Archive for category culture
My wife tells me winery visits are not interesting for toddlers. I disagree. Wine trips are not only for connoisseurs, you can bring your spouse, brother, kid, parent or even your pet along. But remember two key planning tips: 1. Reading wine books that describe vines, wines and grapes will not help you much. 2. Every vacation should provide each participant non-wine, peak experiences, so anchor your trip in an independently attractive city that has options for the whole family (see Family Wine Vacations, Color Magazine USA, ED. 35 – MARCH 2011).
Building up to my upcoming piece on the sociology of Chardonnay, I wanted to recall a 2007 piece on the subject. In the article A glass of versatility in the June issue of New Statesman, Roger Scruton says the following:
Everyone knows about Chardonnay. At least, they think they do. How it has happened is a deep question of sociology; but it has happened, and there is no going back: everybody today has a clear and distinct idea of Chardonnay. Go to any competent restaurant in this brave new world, and there will be a selection of Chardonnays on the wine list. Enter a bar anywhere in Britain, Australia or America and ask for a glass of Chardonnay, and you will be instantly obliged. People who know nothing about wine have nevertheless heard of Chardonnay, and in all probability retain a memory of tasting it. It is a wine people rely on, swear by and sometimes even recognise. Yet there is hardly any grape with so varied and unpredictable a taste…
The sociologist’s task is indeed to try to figure out why, how, when and who on earth would be responsible for such a paradox. Is it branding? Is it something about the taste, contrary to what Scruton says? What about the French or France factor–we all have a stereotypical and positive view of that place when it comes to elegant food and drink? Or the fact that Chateau Montelena won the 1976 Paris tasting?
Chardonnay is the grape from which the world’s greatest white wine is grown in those tiny Burgundian vineyards whose legendary names – Montrachet, Blagny, Corton-Charlemagne – expand in the brain as their wines expand on the palate. But the same grape produces the steely wine of Chablis, the oily estate wines of Australia, the carefully regulated brands from California, and the madcap Chardonnays of the Languedoc, often produced by Australian exiles in flight from some scandal back home. It is the world’s most versatile grape, producing sharp and sprightly aperitifs to rival the fragrant, buttery wines of the Côte d’Or.
What is happening in the world of Chardonnay? Have you noticed anything? Do you like Chardonnay more or less now than before? What characteristics of this grape is it that lets consumers go crazy for it? Is it simply that it is easer to say “Chardonnay” than try to remember one of those other white grape varietals? Is the selection pretty bad? Is Chardonnay the altogether king of white wine grapes? Let me know.
We all have dreams. Try dreaming of Provence. The terrain is stunning: hills, bushes and shrubs in green and ochre. Soft herbal smells of wild lavender, rosemary and thyme fill your nose. Winds surround you. The Mediterranean ocean is in front of you. Then there is wine. But in the winter, spending hours in fascinating conversation in people’s wine cellars is a cold pleasure. The good thing is, you are almost alone. I recommend Norwegian wool underwear, or going in Summer, Spring or Fall. Failing that, simply dream about it, and read on (Dreaming of Wine in Provence, Color Magazine – Ed. 34 – Feb. 2011).
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.