steve does bring up an interesting panoply of issues such as historical and cultural factors shaping wine production, place marketing, the contemporary wine consume. He is quite focused on the social dimension of wine. However, his work is, unfortunately, quite technical. With this I mean burdened with academic references and lingo of little interest to the casual reader or even to the professional wine student or trade professional. Having written a Ph.D thesis myself, I fully understand. I think mine was read by a maximum of 3 people, and they were all paid to do so. The ideas in there, luckily, survived, but not in the same format.
The bulk of Steve’s book is spent on an analysis of marketing efforts. I happen to be quite critical of marketing, and even though it is interesting to deconstruct marketing messages, it feels slightly misleading to make this the main focus of a book on the sociology of wine. After all, it is the sociological underpinnings of society, how it differs from culture to culture, how it intersects with variables like gender, social background, ethnicity, status, class, social role, etc. that interests me the most. Hopefully, this can be conveyed to the readers as well.
If I ever write a book proposal, I might have to expand on these points. Luckily, there are lots of ways to publish these days. I have already tried the self-publishing route with my previous management book Leadership From Below. As I have documented elsewhere (see The Origins of Leadership From Below), self-publishing was not my first choice. In fact, I was refused the right to publish by my then boss at the European Commission I, probably wisely so, did not want to take the risk that my new employer, Oracle Corporation would have the same opinion or at least delay publication).
In short, my experience became an arduous affair where I discovered that the writing of the book is the easy part, it is the marketing that is difficult. I also learned a lot about the book trade, such as the fact that less than 1% of books actually sell, whether or not they have a reputable publisher. Another option is to convince Color Magazine to somehow issue my work. After all, they like my wine columns, why would they not like my book length stuff? But, do they care? Their priority one right now is to issue a Magazine. I will have to find out. The third option might be to pitch it to publishers. I am not foreign to the thought.
Well. Publishers. The first thing they will ask themselves is: does Trond have a platform, a vantage point from which he can speak authoritatively (or be perceived as such), and from which he can reasonably be expected to recoup our initial investment, i.e. the first printing of 750 books, if lucky.
Do I have a platform? I don’t know. I do, mysteriously, write a monthly wine column for an up-and-coming, soon to be national magazine. I have credentials in social science. I have published a book already. I know a lot of people and I maintain several blogs and social networks, online and otherwise. In the end, my assumption is going to be that I need a bit more. This is why I am reaching out to bloggers, readers, and wine communities everywhere. Help shape this book. Make your voice heard. It serves nobody to write my own sociology of wine. What I want is a dynamic work developed jointly with the leading voices around the world. Leading voices, by the way, could be established, up-and-coming, young, old, traditional or innovative. I want to portray the situation as it is, as it is experienced, rather, and then add a few layers of analysis on top. But if you do not agree with the analysis, please speak up. So, yes, it is a different book. Has it been done before? Possibly. Co-writing online and in dialog with readers is popular these days. But I have seldom seen it executed well. Maybe because it is so difficult.
In the end, what publishers know, and what I am starting to realize, is that your platform is not so much about yourself, as it is about your network. It is certainly not what I know now that will determine what this book will be about. It is much more about what I am prepared to find out. Being open to learning new things, being willing to go anywhere there is a lead, and having a certain ability to document the process, is what this will be all about. But, in the end, it will be a physical book, with all the finality of that product. Not that that has ever stopped anybody from reflecting much beyond the argument contained therein.
The beauty of books is, of course, that you can freely interpret what it means to you. Good books have more to bring to the table, not because of the information in them, but because their cognitive structure allows the reader’s intellect to mesh with what’s already written down. Any good book should be like that. A sociology book should certainly be like that. Will there be references, theories, methods, data, statistics, analysis, and all that. You bet. But not the usual way. Stay tuned.
Thinking about the Book’s Introduction, the first I needs to answer, I would imagine, is why write a book on this topic. Why, after all, white another book on wine? What could I possibly add to the flow of information on wine today, the hundreds of useful books published on the subject every year, the already numerous experts on the topic, the thousands of bloggers who produce hundreds of thousands of blog entries, maybe more?
Without having amassed all the bright answers one would usually come up with in a polished book, here are some initial thoughts:
- A Sociology of Wine will not be a book on wine as such. It is more about the people.
- The sociology of wine can tell us a lot about social change, identity, lifestyle, and the dynamics of markets.
- A lot has happened since the world was divided into old world and new world–but as most cultures are old, and constantly reinvent themselves, or not, the distinction is meaningless.
- My angle is quite specific: I want to portray the diversity of wine makers, wine growers and wine cultures.
- I looked around and there does not seem to be a decent textbook out there–at least not a fun one.
- I do have a Ph.D in sociology and despite a decade or so immersed in technology, I miss my roots.
- I already wrote the management book Leadership From Below, so I know what it takes.
- I have lots of stories, examples, inspiration beause of my role as wine columnist in Color Magazine, the premier US publication for multicultural professionals.
- I have a unique perspective being Norwegian, a country that has absolutely nothing to defend in terms of wine culture. When Brits, French, Italians, Spaniards or Americans write about wine, they cannot but speak from their own vantage point. Of course, I will speak from mine, but it is not that of a wine culture. In fact, my family has been largely de facto teetotalers for various reasons.
Finally, I am so far, even though this may change, quite unconnected to the wine industry as such. This helps when you want to portray a full picture of what seems to be going on, or at least document what the players themselves say is going on. I do not work for a winery, a wine publication (I am the only wine writer at Color Magazine), or anything of that sort. In fact, I am barely a professional wine critic. I am simply somebody who likes wine and who discovered I had an opportunity to start writing about the people surrounding this pastime. I also happen to have some thoughts about how wine fits into a larger societal picture of changing consumption, lifestyle, technology and culture. There are few areas where the tensions between the global and the local, globalization and terroir, if you will, become so apparent.
These tensions produce possibly lasting changes in the fundamental social systems and institutions that make up society, such as the family, the economy, the state, and the increasingly important non state actors that seek to uproot the establishment, or indeed re-create it. In short, a fascinating set of issues with the realistic fringe benefit of a good glass of wine nearby when working them out.
- Debunking the Wine Snob, a.k.a. the Wine Terrorist (wine-blog.org)
I just started writing a book on the Sociology of Wine, intended as a global guide to wine, its people, places and passions.
I plan to use this blog to gather resources, discuss with peers, wine critics, wine makers, wine growers, wine investors, sommeliers, sociologists, technologists, trend setters, wine drinkers and non-drinkers alike, and provide a home from my various writings on wine, sociology, culture, and terroir, or as I like to call it, the power of place.
You are welcome to contribute, comment, disagree or express support for my project along the way.